Matthew 1:18-25
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
December 18, 2022

Can we love being loved by God?

People loved by God undergo hard times; and some joke:  “If this is how God takes care of those He loves, maybe I should get God to hate me!”

God gave Mary and Joseph a great gift of love by giving them Jesus; but by giving them Jesus, God also gave them a much harder life.  The gift of Jesus made Mary subject to malicious gossip; and Joseph, to coarse jokes at his expense.  Mary’s “inexplicable” pregnancy brought disgrace to her family; and that very likely led her family’s to shun her for shaming them, which in turn led to Jesus’ parents having to fend for themselves in their first experience of having a baby, without any support from loved ones.  Worse, the learn-as-you-go delivery of Jesus put Mary at an acute risk of death, back in those days when childbirth mortality rates far exceeded today’s.  Then two years later, when Herod starting killing all baby boys, the gift of Jesus cost them greatly again as they had to flee their homeland and hide in the anti-Semitic, foreign land of Egypt.  Finally decades later, after Mary had been widowed, she had to endure fear and heartache as she watched her son be vilified and hated, and eventually endure horror and anguish as she watched Him be cruelly tortured and killed.  The prophet Simeon was right when, on the 8th day after Jesus’ birth, he prophesied that her Son would cause her own soul to be pierced with a sword too!

If this is how God treats someone whom an angel called “favored” by God and whom Elizabeth called “blessed” by God, might not His loved ones prefer to be hated?   Not if they, like Mary, have the faith and wisdom to understand that the costs of being loved by God, as real as they are, are far outweighed by the rewards…that in the cost-reward exchange of God’s grace, God’s loved ones end up way ahead.

Jesus promised to make the lives of His followers better, but never promised to make them easier.  In fact, He who said that He came “that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” also said that “the road is hard that leads to life.”  It’s similar to how one mother explained to me her gratitude over having had children.  She said, “They made my life much harder, but also much richer and more rewarding – and I’d sign up for that deal any day.”

Even more than children do, God makes our life harder but simultaneously richer and more rewarding.  Let us take a look at how the rewards of being loved by God more than compensate for the costs by remembering what the four Advent candles symbolize: hope, peace, joy and love.

First, we come to love being loved by God as we gain the hope God brings.  Once we take in the reality of God’s joining the human race in a dark, cold barn stinking of manure, we realize that God will go to any lengths just to be there with us and for us.  That means we can never be beyond the reach of God’s help, and that gives us great hope.

Second, we come to love being loved by God as we gain the peace God brings.  Once we take in the reality that at Christmas the Most High made a home in the meagerness and meanness of human existence, we realize that our worst predicament is nothing God cannot break into and redeem, and that our human weakness and limitations are no hindrance to God’s ability to lift us up and out of any hole into which we’ve fallen.  That means we fear no evil, and that gives us great peace.

Third, we come to love being loved by God as we gain the joy God brings.  Once we take in the reality that God left Paradise to make Paradise possible for us, we realize that there is no happiness or fulfillment that God wouldn’t delight to give us and no favor that God isn’t eager to bestow upon us.  That means we are destined in God for the deepest gladness, and that gives us great joy.

Fourth and finally, we come to love being loved by God as we receive the love God brings.  Once we take in the reality that at Christmas God moved into our neighborhood to live near us always and to accompany us through all the ups and downs of life, we realize that we are infinitely cared about, and that the Lord yearns for a relationship with us and will always be there for us to love us and to keep us going and growing into the best version of ourselves.

Max DePree and his wife Esther have a grand-daughter named Zoe.  Zoe was born prematurely and weighed one pound seven ounces.  She was so tiny Max could slide his wedding ring up her arm to her shoulder.

She had more tubes in her than Max wanted to count, and the doctors told the family that she had at best a 10% chance of living three days.  To complicate matters, Zoe’s biological father had jumped ship on them all the month before.

A wise and caring nurse gave Max his assignment to help Zoe survive and thrive.  For as many months as it would take, Max was to visit her every day in the hospital ICU.  Every day he was to stroke her torso, arms and legs with the tip of a finger; and, while caressing her, tell her over and over again how much she was loved and wanted.  In order to live, Zoe needed to hear his voice and feel his touch.

In order for us to live, we need to hear God’s voice and feel God’s touch.  To hear His voice, God gave us His word in the Bible; and to feel His touch, God gave us His Son in the flesh of the Bethlehem baby.

God was with us back then, and God is with us still.  He caresses us with kindness and assures us by speaking and singing His love over us.  Then, like Zoe – who is now vibrantly alive and growing into the best version of herself – we can become vibrantly alive and grow into the best version of ourselves – sustained by the hope, peace, joy and love God brings us at Christmas and every day.

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