As we move closer to Christmas, Pastor Roger Barkley questions what it means that God loves us.

Extravagant Love
Advent 3  12-16-18
Philippians 2:1-11

As you know, I was raised way out in the backwoods where my dad was a forest ranger.

One cold Christmas Eve when I was like four or five my dad tried to make my Christmas magic by getting some bells and running down the dark little road that led past our house ringing those bells and laughing a “Ho, ho, ho” that echoed down the glen.

I slept through the whole thing – and I still feel a little guilty about missing that loving drama that my dad enacted, on my behalf.

I don’t want to sleep through Christmases ever again.

Christmas is not just a holiday, it is a holy day because it represents God taking the initiative to come to us and to be with us as one of us.

So, the question is not can we get into the holiday spirit, but whether we’ll let the holy get into us.

There is a story about an exhausted housewife who was washing dishes in the kitchen sink one day after the children had left for school.

She looked at her red and raw hands holding one particular plate and asked herself, “How many times have I washed this plate?

“How many times have I dried it?

“And how many times will I have to scrape it, scrub it and dry it again.?”

With that, she then set down the plate, took off her apron, packed a few of her belongings, and left.

That night she called home to tell her husband that she was all right, but that she just could not come home again.

From time to time she would call just to see how her husband and children were doing.

But she would never tell them where she was, nor accede to the pleas from her family to come home.

The husband hired a detective to search for her, and after picking up a few leads, he found her in another state, living in a small apartment over a luncheonette where she had a job as a waitress.

Her husband set out immediately to bring her home.

When he found the place she was staying, he knocked at the door of her upstairs apartment.

She opened the door, saw him, and did not say a word.

She just went into the bedroom, packed her belongings, and silently followed him out to the car.

Then, in silence, he drove her home.

When they were alone in their bedroom, he finally asked her, “Why didn’t you come home to me before? Over the phone I begged you to return. Why didn’t you come?”

The wife answered, “I heard your words, but it wasn’t until you came for me that I realized how much you cared and how important I am to you.”

The prophets of the Hebrew Bible tried to tell us about God’s love, but we didn’t really get the message until God showed up among us.

Romans 8:3-4 God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. 

In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all.

That’s a pretty good definition of love.

Love is sacrificing something of our self for the benefit of another person.

Love is more than a feeling, it is active … it often is difficult.

God created you – uniquely, especially you – out of love.

Some of us think, “I don’t think God can really love me because I’ve done this or that, or because of some secret thoughts, or because my life just feels in shambles”.

But God loves you for exactly who you are … and no matter where you’ve been, what you’ve done, what you failed to do.

God loves you so much that He came to earth to be close to you, He sacrificed to clear your debts, and He wants to be intimately involved in your life.

To get your head around the extravagance of God’s love for you, listen again to today’s scripture from Philippians 2.

When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. 

It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

So, here’s the thing:

Because he loves us so extravagantly, Jesus then asks us to follow his example, because it is by following his example that we experience and share life in the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom is more than eternal life of Heaven.

It is that, but Jesus’ repeated invitation throughout the Gospels is for people to change their attitudes, to change their hearts and get a taste of Kingdom life right here and now.

Jesus loves us and then calls us to do likewise: to love his people just like he loves us.

Think of a person you’ve had a run-in with … someone you’re angry with.

God is every bit as concerned about that person as He is about you.

Think of someone who lives on the margins of life, someone who is uneducated, someone who is in prison, someone who supports “the other” political party.

God is every bit as concerned about that person as He is about you, and God calls you and calls me to be concerned for them, too.

The early church reformers John Calvin and Martin Luther abolished the monasteries in Europe and their reasoning was simple.

They said that for followers of Jesus the whole world should be their monastery because the whole world is filled with people who need that prayer, that nurture, and that love.

Have you ever thought, “If I had been in Bethlehem, I would have given Joseph and Mary a place to sleep”?

Or, “If I ever win the lottery, I’ll give a bundle to the church”?

Well, God is not interested in what we would do with the money we don’t have, but He is vitally interested in what we do with what we do have right now.

And God isn’t interested in what you’d do when you retire, but He is vitally interested in what you will do with the extra three or four hours you have this week.

And since Jesus is in the heart-changing business, his interest is not only because of what it means for a poor or lonely person you care for but also because of what it means for your maturing in love.

Tony Campolo recalls a time that he went to check on an orphanage that he was helping to fund in Haiti.

He arrived in Port au Prince late in the afternoon and checked right into his hotel.

After a quick shower, he headed downstairs to the restaurant, which was pretty much empty at the time so he was shown to a table right up against window looking out to the sidewalk.

As he was flipping through the menu, he noticed four boys standing around outside peering into the restaurant.

They were skinny and dressed in clothes that had become mere rags – just like thousands of other street kids in Haiti.

When his meal was served, two of the boys pressed their noses against the glass and stared at the hot food on his plate.

When the waiter noticed the situation, he quickly crossed the room and pulled down the curtain saying, “Oh, I am so sorry, sir. Don’t let them bother you, enjoy your meal”.

Jesus came so that we would not be people who pull down the curtain.

God wants our hearts to be broken by the things that break His heart.

If Jesus had just taken the world by force, calling forth legions of angels to bring down the wicked, that would be a one-time fix, but it would not extend the Kingdom over time, because it would not re-form the hearts of anyone.

So, in addition to his sacrifice for our salvation, Jesus lovingly left the glories of heaven to come to earth to give us a very human picture of what it looks like to be a Kingdom person.

Ephesians 5:1-2 Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love.

Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

There was a woman who was so moved by a sermon she heard about the Sermon on the Mount that she made a decision on-the-spot to devote herself to serving the poor.

The very next day she went to her priest and explained how she’d been impacted by his words and asked what she should do.

Well, the priest suggested that she write to Mother Teresa.

So, she wrote to Mother Teresa at the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta that afternoon saying that she was ready to devote whatever time she needed to her ministry, and then she began to make plans for an extended stay away from home.

She anxiously waited for a reply, and waited, and waited until she began to wonder if her letter had gotten lost in the mail.

Nearly seven months later she got a reply from Mother Teresa herself.

Scrawled across the original letter was Mother Teresa’s simple reply, “Find your own Calcutta.”

So, the question is not can we get into the holiday spirit, but whether we’ll let the holy get into us.

I can think of no better way to close today’s sermon than this prayer of the Apostle Paul.

Philippians 1:9-11 So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately.

You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush.

Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.