This week, as I try to prepare our congregation for the Advent of Jesus, I will be preaching on December 4th on the topic of love. Can I be real with you? Yes? Thanks! So here goes: Personally, I find it hard to talk about God’s love. And pastorally speaking, I mean, what is there to say that hasn’t already been said a million times already and counting? There is an old hymn that says, “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and I wonder how He could love me, a sinner condemned unclean. How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be. How marvelous! How wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!” It will be my joy thru the ages to sing of His love for me . . .” I could be wrong here and I certainly don’t want to project my own personal struggles at accepting love unto those I serve, but I don’t think a lack of amazement or wonder towards God’s love is a rare thing. As a Pastor, I have run into many people over the years that either 1) assume the love of God, or 2) struggle to accept it. After all, John 3:16 “for God so loved the world . . .” and I John 4:8 “God is love” are some of the Scripture verses that most readily come to mind when we think of the love of God. I think the problem of assuming God’s love is far more pervasive than the problem of struggling to accept His love, though both are pervasive. To help you and I move more toward “amazement” and “marvel” at the love of God, let’s look at both of these problems. First, how about assuming His love? If I am right on this, that assuming His love is a huge problem, what might be the reason(s) we assume His love, or take it for granted? We get a hint at one of the chief reasons why we assume the love of God by looking back at the lyrics to the song I shared with you above. The writer says, “and I wonder how He could love me, a sinner condemned unclean”. You see, the songwriter was amazed, marveled at God’s love because He was under conviction that He, apart from the grace of God, was an unclean condemned sinner. We hardly even talk about such biblical realties let alone feel the weight of them. And so, because we do not think/feel we are sinners, condemned, and unclean, we certainly don’t feel amazed at His love. Of course He would love us! After all, He is love right? It’s kind of His job to love us. And I suppose I can see how God might have difficulty loving “those bad people” of the world, but me, compared to others, He made a pretty good catch when He got me as a follower”. One of my favorite verses that speaks about the love of God is Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Think about that! If we back up a bit and read Romans 5:6, we also see we were “powerless” and “ungodly”. Then, in verse 10, we see we were God’s enemies! Powerless, ungodly, sinners, enemies. That’s what we were. Yet, He still choose to love us. We should never ever think we are deserving of God’s love. I hope and pray for a growing sense of amazement whenever I think about Him and His love. Then, there is the struggling to accept God’s love. Perhaps this is the opposite of assuming His love, yet they both have the net effect of not experiencing His love. Maybe you have heard of the 19th century poet Francis Thompson. One of his poems is titled “The Hound of Heaven”. IN it, God is depicted as a baying hunting dog, chasing down a fox. Thompson is the fox. The first three words of the poem read, “I fled Him”. The rest of the poem Thompson talks about his evasive moves, trying to get away from this hound Who was chasing him. This poem resonates with so many people because we have all experienced this running away from God. We don’t trust Him or His good heart. We think He is after us to harm us, not to bless and love us. So, we evade His loving heart. In a contemporary paraphrase of the poem, Gordon MacDonald writes, “You see, I was terrified that, should I surrender to His love, I would lose m y identity, m sense of personal freedom. I was aware that if I opened just one small window of my heart, the tornado-like force of His love would simply overwhelm me. Nothing in my fearful state of mind could conjure up an alternative that love cold not overcome.”
So, we celebrate Advent, the Coming of Jesus, the coming of Love (I John 4:8). Friend, if you are reading this and are either assuming God’s love, or, having a hard time accepting it, you are running from it, please, open your heart to Love. Open your heart to Jesus. It’s so painful and exhausting to keep running from Him. Advent. The Coming of Light. My prayer for us all is that the common word “love” that is so easily spoken yet at times so hard to accept/experience, may be a life-changing reality during this holiday season.