Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Message: "I Believe in the Sun: Hope for Tomorrow"
Isaiah 7:1-4, Matthew 1: 17-25, Second Sunday of Advent
Are you familiar with the Five Love Languages? The concept was developed by Dr. Gary Chapman through his work as a marriage and family therapist. According to Chapman, we all have a particular way we can best “hear” someone communicating that they love us, and it turns out, that using words is only one of the five love languages. Do you know the others? They are spending quality time together, doing acts of service for your loved one, physical touch, and the receiving of gifts. And the language that involves words is more than just saying, “I love you.” Chapman’s work suggests that this love language needs a whole host of words of affirmation on a regular basis to really hear, “I love you.” Take a minute to think of someone you love, and how you might express love in each of the love languages. Is quality time together a long walk together, an intense scrabble game, or a travel adventure? Is an act of service changing the oil in the car, or giving up something you want so they can have something they want? Is physical touch a big kiss or a gentle touch while passing the person? Does a gift that costs a lot or a gift that really considers who the other likely to be most appreciated?
When we want to communicate love, we typically use the love language that speaks to US. For instance, if my love language is receiving gifts, I will likely be a frequent and thoughtful gift giver myself. This may resonate with some as deep love, and it may not fully resonate with others. Or, it may be perceived more as generosity than love. To figure out someone’s love language, we need to watch how THEY express love, and then do that. Left to our own devices, we would express love in our OWN love language. According to this system, if we did that, we would only hit the mark 20% of the time!
Love is essential to our lives. It’s an emotion and hope that drives much of our motivations. But as humans we can sometimes feel more the elusiveness of love than the presence of it. Poets throughout the ages have tried to capture it, from Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,” to Nikki Giovanni’s pome Love Is, which goes like this:
Some people forget that love is
tucking you in and kissing you
no matter how young or old you are
Some people don't remember that
listening and laughing and asking
no matter what your age
Few recognize that love is
no fun at all
You and me.
Of course, our own scriptures have some of the most enduring love poetry. From the Song of Solomon we hear:
“I am a rose of Sharon,
a lily of the valleys.
2 As a lily among brambles,
so is my love among maidens.
3 As an apple tree among the trees of the wood,
so is my beloved among young men.”
Artists have tried to paint it, singers have sought to sing it. We’ve been trying for millennia to communicate love: to express it and describe it. We can never totally capture it. In all of its fullness, love is beyond our grasp. But every time we try, we understand more, experience more, witness more, love. Love is like the air we breathe, it gives us life, but defies our precise description or scientific observation.
God is like this, too. Like love and like breath, we need God to live. The faithful throughout the ages have attempted to describe God, and to see evidence of God. The manifestation of God is all around us, and yet somehow, sometimes we can feel like we are searching and grasping for God, and nothing will do but to see God face to face.
In one of my favorite books, 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the main character José Arcadio Buendia, is intent on photographing God. He’s obsessed with it. He feels he needs to prove to the other townspeople that God does exist, and he wants to show God in all of God’s fullness. He needs something tangible, real. His quest ends in frustration and despair. He is not able to photograph God and so he concludes God doesn’t exist.
So many times through the ages, people have cried out to God, “If you are there, give me a sign!” In the quest to prove God, to hear God, to know God, Buendia thought a photograph would be the ultimate sign.
In our scripture today from the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophet, Isaiah, is saying to King Ahaz that he should request a sign from God. Ahaz was the king of Judah, the southern Jewish kingdom. Ahaz was a descendant of King David. The northern kingdom had allied with the kingdom of Aram, which is modern day Syria, and was set to attack Judah. God told Isaiah to go to Ahaz and say, “Be careful and stay calm. Don’t fear, and don’t lose heart. Even though your enemies are set to attack you, it won’t happen. It won’t take place.” Then God spoke again through Isaiah and said to Ahaz, “Ask for a sign for God if you don’t believe this. Make it as big as you can imagine.”
But Ahaz said, “No, I won’t ask for a sign. I won’t put God to the test.” Now, often we think asking for a sign from God is wrong. We remember the words of Jesus when he was tempted by the evil one in the wilderness, “It is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” But this is a different case. This isn’t the evil one trying to trick God, but rather God’s-self asking God’s servant to hold fast. To be calm and remain faithful. God is trying to help out Ahaz with a reassurance. And what the scripture tells us is that the reason Ahaz declined was not out of his piety and self-discipline as was the case with Jesus, but because he had already determined to ally the Assyrians, who were the enemies of God. He was determined to go to war, so he didn’t want to ask for a sign.
