Living In Expectation - Week 3: "Everlasting Love"
Today I'm going to be continuing the sermon series that we started a few weeks ago, a sermon series for the season of Advent entitled "Living In Expectation." The basic premise of this series is very simple: We need to live in expectation of Jesus. We need to live as though Jesus is present in our midst, even in the most uncertain of times.
This is a series that I believe offers us the encouragement and inspiration we need as followers of Christ to share a word of hope to those in our culture who may need to desperately hear one right now.
This week we are going to be exploring this simple idea, which I want you to hold on to long after you walk out the door today: Living in Expectation of Jesus leads to everlasting love.
Since the passage of Scripture we'll be digging into in just a bit is about a strange birth announcement--I thought I would share with you all the story of how my youngest son, Jacob was born. For our family this is a story that helps us to connect with the idea of living in expectation of Jesus leading to a more full understanding of God's love.
And the role that obedience plays in that understanding... Because as we've discovered over the course of this series, there's always something that is required of us if we are going to live in this kind of expectation--and in this case what is required of us is obedience.
First of all, we waited ten years between our oldest boy and our middlest boy. And we thought we were done. Totally thought we were done. We were 42 years old, and figured that babies, diapers, strollers, carseats--all of that stuff would be twenty plus years in our future.
Then Merideth went to a Beth Moore conference. Beth Moore is a famous speaker and author and Merideth went to hear her speak in Orlando. While Merideth was at the Beth Moore conference she had a compelling sort of vision that we needed to have another child.
It came as Beth Moore was teaching that she felt like there were people in the audience who God was calling to do something that seemed ridiculous to most people, but that God often calls us to those seemingly ridiculous things to give us opportunities to be obedient, and to experience the fruit of that obedience.
So, she came home and informed me of this. She admitted it was ridiculous. We were two very busy people. I was going through a tough season of change at the church where I was serving, her business was growing and expanding, we already had two busy, busy boys who needed our attention. And we were pretty long in the tooth to be starting over again.
But Merideth felt like it was what we were supposed to do.
I listened carefully and then told Merideth, "God may have told you that we needed to have another baby, but until I get the memo from God on this topic, I'm saying absolutely not."
Merideth didn't push me, she started praying about it, which was way more dangerous.
So, I had this dream a few nights later... You can't make this up. And in the dream this guy came to me and said, "You are going to have another child." The first thing I thought of when I woke up after that dream was, "I am not... telling... Merideth."
I sat on that dream for a bit, and then decided to tell Merideth that I changed my mind, but was only going to give it like a couple of months--and if nothing happened she had to agree to move on. So we got pregnant not that long after my ultimatum.
And then we both looked at each other and said, "What the heck were we thinking?" And then we said, "God---what were you thinking?"
I imagine that most of us have been in situations where we prayed the same kind of prayer. "You're asking too much, God!" "It's too hard!" "I can't do that!" We might even start to bargain with God, or make demands. But mostly we feel out of control and lost in those moments.
But in those moments when we have the courage to act in obedience and trust that God is God and we are not--we get the opportunity to experience the incredible everlasting love that God has for us.
I wanted to preach today on how living in expectation of Jesus leads to everlasting love because we need to be reminded of the loving kindness, the everlasting love of God. The kind of love that would move God to do whatever it took to rescue us even if it took becoming one of us.
Let's read Matthew 1:18-25:
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[c] because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[d] (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
I think that we can all agree that Joseph was in a bad situation. Put yourselves in his shoes. Mary goes away to see her cousin Elizabeth for three months and comes back to break the news to him that she's basically three months pregnant---by the Holy Spirit. Joseph obviously didn't believe this for a moment because he was going to divorce her quietly, it says in the text.
One thing that I think we don't often think about when we remember this story is the possibility that Joseph may have actually been in love with Mary. It would explain the way he was treating her, putting her away quietly, not demanding the full extent of the law---even though he probably didn't believe that she had been impregnated by the Holy Spirit.
Mary was considered by law to be an adulteress, as a matter of fact. And she was subject to death by stoning. It was within Joseph's rights to demand this, but he didn't. It appears that Joseph was the kind of man who valued relationships over rules. His righteousness was based on love, not law.
Even though he was going to do whatever he needed to do mercifully, he was still going to divorce Mary and walk away. But God had other ideas. Joseph and Mary were God's choices to raise Jesus. So God showed up and asked Joseph to do too much.
I have to think that there were days during Mary's pregnancy when Joseph wished that he hadn't listened to God. Think of the shame, the ridicule, the loss of honor that he would have experienced in the community as a weak man, who didn't stand up for himself after being shamed by his teenaged wife.
I love this story because it speaks to me of something that is so beautiful and true:
When we are vulnerable, lost, anxious and out of control--God can find a way into our hearts. And the reason why God wants to find a way into our hearts is to show us, remind us, tell us again how his love never fails. The lovingkindess of God... in Hebrew the hesed of God means love that never fails, never gives up or runs out...
This is, I believe, what Joseph experienced when he ultimately decided to be obedient to God's call for him. As a "righteous" man, Joseph knew his Scriptures, and I am sure he had a grasp of the Psalms.
Throughout the Psalms you hear that phrase repeated over and over again---"The steadfast love of the Lord never fails..." We forget this, don't we? We lose sight of this truth. And so God has to turn all of us into dreamers from time to time so we can remember.
Advent is a season when we have the opportunity to face the darkness, both within us and outside of us in the wider world. We have an opportunity to stare that darkness in the face, to acknowledge it, to feel the effects of it---and then to realize that because of the steadfast, never failing, endless, boundless everlasting love of God, the darkness is about to be overcome.
Church. Can I get a witness on that?
So where in your life are you dreaming, longing for hesed? What feels like it's too much for God to ask right now? Is it a calling on your life to serve? Is it a letting go of something you've been holding on to? Do you find yourself standing there needing something, some reassurance, some sign that it's going to be all right that the darkness doesn't get to win?
Maybe it's something that seems small, but uncomfortable--like sharing your gifts with the church, serving on a ministry or mission team, joining the choir, volunteering for youth ministry or teaching Sunday school.
Or maybe it's something that seems a bit more challenging like changing jobs, or letting go of a broken relationship, or going on a mission trip, or sharing your faith with a co-worker or friend.
In these last days of Advent, as we look forward to the coming of the Christ in our lives, in our world---we need to embrace the hesed of God fully and completely.
Living in expectation of Jesus leads to everlasting love. Love that never runs out. Love that never fails.