Christmas’ Love So Simple, So Complex

A sermon based on Luke 2: 1-20 (THE MESSAGE)
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on December 18, 2016
by Rev. Scott Elliott

Shortly before Christmas, a man entered an airport, anxious to get home. His business trip had been grueling and he was not in a particularly good mood. Plus the airport loudspeakers blared holiday elevator music that he was sick of hearing. And he thought the airport decorations were tacky. The worst decoration, he thought, was the plastic mistletoe hung over the spot at the check-in counter where you place luggage on that conveyor belt thing. Being in a grumpy mood, after his luggage was weighed and put on the conveyor belt, he pointed at the mistletoe and said to the counter attendant, “You know, that’s so tacky looking that even if I weren’t married, I wouldn’t kiss you.” “That’s not what it’s there for,” said the attendant. “It’s so you can kiss your luggage goodbye.”

On the Sunday before Christmas a number of us are getting ready to go to airports and I pray that you do not have to listen to bad holiday music or kiss your luggage good-bye. And I most especially pray that all of our Holiday trips and visits are as safe and as pleasant as can be.

Since some regular members tend to go away to visit relatives and may not be here for Christmas Eve, I like to make sure we cover the Nativity story and talk about Christmas a bit before some of us go out of town. Technically it is still Advent, Christmas season on the church calendar does not officially start until Christmas Day, next Sunday. But this Sunday we are still in Advent a season where we anticipate and prepare for the arrival of the Christ child on Christmas.

Today’s Advent candle was lit in the name of love, the designated name and theme of this Advent Sunday. The past three Sundays we have focused on Peace, Hope and Joy – not one of which is possible without love. Peace, hope and joy are all consequences of love. We hope because there is love. We have joy because we are loved. We get peace because we love. Ultimately loving as Jesus taught and showed humanity to love, WILL lead to that joyful, hopeful, love-filled day of peace on earth good will to all– that we and God long for.

Our liturgical year – the church calendar– that begins with Advent starts with all this love related stuff in Advent and then soaks the rest of the year with love. From Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Ash Wednesday to Lent to Holy Week to Easter to Pentecost to Reign of Christ and all the days in between it is all about love. And anyone who’s heard me preach knows that the theology I subscribe to– which permeates the Bible, and most especially Jesus’ words and deeds– is that it is all about love!
And it’s not hard to claim that is all about love since the Bible asserts God is love and the entire book is about God and humankind’s relationship with God; God in creation, God in others, God in self. So every Sunday – every Sunday– that is what our services in one way or another are about. We lift up and consider Bible texts from Genesis to Revelation and address Love’s presence in them.

And it’s not like there is only one or two aspects of love to discuss. As a young teen I wrote a poem that starts:

Love is such a simple thing.
It flutters in on gentle wings.
It lights. It lands. It makes us sing.
It comes to us just like the spring.
Love is such a simple thing.

I’ve never quite been sure that is good poetry, but, it captures one side of love. Love is simple in that it is what the Creator, all of creation and each of us long for and can give endlessly. Simply put, the kind of love Advent and Christmas focus on is unconditional and it does just light and land upon us. And we all want it. And most of us want to give it out as best we can. That’s simple.

But love is also very complex, right? It’s hard for us to love all the time. Things get in the way; Our self. Laziness. Fear. Greed. Jealousy. Anger. Violence. Hate. What I’d add to my young self’s poem is
Love is a complicate thing.

We flutter away from it on selfish wings.
It’s fragile. It’s hard. It often leaves when difficulties sing.
Or when hate springs.
Love is also a complicated thing.

Advent, the season we are in now, is about the promise and coming of Love. And while love has a simplicity to it (it can, and does, flutter in on gentle wings), but it is bundled in with the complexities of life’s messiness. And you know what? The whole church calender addresses love in many of it’s complexities. Christmas is about Love’s arrival in the messiness of Roman occupied Jewish Palestine to a young Jewish family in distress in a very stressed Jewish community– where the early Church got its start as a small sect of Jewish Jesus Followers.

Epiphany is about Love being found through Jesus by Gentiles outside of Palestine, Jesus is discovered by those outside the Jewish community, they find him by following the light!