But God is saying, “hang in there! I am with you! Let me know your love language! Whatever will speak to you, whatever will demonstrate that I am on your side, let me do that!” This is an amazing thing! I know we don’t like to think of God as taking sides in a conflict, but let’s be clear what side God is on. God is on the side of peace. If Ahaz will trust in God, there is no battle, no strife, no violence and death. Hear God’s words again, ““Be careful and stay calm. Don’t fear, and don’t lose heart. Even though your enemies are set to attack you, it won’t happen. It won’t take place.” Let me give you a sign!
This is a radical reversal from how we usually think about signs and God. We usually think about us asking God for a sign to make this choice, or to confirm something we want, but here is God begging us to allow God’s sign in, to stand calmly with faith and hope. To stand with God for peace.
This request from God is exactly what we are being asked to become awake to in Advent. God is asking US to let God show us a sign of God’s presence, of God’s love. God’s peace. It’s like God is saying, “I know you want to know me, and I know I am also beyond your comprehension. You have tried with your words in psalms and poems and songs, your art through the ages, your imagination in the depth of your creativity, and I love how much you are trying to understand.” Just like when we try to describe love, we come close, but it is always elusive to describe. With every attempt we understand more, but we never fully capture it.
God wants to do everything within God’s power to be fully known by us. To be fully trusted, loved, understood. And so each Advent, God becomes the sign. Immanuel. This was God’s sign to us 2000 years ago and God’s sign to us today. God is with us. In the person of Jesus, God is attempting to speak all the love languages, and bridge all the gaps in our inability to express ourselves, to say how much we love God who came to us as one of us. God is attempting to make God’s self fully comprehensible to us by becoming…us.
Last week we talked about the way to change our response to fictional fears. When we are bound with fear, it is very difficult to feel love. The process begins with becoming awake to what is real in the present moment. And that begins with becoming aware of our breath. When we stop whatever we are doing or whatever is going on in our minds and we pay attention to our breath, we can see what is real, and what is imagined. When we see the fears that we are imagining, we can say, I see you, and though MAYBE you could happen, you aren’t happening now, and you may never happen. And then we realize that those fears are not us. We divorce ourselves from those fears and move them aside, not allowing them to control us, or take the space that love is trying to break in to.
In the space that is left when the fear can be seen for what it is, we can recognize that what IS real in the present moment is God’s love for us and God’s presence with us. The signs of this are many and varied, and the more we pay attention to THESE signs, the more we see that they are all around us. They are both miracle and common. They are God and God’s love. And because I have experienced these signs, often not the one’s I’m looking for or trying to capture when I’m feeling alone, or fearful or bereft, because I have experienced these signs, I know that love is, that God is. I believe in love, even when I don’t feel it. Amen.
Order of Service (Bulletin) - December 6, 2020
Advent Week 2 - I Believe in Love: Daring Right Relationship
Prelude: “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” - Emilie Bergmann, cello & Cathryn Bruno, violin
Welcome & Opening Prayer - Rev. Kristin Stoneking & Susan Jardin, Rev. Jerry Asheim & Melani Gantes
Advent Carol of Hope: "UMH #213 Lift Up Your Heads Ye Mighty Gates - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Carole Klokkevold
Isaiah Reading: Isaiah 7:1-14 - Pat Bruce Lerrigo
Children’s Message: Susan Jardin & Judy Kriege
Gospel Reading: Matthew 1:17-25 - Pat Bruce Lerrigo
The Witness of Music (Anthem): "Love Has Broken Down the Walls" - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Cathryn Bruno
Message: "I Believe in Love" - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Advent Carol of Response: “UMH #203 Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Carole Klokkevold
Litany of Belief - Dianne Rush Woods, Viki Alvarado & Orion Lacey
Prayers in the Stillness - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Melani Gantes
Offering Announcement and Opportunities - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Doxology - Judy Kriege
WE GO FORTH
Carol of Resistance: “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Chris Poston
Benediction - Rev. Kristin Stoneking & Handbells on the front porch
Postlude: "Fantasy in c minor” J.S. Bach - Rev. Jerry Asheim
Special thanks to:
Video producer: Tai Jokela
Podcast producer: Ethan Lindsey
Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt