the Third Sunday of Advent

Reflecting on the Journey
The church, as well, is “conceived by the Spirit and born of the virgin!”

The longer I do this – the preaching, the administering – the simpler it becomes! God loves us! Loves all of us! Period! God loves us! Loves all of us! No ifs, ands, or buts! And the authorities, the sources cited become just as simple. Bowl of water. Pinch of bread. Sip of wine. And a little book most of us never gave a second glance, once we were confirmed. The Small Catechism. Take, for instance, the explanations of the Creed. Article one: God has created, has given! God daily and abundantly provides! God protects and shields and preserves! Article two: Jesus Christ has redeemed, has purchased, and freed! And article three: The Spirit has called, gathered, enlightened, made holy! Abundantly forgives! Will raise and give!

Basically, god loves! Loves us! Loves us all! End of sentence! God loves us and there’s nothing we can do about it! Nothing we can do to make god love us more! Nothing we can do to make god love us less! That’s the way it’s been! Right from the start! From the very beginning! That’s what we believe in! That’s what we stake our lives on! The living, daring confidence that makes us glad and happy and bold! Not just when things go well, but, also, when they don’t! Maybe especially, when they don’t! Like when, after sixty-six years, we have to sell our building and start all over, again.

God loves us! Loves us all! Period! End of sentence! But it’s funny how quickly we can forget that. How quickly we overlook it and move on to other things. A congregation starts to shrink, to grow grayer. Things tighten, pinch. And we forget all about god! Forget what god has done for us! Does for us! We forget the love! We panic. We grab at straws. If only we say another prayer. If only we read the bible more often. If only this. If only that. They things will have to change. Come to church more often. Drop another dollar or two in the offering. We could become more welcoming, more hospitable. Parking spaced for visitors next to the door. Maybe, even, a valet or two or three! Technology! PowerPoint! Up to date! Modern! Move to the suburbs! Before you know it, ministry becomes nothing more than a bag of techniques and tricks! We struggle for the best solution! For just the right answer! And before you know it, god has disappeared. Vanished. And love … Well, in the immortal words of Tina Turner, “What’s love got to do with it?!?”

God loves us! Loves us all! That’s the message of Christmas. The reason, if you will, for the season. The camera zooms in, penetrating the chaos and the clutter. And there is the child. Wrapped in bands of cloth. Lying in a manger! And nothing else is important. Nothing else matters. Just the child. Conceived by the Spirit; born of the virgin. That’s how Jesus is described in the Creed …

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary ….

Christology is what we called it, back in seminary. True god and true human being! Mortal and divine! Creator and creature! But there’s more to it than that. It says that everything – especially Jesus – is a gift! An expression of god’s love! For us and for all! Gift and not payment or reward! Given out of the goodness of god’s own heart! That’s what the “conceived by” is about. It’s all god’s doing, and human beings have nothing to do with it. It wasn’t our idea. It wasn’t our request. We didn’t lend a hand. We didn’t give our permission. It’s all god!

But god di it all through us! Mary was a means of grace, a sacrament. Like baptism or the supper. Mary was the earthly element. Like the water and the bread and the wine. And god does it all … through her! God loves us! God loves us all! And god loves through us, as well! That’s the “virgin” part of the creed! Christmas is love coming to and entering into the world! Love coming as a child! And that child comes through Mary. Through Mary and, in turn, through the church! Through you and me! God creating! God redeeming! God raising up! God loves us! Loves us all! And god never stops loving!

What god does here, does now, is what god has always done! Creating! Giving! Preserving! Abundantly providing! Protecting! Shielding! Redeeming! Purchasing! Freeing! Calling! Gathering! Enlightening! And all the rest! And what god did with Mary, god does with us, as well! God does with us, in the same way! Being a virgin has nothing to do with it … not biologically speaking! The virgin conception is a theological concept! What it points to is the truth that Jesus was … is … will be … a gift! The gift of god! And we are inspired because of it! We are roused! Stirred! God moves us! We don’t move ourselves! All we “do” – which isn’t “doing” anything, at all – is respond to god just like Mary. “Here we are,” we say, “the servant of the Lord. Let it be … Let it be ….”

What happens to us as a congregation … What becomes of us … simply, isn’t up to us! It’s up to god! It’s, always, been up to god! And for us, that’s enough. That’s enough. We don’t have to try harder. We don’t have to do better. We don’t have to become anything, anyone, more. We just wait for god. Anything else would be the tail wagging the dog. After all, god loves us! Loves us all! Christ is conceived by the spirit in us, as Christ was conceived by the spirit in Mary. And we give birth to him just as Mary gave birth to him. Like the prayer paints it, “God calls us – we don’t call ourselves – to venture, by paths, through perils!” We just go. Humbly. Audaciously. Certain of only two things. That god leads us. And that god loves us! God loves us all! And nothing else matters. Nothing else is important.

Conceived by the Spirit; born of the virgin. That’s not just Christmas. That’s the way it works here, all year through! God does what needs doing! Within us! Through us! And Christ is born! Again and again! Over and over! Time after time after time! And all we do is say, Amen! Amen! This is most certainly true! God loves us! God loves us all! Period! End of sentence! Exclamation mark!