Love (Sermon for December 22, 2019)

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Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, the season when we look forward to God coming into the world: long ago, as a baby, among a dispossessed people in an occupied land and on a day no one knows, in triumph and glory, to usher in the kingdom of God.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, when we light a candle for love.

I need to preface this a little bit. I am bad with names. It takes me a while to learn a new person’s name. And even after I’ve learned it, if I’m put on the spot, I just go blank. Even after I’ve learned it, I second guess myself. Names can be hard. But names are also important.

Now…

You all know this, but my last name is Marlin-Warfield. It’s a combination of my wife’s family’s name (Marlin) and my family’s name (Warfield). It’s long. And it’s hyphenated. And it’s hard for some people. But it’s also important.

I have had the front-desk person at a hotel or a rental care place or wherever look up my reservation under Warfield because they thought that Marlin was my first name. And then they don’t find my reservation… and we have a back and forth… and I explain that my last name is long and hyphenated and it’s Marlin-Warfield.

I have had to deal with computer systems that do not accept hyphens. And my name on the plane ticket or whatever becomes two names (Marlin… Warfield) or gets run together (Marlinwarfield).

I have even had a boss… who knew my name… who kept introducing me as Chris Warfield. I had to take them aside and explain that my last name was Marlin-Warfield and that it would be nice if they would introduce me by my actual name. And, to be fair, after I said something about it, they started introducing me correctly.

Names can be hard. I know. I have a name that is hard for some people. But names are also important.

And my troubles with a long and hyphenated name are pretty minor. No one has ever complained that my name is too hard to pronounce, and just decided to give me a different name that rolls off their tongue more easily. No one has ever told me that I shouldn’t have changed my name, and just decided to call me by my original last name.

And, of course, someone calling me by my family’s name doesn’t bring up painful memories of when I had to pretend to be someone I was not.

Names can be hard. But names are also important.

Today’s reading from the Gospel According to Luke, we meet the priest Zechariah… and his wife, Elizabeth… and the angel Gabriel.

And Zechariah has a vision. Gabriel says to him,

Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John… He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

And Zechariah doubts. “How will I know that this is so?” he asks, “For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”

And Gabriel answers him. “I’m an angel. You want to know how you’ll know these things are true? How about this: you will be mute—unable to speak—until the day these things come to pass.”

And suddenly Zechariah cannot speak. And time passes.

When Elizabeth bears a son, her neighbors and relatives show up. And they say, “We will name him Zechariah, after his dad. Zechariah, Jr.”

And Elizabeth says, “No. His name is John.”

And her neighbors and relatives say, “No, no, no. We name children after relatives, and none of your relatives are named John. We’ll name him Zechariah, Jr.”

And Elizabeth says, “No. His name is John.”

And her neighbors and relatives turn to Zechariah, and they hand him a writing tablet, and he writes… “His name is John.”

And just as suddenly as he stopped being able to speak, he is able to speak again. And he praises the Lord.

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us… And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.

And there’s a lot there… about promises that were made long ago… and about things to come. But before Zechariah can tell the truth about his child, he has to call his child by his name. 

His name is John. And he will be a voice crying out, 

Prepare a way through the wilderness for the Lord. Make a highway through the desert for our God… whoever has two coats share with someone who has none, and those who have food do likewise. Fill the valleys. Lower the mountains. Make the crooked ways straight and the rough ways smooth.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, the season when we look forward to God coming into the world: long ago, as a baby, among a dispossessed people in an occupied land and on a day no one knows, in triumph and glory, to usher in the kingdom of God.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, when we light a candle for love.

And I could say a lot about love. I do say a lot about love. I hope that every sermon I preach says something about love. But this sermon says this thing about love: loving another person starts with seeing the person in front of us; loving another person means calling them by their name.

Sometimes, that’s the name that was given to them by their parents. Sometimes, that’s the name that they took when they got married. Sometimes, that’s the name that they chose for themselves. 

Always, it’s the name that God calls them by: I love you.

That might seem like a silly name. But it’s an important name; it’s the most important name. When God sees you, he sees you in all of your fullness, in all of your actuality, in all of your potential. And when God calls you, she calls you I love you

God loves you. God loves you exactly the way you are. God loves you too much to leave you that way. God has always loved you. God will always love you. So much that she calls the worlds into being. So much that he lays glory aside and comes into the world as one of us. So much that they say, again and again, “I’m not done with you, yet.”

And when all of our other names are stripped away, when our titles are no more, when our names have faded from memory, when the engraving on a stone has worn away, that name and that face will remain. God loves me. God loves you. God loves us.

Always and forever.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, the season when we look forward to God coming into the world: long ago, as a baby, among a dispossessed people in an occupied land and on a day no one knows, in triumph and glory, to usher in the kingdom of God.

But it isn’t just a season of waiting. It is a season of doing. Because while the kingdom is coming, the kingdom is also already here. And we in this church—in this little consulate of the kingdom of God—are called to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth, a candle in the darkness and a beacon in the night.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, when we light a candle for love.

It is a candle to help us see love. It is a candle to help us remember love. It is a candle to help us know love.

It is a candle to help us see ourselves as people who are loved and who are worthy of love. It is a candle to help us see our friends and neighbors as people who are loved and who are worthy of love. It is a candle to help us see strangers and enemies as people who are loved and who are worthy of love.

May we see all people… and all things… and all the world by the light that is love! May we call each other by our names!

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