(Hebrews 6:7-12; John 3:22-36) – J G White
11 am, 4th Sun of Advent, Dec 22, 2019 – UBC Digby
The story was told to me of a preacher, years ago in Windsor. He started every year by preaching the same sermon. His first words, at the start of each January, were: “Making love is hard work!” I’d love to know what the rest of the sermon was.
Love is work. It is action. It is lovingkindness. It is compassion. It is holy. Today’s scripture words about the Messiah, the Anointed One, dabble in the loving action of God, and the loving we do now.
He who has the bride is the groom, says John the Baptizer. He uses the old Bible imagery of God the groom and the people as the bride. It is love. It is relationship. It is joy.
The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hands, says John chapter 3. This chapter that also tells us: God so loved the world that He gave His one Son…
And the author of Hebrews wrote: God will not overlook your work and the love you showed…
It seems that the things we do for Love truly matter when they are part of the bigger picture. As we grow to love the world as God loves the world, our lives give more, make more of a difference. The whole, cultural spirit of Christmastime alerts us all to goodness, to compassion, to generosity.
Love is hard work. Perhaps these sentences from Hebrews 6 are another statement of James 2:17 “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
Christmas, without Christ, is dead, we could say. Also, Christmas, without loving actions, is dead. Perhaps we repeat a celebration every year on the same date for two reasons. One, to remind and to teach those who are just learning. Two, so that we can grow up and do better. With the Christ of Christmas. One angle on this is to become less, and Jesus becomes more.
John the Baptizer said to those who wondered if he was the Messiah: “my joy has been fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.” (J 3:30) The chapter goes on to say of Jesus and his cousin:
31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things.
It is clear from the story that some of John’s disciples were feeling competitive with Jesus and His followers. ‘Jesus is becoming more popular!’
Of course He was. And John was OK with this. Indeed, he knew his role – preparing the way. Pointing the Way.
Perhaps, like me, you look for better ways, every December, to have more purpose in your Advent and Christmas. I stick a magnet on the back of my car that says “Keep Christ in Christmas.” I mean this as encouragement to believers. But what do I do differently this December, better than years before? How do I get myself pointed more towards Christ, my North Star?
I have been reading a chapter of Luke’s Gospel every day. But what have I done better for other people? Have I found new obedience in December?
Amid the warnings in Hebrews 6 about doing well or being a failure, being diligent instead of sluggish, are these words of encouragement: …beloved, we are confident of better things in your case, things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.
Genuine, sacrificial giving gets highlighted in this season. Remember the classic short story by O. Henry called ‘The Gift of the Magi’? In this little, 1905 tale, Della Young and her husband, James Dillingham Young, are indeed young, and loving, and poor.
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time… Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window someday to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he paused, just to see him pluck at his beard with envy.
What did Della do? She went out to Mme. Sefronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds, and sold her hair. Della got twenty dollars from that haircut. And what did she buy? A platinum watch chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone…
Later, Della was home, and Jim was late. When he got in, he just stared at Della’s short hair.
After they settled down a bit, Jim gave Della a present. There lay The Combs – the set of combs, that Della had worshipped for long in a Broadway win- dow. Beautiful combs, pure tortoiseshell with jewelled rims – just the shade to wear in that vanished hair.
Then Della gave Jim his gift. “Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it. “
Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.
“Dell,” said he, “Let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ‘em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs.”
O Henry concludes, about these two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. …of all who give and receive gifts, such as these are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi. (Fireside Al’s Treasury of Christmas Stories, 2008, pp. 43-51)
Perhaps stories, and events, around you this month have inspired you. The Holy Spirit has prompted a growing of your heart, by half a size, at least. All of us have basic and beautiful things to learn. To learn to do. To be. To give. The big story of these days is also of sacrifice, and risk, and giving. Jesus is God’s Work, God’s Action, God’s Love. And love is always about caring more for the other person.
Wayne Oates was a giant in the 20th century in terms of pastoral counselling. He taught pastors for years at Southern Baptist Seminary, in Kentucky, and later taught at University of Louisville Medical School. In a very personal essay about his own life, written in the 1990s, he reflected on the beauty of the pastor as counsellor, equal to the counsellee.
In the Free Church Tradition, the pastor and pastoral counselor are interpreted in a side-by-side, fellow sufferer way [with the person being counselled]. “Jesus is Lord” takes the place of the elaborate ideologies of psychoanalysis. …We are fellow strugglers and fellow students. This stance certainly cuts through the proud flesh of the present effort to establish the pastor as an overlord of the church, to see nothing wrong with “cloning” oneself as a pastor. I would prefer to see my relationship as activating the individuality and unique image of this person before God. (‘My Theological Journey,’ in How I Have Changed My Mind, John D. W. Watts, Ed., 1993, p. 28)
How beautiful it is, to see a wise counsellor as a fellow-traveller with the one seeking help. What a shining example this can be of good work, of lovingkindness, in the name of Christ. Instead of an attitude of power-over someone else who is weaker. Oh, if all our friendships and relationships would be about helping the other person… to take one more good step… towards reaching their own potential!
Our work of love grows and develops, thank God! Christ waxes in us, shines, brightens.
A hundred years ago, James Moffatt was preparing his New Translation of the Bible. He chose to render John the Baptizer’s statement about Jesus like this: “He must wax; I must wane.” (J 3:30)
We have reached the winter solstice; yesterday was the shortest daylight of the year. With Christmas, the feast day of the Messiah, the days are getting longer – waxing. Six months from now will be the feast day of John the Baptist, on June 24; the longest day will be over, and the days will be getting shorter, waning. (G. H. C. MacGregor, Moffatt Bible Commentary: John, 1928, p. )
Jesus must ‘wax;’ John, and all who prepare the way for Christ, must ‘wane.’
Yet it is the miracle of love that, as we shrink and the Divine One grows in us, we actually become our true selves. The whole talk in the New Testament about being in Christ, and Christ being in me gets at this.
So we become imitators of Christ. Imitators of people who have the Spirit animating them. Hebrews 6:12 even says: you… become… imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
All the so-called ordinary things of life can become the imitation of Christ. Living our day to day lives like Jesus would, in our bodies. Well, don’t we say, in our simplistic way, Jesus lives in our hearts?
Let me end with the Blues Brothers. D’ya remember The Blues Brothers? These fellows are putting a band back together to make music. How many times did Elwood say, “We’re on a mission from God”? The work we do, the love that moves us to do things – all part of your mission and mine.
Christian educator, Findlay Edge, said, As one “loses his life” in the mission of God in the world, one finds that God has brought healing in one’s life and that the gift of salvation has been given. Thus, the essence of God’s call is a call of mission. (How I Have Changed My Mind, John D. W. Watts, Ed., 1993, p. 69)
Your work and your love is your mission, should you choose to accept it, this Christmas, and in 2020.