December 10, 2017 — Rev. Paula Norbert
We have arrived at the second Sunday in Advent and today we celebrate Love. As so many have done before us, we remember the stories of the birth of Jesus, only told by Gospel writers Matthew and Luke; we read these stories to remember the promises of old and to be renewed in faith and in hope. These promises are for us, now and in our time, and they are the promises to those who will come after us. This simple but extraordinary story is not simply about promises, it is the invitation to us to join in this great love story and to be inspired to be about the work of love in our lives. Let us pray, Loving God, Shepherd of Israel, may Jesus, Emmanuel and son of Mary and Joseph, be more than just a dream in our hearts. With the apostles, prophets, and saints, save us, restore us, and lead us in the way of grace and peace, that we may bear your promise into the world. Amen.
We speak about love so often, whether in popular music, movies or in church each week. In some ways, the word may be overused to the point that it doesn’t quite carry the meaning it should. Sometimes people speak of love in the most casual of ways and I fear that we miss the deeper expressions of love that it is meant to communicate. When I have the privilege of officiating at Weddings, I celebrate the joy of love that the couple has in that day, but I also think about what they may called to live out for one another if they take that vow of love seriously. For true love is an action verb, as we know; it’s not just that feel good feeling. Loving others…family, friends, spouses and neighbors is the way in which we live out our commitment to others, not just in the good times, though that is so important, but it is how we show up for someone when the going really gets difficult…whether in sickness or job loss or the death of a family member or friend; it is what compels us to stand with someone when they are at their lowest point and sometimes when they are the most unlovable. It is hard and it is challenging but it is in the living it out, that it is most deeply satisfying.
Last year, I watched a beautiful piece on Sixty Minutes about the true story of a boy from India that was made into the movie called Lion. Perhaps you saw it? They interviewed this young man, now in his 30’s who grew up in a city in India, living with his single mother, two brothers and sister. The father had abandoned them and so the mother would eke out whatever living she could to feed her children, and this boy would often go to the train station to beg or scavenge for food with his older brother. One day, when he was just 5 years old, his brother told him to wait on a bench while he went to look for food on the train. Well, the boy fell asleep but when he awakened, his brother had not returned so he walked onto the stopped train at the tracks, thinking he might find him there. Suddenly, the doors closed and the train went speeding away hundreds of miles from this boy’s home and no one was on the train that he could ask for help. An empty ghost train, a little boy, an impossible situation. He ended up in Calcutta and lived for a time on the streets, searching for food and sleeping with other homeless children until he was taken to an orphanage. They tried to find his family but could not as he had only a limited idea of where he had come from, and so eventually he was adopted by a couple from Australia.
Once he could finally communicate with them, the mother began to write down the basic memories the child had of his hometown, including a description of the train station which he recalled was near a water tower and a pedestrian overpass. He was loved by this couple and they gave him a safe home and yet he imagined his mother missing him and that caused him great sorrow. In his 20’s and with the help of the internet and Google maps and images and over the course of years, he eventually found where he thought he had come from. And so, he flew back to India as an adult and he took the train to the town that most resembled his memories. When he got off, it all came back to him and he was able to walk down the crowded streets to find the little home where he had lived, but it was empty. Thankfully, someone nearby spoke English and walked with him to a door around the corner and there he found his mother. His older brother and sister had moved as adults to nearby towns, but all those years his mother had stayed nearby waiting, waiting for her son to come home. She wanted to be nearby so that he could find her. Her loving presence; his loving search. It wasn’t easy but neither one ever gave up.
In Mark’s Gospel today, we hear John the Baptist crying out, “Prepare the way, Prepare the way of the Lord.” Was he crying out in the wilderness? Was anybody listening? Are we listening? This is the season of preparation and we certainly spend a lot of time preparing our houses for the joy of this season. And every year, it seems to start earlier. But how much time do we invest in preparing our hearts?
In this time of light and love, let us look for those examples of great love, loving acts of presence in times of difficulty and sorrow and challenge; that’s what Christmas is all about. For God so loved the world, that into this brokenness, into a place where too many do not show love and care for one another, where we too often overlook the blessings of our lives and continue to seek more, more material things, into this complicated and sometimes messy place, God sent a little child to teach us about love.