Scripture: Luke 1:39-55
We are a people obsessed with finding love. I think it is hardwired in our DNA, but I also think our longing has grown more intense in recent years. I suspect it has something to do with how hard to find genuine love is in our world. Everyone seems more focused on themselves than at any other point in the last century, and you can never find love when you are only looking at yourself.
But still we look for love, often in all the wrong places.
And of late, since so many are obsessed with finding love, others have tried to fill this demand by running dating services that sell the hope of finding love. Now while I’m cynical, I do admit I have some friends who “found” their spouse on an online dating service. So I’m not beating up on dating services.
I just think their prevalence right now is a frightening indicator of how desperate people are for love, how difficult it is for people to find and make personal connections in our world, and how our deep inner longing for the love of God is not being filled by church environments and experiences that freely give that love.
Two Ships in the Night
If you’ve ever seen one of these dating adverts—and I know you have—one of the constant elements of the pitch for these resources is a couple who says they were both using another dating service, but they never connected. Now that they used this dating service, they have found their life partner.
This has got me thinking about finding love in Advent, of anticipating the love of God in the person of Jesus Christ, and of why love is still so hard to find for so many.
I wonder if we are looking for love, and Jesus is looking to love us, but if somehow we just don’t connect.
We are looking for someone to have fun with. Jesus is looking for someone to share life with.
We are looking for love without commitment. Jesus has already committed everything to loving us.
We are looking for that loving feeling. Jesus wants us to show that love is not an emotion.
Filling the Void
And so we pass as two ships in the night. We “date” all these other things that claim they will give us the love we deserve.
We buy ourselves “toys”: electronics, cars, tools, knick knacks, and various gadgets.
We reward ourselves with clothing, jewelry, makeovers, spa treatments, and vacations; because we love ourselves so.
We pursue the elusive “American Dream”: buying ever bigger houses, pursuing an ever better paying job, obtaining ever more prestigious automobiles.
We become serial monogamists. Do you know what that means? It is an interesting term that was recently coined, and it refers to a person who is always “in a relationship.” The serial monogamist is the person who only ever dates one person at a time, but who is always dating someone. The second a relationship breaks up, a new one is formed. Because the person thinks they need someone else to be whole.
This is the untruth at the root of so much of our futile searching: the idea that we just have to find the right person or thing and everything in our lives will be the way we want it to be.
We just have to find the right person, and somehow that will make us whole.
We just have to have the right car, or house, and we will be content.
We just have to have the right job, and we will be fulfilled.
And this is extended to churches as well. Within many churches, there is this mistaken idea that they just need to hire the right staff persons, that they just need to start the right programs, and everything will be peachy. It’s a lie, Christians! And its origin can be found with the one working to see us fail, not succeed.
But it’s a lie that many believe as they search for a church home too. They as well have been deceived into believing that they just have to find the right church and their Christian life will take off. So they hop between churches, looking for some sort of spiritual high that they mistakenly believe is God’s love. Whenever they lose the “feeling,” they move on and begin searching elsewhere.
Some I have spoken with have even given up hope because no church lives up to their lofty ideals. I wonder whether they can live up to those lofty ideals themselves.
Journeys of Transformation
In our journey of finding love, we fail because we forget we are on a journey. We don’t get from here to there by surrounding ourselves with the right equipment. We get from here to there by putting one foot in front of the other and going on the pilgrimage, subjecting ourself to the journey itself, and inviting the change that the journey brings.
Change is not some commodity that we must obtain; it does not come from outside a person. It only happens inside, in reaction and relationship to a journey.
We find love by journeying toward love.
Mary takes a journey in our scripture lesson today. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary, and gives her some disturbing news. Though she is not married, though she is a virgin, she is told that she is pregnant. And though she is no one important, her son Jesus is the Son of God. He will be an eternal king over Israel.
Like so many characters in the Bible, Mary mumbles disbelief, and is offered proof. The proof that this will happen is that her older relative Elizabeth is also pregnant, a fact that Mary seems ignorant of even though Elizabeth is in her sixth month.
The angel leaves, and Mary goes “with haste” to Elizabeth’s house, to confirm or disprove this disturbing news. In journeying, she seeks truth. In journeying, she discovers that within her grows God’s love-bearer to the world. In journeying, she finds out just how much God loves her.
Mary journeys to a place where she hoped to find love and support. Where do we journey when we are looking for love? Do we go to family members? Do we go to friends? Do we go to the mall? Do we go to the internet? Do we go to a bar or a nightclub? Do we go to church?
I suspect that “church” is pretty low on most people’s lists of places where love can be found. But that is precisely our challenge: Is this a place where love can be found? If someone in our community is pursuing love—is journeying toward love—will their journey bring them to us?
1Jn 4 says: “Since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another… if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us…The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (vv. 11, 12, 21).
So I ask: Are we a place where love can be found?
Mayan Apocalypse Reboot
There has been a lot of hubbub lately about the end of the world. Archaeologists, historians, and researches have unanimously stated that this Mayan calendar has nothing to do with predicting the end of the world, but yet 2% of the population of these United States believed the world was going to end last Friday.
And even though only 2% thought there was something to it, our sensationalist media has been going nonstop about the Mayan Apocalypse. There has been so much furor, that even the White House issued a statement claiming that the world was not coming to an end on December 21st. I don’t know what good that did, since—as comedian Peter Segel pointed out—the 2% who believed there would be a Mayan Apocalypse are the same 2% who would not believe anything the government said.
But what if they were right? What if it is time to start over? What if we looked at December 21st, 2012, as a near-death experience of sorts? Something we can use to begin again, anew? Something like a reset button or a cosmic reboot of sorts.
What if this is our do-over?
“Let’s try this ‘being human’ thing again. Let’s start treating each other as brothers and sisters. Let’s recognize the presence of God in our neighbor and dwelling in all creation. Let’s remember we have been saved before, [so] this ain’t nothing new. God came as a baby to do it last time—this time. Now we have God living among us. Let’s live as people grateful for being spared the end of the world” (thanks to my friend Justin Thornburgh).
Let’s live as people of love. Let’s be a family again, continuing to love each other even in the midst of the most intense disagreements. Let’s build God’s house into a place where love can be found. Let’s love each other more than we love ourselves. Let’s love the people of this community more intensely than they have ever experienced.
Let’s be guides to those on the journey of finding love.
After all, “we love because he first loved us” (1Jn 4:19). And having been given so great a gift, God expects us to use that gift, to pass on that love to a world obsessed with finding love.
God gives love so freely and extravagantly that the only reason our world is starved for love is that we miserly hoard that love that we are meant to share.
It’s time to reboot. It’s time to restart. It’s time to become the community of love that the church should be. And it begins right here and right now.
May God give us compassionate and generous hearts to share God’s love with the world.