Ash Wednesday and Lent are about turning from sin that is, ways that we miss the mark of love. And Ash Wednesday and Lent are also about repenting, that is turning toward love – which is the mark we are supposed to hit.

Easter is about love enduring and winning no matter what, even in the face of selfishness, laziness, fear, greed, jealousy, violence or hate.

Pentecost is about the flames of love, which Jesus ignited, continuing on in the sparks of love we in turn fan to flames and continue to bring into all world as the ever living Body of Christ here on earth now . . . in us . . . in the Church.

And “Reign of Christ” is about love’s envelopment of our lives, and our ways, in an effort for Love to eventually embrace all the world to bring about the goal of Reign of Christ, which is heaven on earth, that is peace on earth good will to all.

All this love stuff for CHRISTIANS started with the arrival of Jesus on earth. That is what we celebrate at Christmas. Jesus’ birth. Christmas remembers Jesus’ first arriving as the kickoff of what becomes The Love drenched Way he taught his followers. It’s as I said . . . a Way that is all about love.

And the Holiday Season, Christmas, in fact has all these wonderful traditions about love that can be understood as symbolizing acts of Jesus, Christmas traditions as metaphors, or better yet as simple enactments of the love Jesus taught and acted out–even in the complexities and messiness of life! Christmas serves as a vehicle for love as we gather for meals with diversity in families, friends, even strangers. Christmas serves as a vehicle for love as we give needed gifts to all manner of people.

Christmas serves as a vehicle for love as we take care of those less fortunate, giving time and talent and resources to better not just our lives and our family and friend’s lives but people we do not even know. Christmas serves as a vehicle for love as we visit the sick and the poor and the stranger and even those in jail which we do more at Christmas time.

See, the lovely truth is that we try harder this time of year to do to others what we’d want done to us. We tend to those in need, like Jesus taught in Matthew 25. We love our neighbors. We certainly love kindness this time of year and walk humbly with God. To the extent that justice is understood to mean what it means in the Bible, that people get what is due, then we do that more at Christmas too by loving and tending to a broad swath of humanity so they get food and clothes and needed things more than any other time of the year. Love saturates our Holidays in the Love drenched Way Jesus taught us to follow every day of lives all year long.

This time of year is all about love. Even mistletoe has a love connection . . . right? And I did not even mention Santa, yet. Santa Claus can be understood to symbolize in many ways the very essence of love, the one whom we call God. To start with, have you ever noticed that Santa resembles western images of a male God, wizened white beard and all? And Santa is also understood to perform deeds through supernatural acts much of it God-like. Santa has knowledge of everything we do, he covers the world with his presence in short time, and fits into any location with an endless bag of blessings present for any one who behaves well. And harmful behavior doesn’t result in positive blessings, but in negative consequences. And Santa and God both even live in a place on top of the world one above in heaven the other above in the north pole. There are so many similarities it would not surprise me if there’s a PhD doctoral thesis or two on the topic out there.

God comes at Christmas in the form of Christ, and one of the modern forms is as Santa who continues the tradition of love as well as symbolizes it, and serves as a vehicle for delivering love . . . symbols . . . and feelings . . . and gifts of love. God is love, and both Christ and Santa’s job is bringing more experiences of love– God– into the world. And notably both Christ and Santa need human action to accomplish their Divine, or Divine-like, efforts to effectively bring love to earth. Including keeping stories of both very much alive and passing them on from generation to generation.

Even the secular parts of Christmas have at their core the religious purpose of the season to celebrate and honor the birth of love incarnate 2,000 years ago– and to talk and sing about it and most especially to act on it. So we can understand that Christmas in churches and Christmas in the traditions in the secular world, one way or another, are deep down all about love– the peace, the hope, the joy . . . of love.

And as I’ve pointed out before, it is no accident that the Church year starts in the winter when darkness reaches its greatest length taking up the most it can of our days. When life can get no darker the promise of light is still there and it’s influence promises transformation. Love is most powerful and experiential as light in the darkness
That’s all metaphor because love is complex. And yet it also simple. As Paul puts it in our Advent candle lighting reading that the Schoenfeld family led so well today:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends . . . And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

The greatest of these is love. The Christmas Holidays prove that every year.

Happy Advent and . . . MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!