Today is the fourth and last Sunday in Advent and throughout this season we have been participating in the Advent Conspiracy which is an international movement of people and churches dedicated to turning away from consumerism and consumption and turning towards worshiping fully, spending less, giving more and loving all. We started Advent by remembering that Advent and Christmas are all about Jesus, and so we begin with responding to what Jesus has done for us by dedicating ourselves to fully worship him. With Jesus in the number one position in our lives, we can take an honest inventory of how we spend our time and money during this pre-Christmas season and we make decisions about how we can spend less. With the time and the money that we save, we are now free to give more of ourselves to our loved ones this year: more time, more attention, more memory-making moments. And a life that is ordered around worshipping fully, spending less and giving more is also free to love all. And it is to this concept of loving all that we turn our attention today.
Let’s begin by defining what love is. And, based on a biblical understanding of love, we can say that love is choosing to act in a way that allows others to experience God’s best for them. This definition tells some very important things about love. First of all, love is a choice, not a feeling. Love means choosing what is best for that other person even when we do not feel like it, or when our personal desires would lead us in the opposite direction. Next, love is always active. To say that we love someone without any corresponding action is merely paying lip service to a noble idea, but it is not really love. Love is inherently sacrificial for it means putting the welfare of others ahead of our own. Love means that we follow God’s definition of what is best for other people and not our own. Love is also effective, that is, the person we love experiences something different, something life-giving, because of our love.
The model for our pattern of true love is ever and always Jesus. Jesus set aside all the riches, power and glory of heaven to be born as a helpless human baby to a poor, insignificant couple in a barn in the backwater village of Bethlehem. And so Jesus shows us that loving others requires humility. Jesus knew that what was best for all of humanity was to be freed from the curse of alienation from God because of sin and to experience reconciliation with God. Jesus knew that God’s best for us was to experience complete and total forgiveness and new life with God that begins now and continues into forever. And so Jesus willingly volunteered for the mission of paying the price to free all humanity from our bondage to sin and death. He lived a perfect human life for us, saying no to temptation at every turn so that we can have his goodness, purity and wholesomeness in our lives. Jesus allowed himself to be arrested, beaten, falsely accused, flogged, mocked, stripped naked and nailed to a cross to suffer and die for us. And so, Jesus modeled for us the ultimate in sacrificial love.
The human blood shed by the Son of God was worth infinitely more than the total penalty for all sin in the whole world through all of time. The ransom paid by Jesus so far outweighed the cost of our forgiveness that justice demands that we be set free to experience the best of God’s love. Jesus showed us that love provides in extravagant ways.
On the third day after his death, Jesus rose from the dead to make his victory complete. With his resurrection, our long, cold Narnian winter has ended and spring has come. Jesus’ resurrection has inaugurated a new creation where hearts are healed and minds transformed. Where aging and infirmed bodies look forward to being raised and renewed on the day when Jesus comes again. Where love takes root in people’s hearts and grows into concern and sacrificial action for others so that they too can know this Jesus who loves them infinitely and unconditionally.
Jesus is not only our model for love. Jesus is our motivation to love. As it says in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” It is because Jesus chose to act and give of himself so that we can experience God’s best for us that we do the same for others. But it is more than a pass-it-on kind of response. Jesus’ love has changed us. We are different than we were before. As the Holy Spirit fills us through God’s Word and the Sacraments, we become different people. Our spirit within us has new life and vitality. We see things differently than we did before and we look at the world through the lens of faith. What was important to us before seems trivial now as we see that eternity hangs in the balance for billions of people throughout the world. And the only way that they can experience God’s best is if someone loves them with Jesus’ love.
So now, based on the biblical understanding of love, what does it mean to love all? In Matthew 25, Jesus gives us picture of what will happen when he returns to earth on the Last Day. He says,
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:31-40)
We humans beings tend to love the people who can love us back. But Jesus is calling us to love people who need our help and cannot pay us back. Jesus is calling us to love the poor, the sick, the stranger and the prisoner, because when we do that, we are actually loving him. So loving all means allowing Jesus to blow up the small boxes that we keep our love in so he can stretch and grow us into being open to loving any and all people, but especially the impoverished and the marginalized.
When I am talking with people about helping others, right around this point in the conversation, people sometimes get defensive. They might say something like, “I cannot possibly help everyone in the world, so who should I help?” And the reality of our inadequacy in the face of the immensity of the world’s problems can become, if we let it, an excuse to not take any action at all. But at this point, we are forgetting to trust Jesus again. Surely the King of the Universe who created all things with a word is wise and powerful enough to direct us in how to best manage and use the limited resources he gave us to show his love to the people he wants us to love? And surely the God who provided for two million Israelites for forty years in the desert can provide for you and me here and now in Canada? Jesus will guide you towards the people that he wants you to love.
To give you an example of how Jesus leads people to love, let me tell you the story of Ida Scudder. Ida was born in 1870 in India to missionary parents. The family returned to the US when Ida was eight. After a few years, Ida’s parents returned to India, but Ida stayed in the US. She had no desire to serve on the mission field. When she was 20, Ida returned to India to help her ailing mother. While there, Ida witnessed the deplorable state of health care in India, particularly for women. Over the course of one night, three husbands came to Ida’s father, Dr. John Scudder, to ask for medical help for their wives who were in labour. In each case, Dr. Scudder offered to help, but Indian social customs of that time would not allow a man to deliver a baby. All three women died in childbirth. Ida was shocked by the needless deaths. She changed her mind about serving in India and went back to the US to get a medical degree so that she could help Indian women. She started a small aid station in Vellore in 1900 and opened a nursing school in 1909. To train women as doctors, Ida opened a medical school in 1918. Eventually that medical school became Christian Medical College which “…now offers nearly 150 different post graduate courses in the medical, nursing and allied health disciplines, including PhD courses. A total of nearly 2000 students are enrolled every year. The hospital serves over 2000 inpatients and 5000 outpatients daily, with 67 wards, 92 clinics each day and 121 departments/units.”
So Jesus is able to guide you just as he guided Ida. My encouragement to you is to trust Jesus and to be open to loving whoever he guides you to love. There are people all over the world who need what Jesus has given to us to give, and all we have to do is love them. Love is the reason that Jesus came. Love is what Advent is all about. “We love because he first loved us.” Amen.
(Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on December 21, 2014.)
 “Christian Medical College & Hospital,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia (Internet; available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Medical_College_%26_Hospital; accessed December 21, 2014).