December 16, 2018

The Gift of Love

Passage: Thessalonians 5:12-28 and John 1 6-8

Three of the strongest emotions we experience in our lives are hate, envy and love. The very foundational story of the creation of humanity by God reveals the personal struggle of Adam and Eve with those emotional highs and lows. Like God, Adam loved the world around him. He loved the gift of Eve but each of them became envious of God’s plan to share most of the garden with them. The temptation of the serpent planted the seeds of envy and jealousy in their hearts and minds. The result of which was their expulsion from the garden.

At first glance, we might want to believe that God was being vindictive and that his action was motivated by anger leading to a hatred of that which he had created but the reality is that God had given Adam and Eve rules to follow and he had also clearly indicated what would happen if the rules were broken. It is also clear as we read on that God did not stop loving them despite their new condition of mortality.

As we move on through the record of the Bible, we continue to find that whatever situation the people of God create for themselves, no matter how it may offend God or break the covenant established between God and the people, God never stops loving them. They experience disaster, disease, turmoil, oppression, exile and even death, yet at no time does God withdraw from them his love. His love may appear to be hidden as often they believed his presence was hidden from them. They may have believed that God’s anger with them had led him to hate them, yet the overarching message from every prophet was that God ever was waiting to receive the people; to show mercy to them, to grant them forgiveness and restore unto them the peace that he so much wanted them to experience.

While the books of Samuel, the Kings and Chronicles details the physical history of the people of Israel from the time they first arrived in what is now known as Israel, most of the books of the prophets concern themselves with the overthrow of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, the resulting exile and the eventual restoration of the people to their homeland. The event is the most traumatic and significant since the exodus from Egypt. Yet just as with the exodus from Egypt, the restoration of the people after the exile is a sign once again of the unfailing love of God for the people. The people were failures and disappointments to God in so many ways and they suffered greatly for breaking faith with God, but God would not let them go. God never lost hope in the people and was determined that they would be the light to the nations that he hoped they would be.

When we come to the birth of God into the world in the person of Jesus, we encounter God’s determination to not only reveal his unending love for his creation, but also his determination to teach us how to love. The accounts preserved for us in the gospels not only chronicle the life of God in Jesus but more than that, they give us examples of how God seeks for us to respond to the human frailties, disabilities and struggles of life in general and life in the covenant relationship in particular.

The covenant that God made with the people of Israel in the time of Moses which was sealed with the giving of ten commandments was renewed in the time of Jesus and sealed not only by the summation of all the commandments into two but also with a blood sacrifice that nothing could ever break.

And while God sought to make a new and lasting covenant with the people whom he had first called to be a light to the nations, God led the apostles to take that covenant message to all the peoples of every land. And so, the word of this God became a word for the world. The covenant of this God became the covenant of all in the world who would welcome him into their hearts and minds and lives.

We who have gathered in this place today have made a covenant with this God. We have recognized within our lives a relationship with the Creator and have acknowledged our need of his wisdom, his mercy, his forgiveness, his peace and especially his love. We have come to recognize the value of the teachings of Jesus and his examples of how to respond to one another in a way that honours each one’s humanity.

Perhaps the real value of the gift of love from God is not in the love of God for us but in the love created within us by God for one another. To paraphrase the apostle John: “If we cannot love the person we see, how can we say that we love God whom we cannot see.” And as the apostle James reminded the people, a word of love spoken does no good unless it is expressed in action. The word of love spoken by God has ever been expressed in action. As Jesus so poignantly pointed out: Greater love hath no one than that one lay down one’s life for one’s friends. The greatest gift any one of us can ever possess in our life is love and the best thing we can do with that gift is to use it as best we can and so reveal through our words and our actions our true commitment to the God who is love itself.

And so, here we are, more than two thousand years past the time when God entered the world taking on the form of the humanity he had created; more than four thousand years past the time when God revealed himself to Moses and led the people from slavery to freedom.
May we never forget that God has never stopped loving his creation and that God has never broken the covenant between himself and we his people.

Are we close to the time when God will return in Christ to affect the final act of love for this world and its people? We cannot predict that with any other surety except to believe that it will happen in the fulness of time. For now, we need to believe in the gift of love received from God and seek to make that gift real in our lives remaining committed to strengthening our relationship with God and one another.