the nativity of our lord, christmas day …

a page from “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse”
by Charlie Mackesy
… not that we love, but that God loved …

It was a post on Facebook, that caught my attention. A simple sketch. Black-and-white. Pen and ink. Of a boy and a mole. Sitting side-by-side. On the limb of a tree. “What do you think success is?” asked the boy. “What do you think success is?” The mole said, “To love.” The mole said, “To love.”

It was one of those Zen-like things making its way around the internet. All fuzzy and warm. Sounding so transcendent. So mystical. Insightful. Profound. The kind of thing that makes you feel good when you read it. But as soon as you do, never give it a second thought. But this time, it stuck with me. Maybe more a matter of timing, than anything. When you’ve done something for over half your life, when it’s over, it makes you wonder … “What do you think success is?” asked the boy.

I had a friend – called and ordained – who retired. Reminiscing, he told me that there wasn’t a congregation that wasn’t better off because he’d been there. More people in the pews. More money in the bank. More square footage under roof. At least the mole was a bit more … spiritual. Or at least, spiritual sounding. “To love,” he said. “To love.”

Well, I printed a copy of that post. Set it on my desk. To think about. To reflect on. To contemplate. After a couple weeks, I looked at it and realized that the mole had it wrong! Had it all wrong! Success isn’t loving; success is being loved! Success isn’t something we do. Something we accomplish. Something we achieve. Success is a gift! It’s not loving; it’s BEING loved! It’s a gift! Not a payment. Not a reward. It’s something we believe in; not something we obey!

Success is having someone else! Sitting with us! On that tree branch! Not because they have to, but because they want to! Not because they must, but because that’s where we are! Success is having someone to talk to! To share the important questions with!

We’d like to think it’s us. Loving. But it’s not. It’s just the reverse! It’s us BEING loved! The world tells us, “Love god!” “Love god and love others!” “That’s how we change the world! But honestly, how’s that been working? That’s not how we succeed. Trying harder. Doing better. It’s not OUR loving that makes a difference. It’s not OUR loving that’s important. Not foremost or first. It’s BEING loved! It’s BEING loved! And everything else comes from that! Everything else is, simply, an echo and a reflection. Nothing happens unless. Until. “In this is love,” scripture says, “not that we loved god but that god loved us!!” We love because god first loved us!

That’s why this is such a big day! This is the day love came to us! The day love comes to us and, as the song says, will never leave us! This child! Wrapped in bands of cloth! Lying in a manger! This, for us, is success! This manger and the cross! It’s love! All of it! Beginning to end! Start to finish and beyond! But it’s not OUR love … It’s god’s love for us! And without that love, without that charity, without that grace, there is no success! Without that love, there’s no trying! The message isn’t a command to love. It’s a proclamation, a promise. God loves! God so loves! And that proclamation, that promise, changes everything. We can’t forgive, until we’re forgiven! We can’t give, unless we’ve received! We can’t love unless, until we’re loved!

That’s why we’re here. Sunday after Sunday. Week after week. Not to love god. Not to love each other. Not to change the world. We’re here, simply, to BE loved! To be told how important we are to god! Told how much our lives mean! How much we matter! To hear it! To see it! To feel it! Even to smell it and to taste it! And as we do, we come to believe in it! To trust it! To stake our lives on it! And maybe, every now and then, when we’re lucky, to even become it! If only for a moment, practicing what we preach! But even then, that’s not what makes us a success. It’s not OUR living. It’s not OUR loving. It’s GOD’S loving that makes us that! It’s GOD’S loving that makes us everything!

What do we think success is? It’s a baby – a god – asleep on the hay! It’s a god – a man – hanging lifeless on a cross! It’s not OUR love – OUR loving – that changes the world! It’s not OUR love – OUR loving – that makes a difference! It’s GOD’S love! GOD’S loving! It’s god who turns the other! It’s god who goes the extra! It’s god who does unto! That’s what we’ve been taught to expect! That’s what we’ve been told to look for! It’s GOD’S success; not OURS!

Gospel isn’t something we do. It’s something GOD does. Something GOD’S done! GoodNews isn’t something we give to god. It’s what god gives to us! Out of the goodness, out of the greatness, of god’s own heart! God loves! Each and every! One and all! And the world, the universe, is never the same, again. So, It’s a simple sketch. Black and white. Pen and ink. Of a boy and mole. Side-by-side. On the limb of a tree. “What do you think success is?”, asked the boy. And this mole says, “Being loved!” Being loved!

My friends, don’t be mistaken. Don’t be misled. If nothing else, know that you are loved! Loved already! Loved forever! You are loved deeply! And nothing can change that! You are loved, and you will never, ever, be more successful than you are right now! 

Watch the service on Facebook.

Midland Lutheran Church