Livestreamed service

1 Samuel 1:19-28
1 Samuel 2:1-10
Isaiah 9:2,6 and 11:1-4a, 5-6
Matthew 1:18-25
John 1:1-5, 14, 16

        We think we know who we are. We think we understand what is happening. Sometimes we even thinkwe know what will happen, how our lives will unfold, who we will become, and who will be alongside us.

        And then, whether we realize it or not, Love happens. For some of us it takes the form of another person—a romantic interest who turns our hearts and our plans to mush or a child who turns our lives upside-down and inside-out in all the best ways. For others of us the Love that transforms our lives might take the form of a dear friend or a calling or a passion or a choice to live in the service of God, our neighbors, and all creation.

        In whatever form Love comes, it has the potential to heal us and even save us—if we are willing.

        The Black feminist writer bell hooks, who died last week, spent much of the latter part of her life reflecting on the power of love and our relationship to it.

        “True love does have the power to redeem,” she said, “but only if we are ready for redemption. Love saves us only if we want to be saved.”

        I hope Love has happened to you, and I hope and pray you let Love have its way with you. I hope Love has broken down your defenses more than once, and I hope Love just keeps on happening to you—again and again and again.

        I hope you know that it’s never too late to be transformed and empowered by Love. Again.

        We don’t know much about Joseph, but it’s pretty clear to me that Love happened to him more than once. I mean, he must have really loved Mary. If he hadn’t, he might have tried to have her stoned after learning she was pregnant by someone other than him. But instead of shaming her publicly or having her killed, he planned to divorce her secretly. Because love.

        But even as he was making plans to do this, God showed up—Love in the form of an angel. The angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and explained to him what was happening. Then, when Joseph awoke, everything was different. He believed that a new kind of Love was about to be born into the world. He couldn’t possibly have understood it—any more than Mary had understood the angel’s message to her.

        But Joseph, like Mary, trusted God’s preposterous promise, and so they bet their individual lives and their relationship on their experience of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. And they longed to experience God With Us.

        And so it was that no one was killed or divorced or publicly shamed.

        So it was that Love Incarnate grew in Mary’s womb and was born in the fullness of time in the sacred goodness of human flesh.

        So it was that Love Enfleshed made its home with us and in us, always on the lookout for the smallest opening in our hearts, ever-ready to happen to us, and for us, and with us. This Holy Enfleshed Solidarity is forever being made manifest—in creation, relationship, and community, in sorrow and shadow, on the margins and in the struggle, in good times and in bad.

        We think we know who we are. We think we know what is happening.  Sometimes, despite everything, we even think we know what will happen.

        But how might we and our lives, how might our communities and our world be different if we took the time to look and listen—to try to see what else might be happening, to look for God’s fingerprints in the events and situations of our lives? What if we actually expected that somehow, somewhere Love is happening—even now—and then committed ourselves to finding its tracks and partnering with it? How might we, our lives, and the world be different if we chose to let Love guide us?

        I realize that’s a big ask in times like these, when Covid rates are surging again and all the plans we made for something close to a normal Christmas are up in the air. Surely it was a huge ask for Mary and Joseph, poor Jews living under the thumb of Roman occupation.

        But even in the best of times living in Love takes practice and intention, a willingness to dedicate ourselves to living with open hearts and putting ourselves in the path of Light and Love.

        The Christmas story and the whole long arc of our faith is a Love story, a guide for living lives of meaning and purpose, joy and justice, possibility and partnership. And this Love story is open-ended, inviting our participation in it.

        “The moment we choose to love,” said bell hooks, “we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.”

        This Christmas, let us choose to love. In the face of Covid-related fears and anxieties, let us choose again to love. In the midst of disinformation and division, let us choose to follow love’s lead.

        Let us choose and re-choose to build our lives on, and open our hearts to, the things we know are true. Chief among them: That God is with us. That hope will sustain us. That peace will try us. That joy will surprise us. And that love will guide us.

        Thanks be to God.