Monday, December 19, 2016

Do Not Be Afraid to Love!

How many of you believe that Joseph loved Mary?
I do.
But we notice that in the Christmas story after hearing of Mary’s pregnancy his first reaction is “do away with her quietly”.
You can’t blame him.
He is doing what the law requires.
According to Deuteronomy a women who lies with another man should be stoned to death.
Actually what Joseph is doing is more honorable and merciful by not having Mary publicly stoned to death.
Joseph is following the customs and traditions of his day.
Even more he is following his religious teachings.
He is doing the right thing.
He is following the law and being merciful.
He is doing what a good religious person would do.
It is not love that stops Joseph from divorcing Mary.
It is an angel of the Lord.

I have talked about love a lot from this pulpit.
I have used it many times in sermons in my years as a pastor.
I use it so much that I once challenged myself not to use the word love in a sermon for a whole month.
Love is the essence of God.
It is hard to talk about God without talking about love.
It is hard to talk about the birth of Jesus without talking about love.
We are told that the purpose of God’s son coming in human form was because of God’s love for us.
“For God so loved the world….”
Love is everything.

But it is not that simple is it?
Love is harder than we think or know.
We fall in love.
We fall out of love.
We love our new car.
We hate our car.
We love our family.
Our family drives us crazy.
The Beatles told us, “Love is all we need”.
They broke up by the way, couldn’t stand each other after a while.
The band Heart reminded us, “Sometimes Love Ain’t Enough”

If everyone knew the love of God, if everyone lived it out fully with all those they met or came into contact with I would be out of a job.
There would be no need for me to get up here every week and tell you that God loves you, and you to share that love with others.
But if it is so simple why don’t we do it?
Why does Joseph need the angel to tell him what to do?
Why didn’t love carry the day?
Why doesn’t love win the day now?

Here is something we are not told enough.
Love takes work.
Lots of work.
Love takes discipline.
Love is hard.
Love is messy.
It is not just a wishy-mushy emotion that we feel; it is a spiritual discipline that takes every ounce of us to muster.
It takes us looking beyond what we see, what rules we know, what things we have been taught.

I was saying in adult forum last week that I can understand why Christians are/were against homosexuality.
It is not because they are bad people; it is because for years the Church taught that homosexuality was a sin.
Then one day it wasn’t.
I can see why that is hard to accept.
I believe it changed because of love.
Because enough people have someone they know and love who is gay, and they began to question what was taught to them.
They looked beyond the teaching and tradition to love.
I was in the NH legislature when they were debating same sex marriages.
One pastor stood up and said, “This is all nice, but my God is a God of truth.”
I wanted to say, “Yes and the truth is that God is love.”

Who are we asked to love?
What does love help us do?
I would like to believe that Joseph decided to keep Mary as his wife partly out of love.
I believe that the angel told him what he really wanted to do all along.
That he was relieved that he didn’t have to part ways from Mary.
Joseph’s act of love would not be easy for him.
It probably brought ridicule, and people wondering if he lost his mind.
But it was the right thing to do.
We often talk of Mary accepting her role in this incredible story, but we forget that Joseph too had an important part to play.
That he too had to make a difficult choice.
He heard the angel, and in faith and in love acted.
We forget sometimes that we are called to do the same.
We are asked to love even when it is hard, messy, and inconvenient.

This week our whole family was sick at some point.
For me it was Wednesday night and Thursday.
My wife was tired and sick, but I got up and threw up.
I didn’t make it to the bathroom.
She probably wanted to be in bed, but she got up to help me clean up.
That is what love looks like.
Love is in the middle of the night helping someone clean up their puke.
Love is hard.
It is messy.
It is inconvenient.
It is ugly.
But it is God’s way.
It is the only way.

We can’t rule our way through life.
We can’t follow tradition and ceremony our way through life.
All we can do is love.
Not to love is to miss the angel’s message.
“Do not be afraid…..”
Take this chance on this person because of love.
Do this thing that seems crazy because of love.
Break this tradition or this rule because of love.
Risk this ridicule, people staring for love.
Be disciplined and strong for love, and do not be afraid.

In this Christmas season I hope you experience the call to love.
You will miss the angel’s invitation to take a risk for love.
Do not be afraid to love.
Vicki’s uncle Angelo had his 93rd birthday a couple of weeks ago.
At his party he gave a speech and told us, “don’t be afraid to tell someone you love them.”
That is my message to all of you today.
Don’t be afraid to tell someone you love them.
God’s not afraid to tell you how much he loves you.
That is why Jesus came to show us God’s love and gives us the strength to love each other.

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