LOVE, LISTEN, LEAD
John 1:1-18, I John 2:7-11, 4:7-12
December 18, 2016
There is a sense of urgency in the air. After generations of enveloping darkness, people are aching for the Light. Some tire of waiting; they take up arms against their political oppressors. Others remain vigilant and attentive, longing for the promised Messiah to come. Even the most faithful have moments of questioning and doubt.
One day, a priest named Zachariah is struck dumb in the Temple. His wife, long past childbearing age, is to become pregnant. They are to name their son John. An angel announces that this child will “herald God’s arrival in the style and strength of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), a prophet of old.
An angel also appears to a young woman named Mary. She, too, will bear a son. He will be called “Holy Son of God” (Luke 1:38). Many Israelites of Mary’s day await a savior in the form of a strongman who will vanquish the nation’s enemies, restore her injured pride, and make her great again. But Mary sings a revolutionary song about a different kind of Savior who comes to “scatter the bluffing braggarts, knock tyrants off their horses, and pull victims out of the mud.” He comes to call the “starving poor…to a banquet,” while the “callous rich are left out in the cold” (see Luke 1:48-56).
There is a sense of urgency in the air. The people are bruised, weary, and vulnerable. Too much has changed too fast, for too long. And yet, nothing has really changed at all. The veneer has been ripped off the surface of their world, and it is anybody’s guess how this will all turn out. Do you feel the urgency in the air, then–and now?
The confession, “Jesus is Lord,” is the most political of confessions imaginable, because it states, purely and simply, that no one else has claim to our highest allegiance. “Jesus is Lord” means that Caesar is not Lord, Herod is not Lord, and Pontius Pilate is not Lord. It means that Hilary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, or any other political figure is not lord. It means that the People of the Way are bound by faith to follow Jesus in season and out of season, in times that are good and times that are bad.
The radical message we proclaim this season turns the ways of the world upside-down. God becomes flesh, dwelling in real space and time on this messy, confusing planet we call home. The Holy One lays everything out on the table for us, demonstrating divine love in the body of a wailing infant, born in a smelly manger located deep in the belly of Empire. Stories of regimes and resistance, massacres and miracles, chaos and community are woven together as Incarnation plays out its revolutionary drama. The season of Advent ushers us into this Holy Mystery, God’s purposeful gift of Costly Love.
When we lit the Candle of Love today, we confessed that Love was the only pathway through the Darkness then, and it is the only way through the Darkness now. Love is the choice that Jesus makes throughout his earthly journey, and it is the choice that he offers us today. There are always other paths we can choose–expedient paths, self-serving paths, disengaged paths. Or we can cast our lot with the Way of Jesus, the Way of Love.
The decision to follow that Holy Way costs us something. It challenges prevailing social and religious norms. It contradicts collusion between oppressive rulers and religious elites. It condemns violence committed in the name of God. It welcomes the stranger and outcast and cares for the broken-hearted. It proclaims the acceptable Day of the Lord.
The Way of Love also has consequences. It infuriates the powerful who brook no rivals. King Herod orders the massacre of innocent boys ages two and under, fearing even a rumored child-threat to his rule. The Way of Love is no mushy Hallmark card greeting. It has consequences, and sometimes they are harsh.
Urgency was in the air then. Urgency is in the air, here in these United States, in December of 2016. We feel it. We see it. We face it. What does it mean to Love in these times? And what does it mean to listen, in this post-fact world? One writer this week suggested that the phrase, “post-fact,” is really a euphemism. “Call it what it is,” he said. “It is really lying.”
Words are cheap and becoming cheaper by the day. They might be true or made up. They might be meant to instruct or to manipulate and deceive. They might be partisan and pass for truthful; they might be truthful, but be dismissed as partisan. As people of Jesus, we have to double down and earnestly search for the truth, speak truth, and work very hard at listening beneath the surface of words.
As we listen, we may hear heart cries we’ve missed before. We may make new friends and create new alliances. We may notice opportunities where we can build bridges of hope and practice peacemaking skills. Amid a world replete with noise, opinions, chatter, and confusion, we need to love well and listen well, both in the prayer closet and the public square.
We also need to lead–individually and together. This is not just about me and Steve; it is about all of us. We may be small, but we are mighty! This church leads in the wider community much, much more than anyone ever realizes. Folks in the Baptist Peace Fellowship, the Rochester Region, among PCC Scattered, and within the Oberlin community often look to PCC for leadership. Many are inspired by the way this congregation lives out its faith.
Steve was wandering around on his computer this past week and happened upon his e-mails from 2005 when the church joined the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists and ran into severe conflict with the North Central Baptist Association, to which the church belonged. After being on the Board of the American Baptist Churches of Ohio for over 20 years, he made a final statement at his last Board meeting and posted it a few days ago on facebook. The comments from near and far were astounding. If you are not on facebook, ask Steve to read some of them to you sometime. You might get a glimpse of the reach of this church.
We have seen throughout human history what happens when good people sit by in silence, leaving the hard work, heavy lifting, costly love, and courageous leadership to others. PCC is not a “sitting on the sidelines” kind of community. If we each lead where we are and join forces with others to lead, God will use us in ways we can not even imagine right now. This has been our Story, all along, and will be, as we move into the days ahead.
This fourth Sunday of Advent, I invite you to consider these three words—Love, Listen, and Lead. Memorize them, repeat them over and over. Let the simplicity of these words guide you through the choices and circumstances that arise in your daily life and in our common life together. To love, listen, and lead is the call before us.
“Jesus is Lord!” Let us come, and follow him. Amen.