December 24, 2014: “It really IS all about Love”
When I was kid, I heard a children’s choir sing the song, “From a Distance,” by Bette Midler. The song talks about how from a distance the world looks beautiful, people look like they’re getting along, and everything seems to be working in harmony.
The chorus of this song, after painting this picture of how the world looks like from a distance is:
And God is watching us, God is watching us,
God is watching us from a distance.
Oh, God is watching us, God is watching.
God is watching us from a distance.
If we are honest, is that how we see God…people in the church and people who want nothing to do with the church? Is God watching us from distance? I think a lot of people would say that is how they see God. From that perspective, God is disconnected from reality, hard to relate to, and definitely only to be consulted when absolutely necessary.
Some people paint a picture of a God who is separated from the pain and suffering of day to day, but from a distance can see a grand plan. And for them this chorus “God is watching us from a distance” might be a statement of faith that God can see things from a different perspective and so what looks really daunting to us might not be that daunting for God. For others, this concept of God watching at a distance is at the core of their resistance to God, Christianity, church, religion…all of it. Because what good is a God who watches from a distance but doesn’t step in and change anything? What good is a God who watches from a distance and lets people do awful things to each other? If God is watching from a distance, these people say…God’s got nothing for me.
Both of these perspectives, I think, create a problematic view of God. In both situations, God is watching from a distance, rather than intimately involved in the hearts and souls of humanity.
Because we know, after all, that what the world looks like from a distance is not at all what it looks like on the ground level, right? On the ground level, pollution and garbage is destroying this beautiful blue and green planet. On the ground level, war and violence are destroying communities and countries. On the ground level, a variety of influences result in the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer. On the ground level good people get bad diseases and people die too early. On the ground level…let’s just say the world is not as it seems from a distance.
Which begs the question: what does that mean about God? Is God watching us from a distance? Is God disconnected from the chaos and crisis of our lives, waiting for us to find our way through it? Is God really somewhere out there over the rainbow, unaffected by and uninvolved in humanity?
Today we gather to remind ourselves of a different image of God…not of a God who watches the world from a distance, but a God who breaks into the world with the proclamation: “Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all creation.” Today we sing songs and read passages from scripture that speak of Emmanuel…God with us. Not from a distance, but in the form of a baby. The God of the universe, who could remain at a distance and leave us to our own devices, chose to take on the form of a man and make his dwelling among us. Not in a castle or in a palace, but in a stable, surrounded by an unwed mother and her fiancée, with lowly shepherds and foreign astrologers as the first visitors. That’s not a God who is disconnected, that is a God who is smack dab in the middle of the messiness of life.
Today we encounter a God who enters into the messiness of the world for the sake of reconciliation and redemption. Why would God do that? Because God loves us. But more than because God loves us, the the Bible tells us that God IS love. God doesn’t just do the ‘love thing,’ but the very essence of God is true, un-romanticized, un-tainted, unconditional love. As humans we try to love…and often fail. God is not just like us but better. God IS love. And love doesn’t stay at a distance from those it loves. The overarching story of Christmas is that LOVE has come down in the form of a tiny baby…that LOVE is here in the midst of the messiness and darkness of what we’ve made the world to be…and that LOVE will never leave us or forsake us. And that LOVE will spare no expense to draw you into itself. That LOVE would pour itself out on this world even if you were the only person on earth.
Whether you understand LOVE to be God or not, I think you will agree that a humanity that loves—genuinely loves—is better off than a humanity that stays entrenched in selfishness and isolation. And that was what Jesus’ core message was: “LOVE, people!” When we get it right…when we follow that urge to care about someone, or when we take a risk that puts us closer into relationship with others, we are experiencing the very presence of God on earth. When we love in a way that transforms both us and others, we experience the very presence of God on earth…not in thunderbolts from a God who watches from a distance, but in all the significant and insignificant ways we embrace our humanity and that of those around us.
That’s the message I hope you hear tonight. First, know that you are worthy of this love. No matter who you are or what this year has been for you, you are worthy of the kind of love that redeems and renews. You are worthy of love that heals and restores. You are worthy of love that casts out fear. Secondly, I hope you hear that this baby, born in Bethlehem in obscure circumstances and visited by the most unlikely band of visitors, IS that love. This baby is the very essence of God, made flesh, who made his dwelling not on a distant cloud somewhere off in space, but right in the midst of humanity. Why? Because God IS love…and that LOVE loves you, and wants to be in relationship with you…not from a distance, but wrapped in whatever it is that makes you you, and whatever it is that you are going through.
And so, today, regardless of your motivation for being here, and regardless of how much credit you give to the whole God thing, know that you are loved. The God who caused the universe to come into existence could have chosen any number of images or forms to take on to show us God’s essence. And what do we have? We have a helpless baby, growing up and living among us so that we had a tangible example of a God who is not watching from a distance, but is with us and suffering alongside of us. Why? Because that’s what love does…that’s what love IS. Love is feeding the hungry. Love IS comforting the grieving. Love IS lifting up the down-trodden. Love IS welcoming little children, foreigners, and widows. Love IS ultimately walking in to death with and for us, and then defeating death through the power of the resurrection. The message of the angels is a message for us: Love IS here…not somewhere off in the distance.
Now that’s a love worth singing about!