Sermon Text: Isaiah 40:1-3
If you’ve been here on Wednesdays, sorry to do this again, but let’s get on the same page. Every Sunday in Advent we light a candle – hope, peace, joy, or love. On Wednesdays we’ve focused on the fact as we light a good candle, we can snuff another “candle” out in our hearts. When we light peace, we can put out fear. When we light joy, we can put out disappointment. Why? Jesus came to drive fear/disappointment from our hearts and fill them with peace/joy, which he did.
So which candle will we light Sunday? The love candle. Saying we light the peace or hope candle didn’t sound weird in my head. Lighting the love candle… that has a burnt-out hippie, stinky incense, don’t wash your clothes for a month feel, doesn’t it? Or it has the vibe of a couple having a romantic candlelight meal while Sinatra quietly croons in the background. Neither sounds right for church or for Advent. The love candle sounds odd to my ears. Maybe it does to yours too.
Why? After all, love is the summary of all God’s commands. And love summarizes how God always deals with us because of Jesus. He’s our Father. We’re his children whom he loves. So why does the phrase “love candle” hit us in a weird way? My guess is this: speaking generally, we as a society have no idea what love is, much less how to properly define it.
Some people try to do so with the line, “Love is not a noun – it is a verb”, meaning love isn’t a static thing but something that shows in how it treats others. That’s not bad. But we could throw tons of other words in there and the sentence would be just as true. “Peace is not a noun – it is a verb.” That means peace is something we actively try to bring about by our actions. And the simpler point is that love is indeed a noun along with being a verb. Either way, that definition slumps.
A common definition: “Love is always doing what is best for the other person.” I like that one, but it has limitations. Say I have any enemy and his life is in danger in a burning house. The right thing is to help him. But could I do that just because it is the right thing to do and not because I love him? Yes. Again, I think that is a pretty good definition, but still it is lacking.
So how do we define, grasp, and understand love? Well, we first have to axe looking to ourselves or any other human being for that matter. People have said the purest form of love is the love a mother has for her newborn. I am not denying that is powerful, but moms, after 2 weeks of at best 45-minute naps, was love coming out of your ears as you fed your little one for the 4th time in 5 hours (at 4 AM)? Dads, did mom/wife hop out of bed and exclaim, “Awesome - I get to show my love to our baby!”? I agree the mother/child love is the purest human form out there, but even then there are imperfections.
So where must we look if we can’t look inward or laterally at others? We must look vertically – up – to God. We all know the verse from 1st John: “God is love.” OK, but can we do better than that? Sure. The Advent/Christmas seasons are so full of God’s love its hard to pick just one example of that love. There is the love God showed humanity in fulfilling the promise of a Savior made 1000s of years prior in Eden.
There is the love the Father showed as he sent his only Son into this world, knowing such an action would result in his death. There is the tender love God shows Mary and Joseph as he comforts them and prepares them for Jesus’ birth, an event that would forever change their lives. There is the love God showed the shepherds in allowing them to be Jesus’ 1st visitors. We could go on and on because Scripture goes on and on.
But even saying that, though it is all true, still seems like words on a page. Why? Because we can’t fully grasp pure, perfect love this side of heaven. And even though God tells us all about this love and shows us this love in so many ways, it’s like we have a mental block that stops the reality of that from truly hitting home. So what is it going to take?
I almost hesitate to do this, but think about feelings. I hesitate because feelings are so flighty, and to base anything on them is dangerous. In high school, I had a feeling I was one of the best football players in the state. A game after getting mauled by a 300 pounder convinced me I was not. My feelings were wrong. But feelings guided by and based on God’s Word can be powerfully beneficial. So, I want you to think about all the different feelings we as human beings experience, like sorrow, joy, anger, and contentment. Which word would you pick when you realize Christmas is all about the Savior being born for you, and the eternal results of that birth? One word comes to my mind, a word Isaiah uses in our text.
Why comfort? Well, when do you feel comforted? When you are loved. The comfort of a baby resting in a parent’s arms. The comfort of a sick child with nurse mom on the case. The comfort of a friend when you blew the game, got dumped, or failed the test. The comfort of knowing someone vowed to spend the rest of their life living for you. The comfort of being able to rely on a relative. The comfort of knowing someone will always be there. Love can and does do many things. And one of the best of those many things is that love comforts.
Take all this to a spiritual level. God blesses us with comfort because of his love. Why? How? Isaiah tells us. Sin’s been called lots of things, but rarely do we call it discomforting. But that’s true. Sin drives us from God, messes with our spiritual brains, gets us to run from God (no comfort there) or doubt what God’s said (still no comfort). But the Lord tells us our sin’s been paid for, and instead of receiving a harsh sentence from God we deserve, we receive his double blessings.
And this is the case because of what we will celebrate in 5 short days. Our hard service is completed because at one point in history, Jesus’ hard work began. God can speak tenderly to us because Jesus came to bring peace between God and man. And our sin has been paid for by the one who grew from being an infant into one who sacrificed his life for us, taking all that sin upon himself. Because of it, God is our God, we are his people, Jesus came for us, he lived, died, and rose for us, and he will never stop showing us love in this life until he is ready to show it to us for eternity in the next. So, what is love? Love is culmination of all that God has done for us, and love is the comfort we have as his people.
I hope that makes lighting the love candle sound less dopey. In fact, I hope it makes lighting that candle the joyous event it should be. And when we understand love/comfort that comes with it, what candle can we extinguish? Sadness. Why are we often sad? There’s lots of answers, but we’re most sad when we feel unloved, when comfort’s hard to come by.
I could go on and on about how many deal with sadness this time of year. I know some of you struggle greatly with this. I could go on and on about how often during this season we seek to mask our sadness, whatever its cause may be, because, well, you know, it’s Christmas and everyone should be happy. I could go on and on about all the times we bring this sadness on ourselves by our poor decisions, be they bad choices or even outright sins.
But instead of focusing on what causes your sadness, let’s focus on what shuts that sadness down. Love does. The love God has shown us. The love Jesus showed in willingly allowing himself to reside in Mary’s womb for 9 months. The love that ties that whole beautiful first Christmas together. And when we wrap ourselves in that love, what do we feel? Comfort.
Comfort that our sins have been paid for, no matter how many they are, how big they are, or how often they occurred. Comfort that God will speak tenderly to us, dealing with us in our weakness because of the work the Christ child grew to accomplish. Comfort that instead of threats/curses, we have nothing but blessings in our future. And comfort that once our hard service here is completed, heaven is our home, and that only because of what Baby Jesus would grow to accomplish.
When sadness seeks to pull you down this Christmas, slip into something comfortable. Nothing is more comfortable than the noun of God’s love. It is a real, true, solid feeling he has about you because Jesus brought you into his family. And nothing is more comfortable than the verb of God’s love. We know the results of that active love in the past, and we know those same blessings will continue to flow in the future. Light the love candle, no matter how weird that may sound. And with a comforted heart, snuff out the sadness one. Amen.