LOVE CAME DOWN AT CHRISTMAS

(Sermon Advent 4, 2011 – St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Brighton – Fr. Rob Sweet)

You’ve heard the expression “ivory tower.” Here is the definition: “a place or condition of withdrawal from the world of action into a world of ideas and dreams.”

God has, at times, been described as a remote creator, uninvolved in the world — like an absentee landlord, or a watchmaker who put the world together, wound it up, and left us on our own to run.

But the truth is, God is deeply interested in what we do: deeply interested and deeply involved. We have the example in today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:26-38).

The angel Gabriel foretells the birth of the Messiah. Mary is to be his mother. But Mary says, “How can this be since I am a virgin?”

The angel replies, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”

No ordinary conception! No, indeed! This is a miraculous conception, the work of the same Holy Spirit, who hovered over the waters at creation (Genesis 1:2).

The child would be human, but mutch more than human. He would be divine.

We remember the words of Wesley’s hymn:

“Love divine, all loves excelling,

Joy of heaven to earth come down.”

And on the cover of our service leaflet this morning, we see the words “Love came down at Christmas.”

This is on the cover of the booklets our children received at the beginning of the service.

One booklet contains the Christmas Story, and the other is an activity booklet to engage children in thinking about it. On the pages of the activity booklet are the following statements about Christmas:

“Love came down at Christmas. Hope came down at Christmas.

Peace came down. Joy came down. Forgiveness came down. New life came down. Eternal life came down at Christmas.”

God is deeply involved in this world.

True, he has allowed us to make our own choices. We call this free will. And yet he has always been at work in this world, helping us to seek after the right choices.

MyFM Radio Station invited local pastors to give a one-minute message on “The True Meaning of Christmas.” One minute is not much time, and you can’t speak too quickly or people will miss what you’re trying to say.

My message was exactly one minute and two seconds. But this morning, I want to expand that message just a little.

Years ago, when I was serving as a police officer in Toronto, I shared the concern of my fellow officers about a new idea. The idea was to replace the position of chief of police with an administrator who might NOT have police experience.

Our concern? How would someone with no police experience understand the challenges we were facing every day? Fortunately the new idea was never implemented.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was God. And that he left the glory of heaven to be incarnate – to live among us as a human. He was, at the same time, fully God and fully human. Mind-boggling, yes, but nevertheless true.

St. John tells us, “Through him all things were made.” So Jesus knows what we are made of, being our very creator.

But in addition to that, he has actually experienced what we experience. He worked with us, shoulder to shoulder, on the front lines of life.

Love came down.

There is nothing like the real thing. We can talk forever about what we could do, would do, or should do. But if we actually do it, the deed speaks volumes. Love actually came down – born of the Virgin Mary.

In the 1980’s, I had the privilege of meeting Robert Vernon, who was then an Assistant Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. Bob Vernon came to Toronto as a guest speaker for the Canadian Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers.

Vernon told us that, as a Christian, he sought to live by the word of God in his private life and public life.

At the end of his working day, he would remain in his office for an extra hour. That hour, of his own off-duty time, was set aside for one purpose: to make himself available to police officers who wished to talk about matters of faith.

Skeptics might have been tempted to ridicule him. But Vernon had come up through the ranks. He had done the job – for thirty years, in fact.

Not only that, but he also made it his practice to come down from what could be called “the ivory tower” and to work in the patrol car with the front-line officer.

He did not forget the work, and he did not forget the workers. Vernon was a good leader who led by example. And though a leader, he was also a brother.

Now the best of all leaders, the Lord Jesus Christ, is our brother. The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus, who sanctifies us and we who are being sanctified have the same Father. “For this reason, Jesus is not ashamed to call [us] brothers and sisters (Heb. 2:11 NRSV).

In the same letter, we find this exhortation: “Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin” (Heb 4:14-15, NIV).

And that reality makes Jesus the one perfect Saviour.

True love came down: love without sin, but full of action.

You can look at the Bible’s love chapter (1 Cor. 13) and use it to examine your own actions.

Try substituting your name for the word “love”. Like this: Rob is patient. Rob is kind. He does not envy. He does not boast. He is not proud. He is not rude. He is not self-seeking. He is not easily angered. He keeps no record of wrongs. Rob does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.

I must confess that I fall short of that characterization. But true love does not. And if we have true love walking with us along the path of life, we are encouraged. Jesus has promised, “I am with you always.”

“You can do it, Gampa.” That is something my grandson Zachary has said. I think he heard “you can do it” on one the TV shows for kids. Anyway, he has applied it to me a number of times. “You can do it, Gampa.”

And it reminds me of the words of St. Paul. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13, NKJV).

God is deeply interested and deeply involved, urging us to seek after the right things. So, heaven is no ivory tower.

And love has come down. We think of God talking with Adam and Eve in the garden.

We think of David’s close relationship with God.

But at the first Christmas, love came down in a way that has no parallel. It happened once in history, and it need never happen again -- because through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have salvation.

I close now by repeating the statements about Christmas found in the booklets given to our children:

“Love came down at Christmas. Hope came down at Christmas.

Peace came down. Joy came down. Forgiveness came down. New life came down. Eternal life came down at Christmas.” Amen.