Signs of Love
Rev. Tony Romaine
In Susan Trott’s trilogy about a Holy Man, she writes about a monk who lived on top of a mountain in a hermitage. To get to the hermitage, pilgrims would have to travel a long path up a steep and winding trail packed by fellow travelers. There were separate paths up and down, as the path was not wide enough for two-way traffic. The journey was arduous, and people may have to camp out for days before seeing the Holy Man, as he would only take visitors during the Summer months.
As one of the characters finally reached the hermitage which was a quaint two story non-descript house on a rock foundation facing East, the pilgrim knocked on the door and it was opened by one of the monks at the hermitage. The pilgrim knew he was a monk because every day the monks would go down to the village to pick up supplies and they were always dressed in drabby gray clothing and simple attire. And so, this man answered the door and said, “Yes, how may I help you?” The traveler answered, “I have come to see the Holy Man.” The monk at the door said, “Ah yes, follow me.” The monk then led the pilgrim through the hermitage passing open rooms and doors and finally they were at the back gate. As the monk opened the back door to the hermitage and said, “Goodbye.” The Pilgrim stunned said, “What, wait a second, I came to see the Holy Man.” And the monk answered, “and so you have.”
I love the idea of slowing down as we come to the end of our Advent season, because it reminds me that we can sometimes journey through life, an arduous journey no doubt, and miss all the signs that God is with us, or that God longs for us along the way. In fact, I sometimes think about if God is already among us and we just fail to see. Or if Jesus did come, would we recognize it?
See, we ask for signs that God is with us, we ask that God make present what the next revelation is, but then do we take the time to see it? And would we trust it if someone stood up in the middle of downtown Little Falls and proclaimed that a young woman would give birth to a child and that child would be named Jesus and he would come to save the world?
Unfortunately, I think not, for long gone are the days when the prophets went to the king’s court and proclaimed about a young maiden who would give birth, long gone are the days when a disciple would go from town to town and proclaim the Good News, and long gone are the days when the whole world stops and awaits a newborn baby…or are they?
Sometimes we have recency bias, or a tendency to think that what we are experiencing can only be happening to us. But I think that in those times before Jesus’ birth many Jews in the Mediterranean world were feeling much like we do today. They were feeling forgotten by a world which was ruled by leaders who seemingly could care less about the people who actually support and uphold the society. They were being persecuted for their beliefs and were being marginalized because of their religion. They were tolerated, but that was about it, by a Roman society that had no use for their God or their religion or their temple. And they were holding onto hope that one day a Messiah would come and would save them all; because it was written that this would happen and because it had happened before.
And then something marvelous occurred to these Jews, an angel appeared to an unwed virgin and promised her that she would become the mother of Emmanuel, God With Us, and that same angel appeared to Joseph to let him know that everything would be more than okay and that he should stick by Mary’s side because this was God’s work and Joseph should trust in God. And a sign was proclaimed that the messiah would come in the form of a baby. That God would save the world through this baby Jesus.
I think we overlook this one important fact all too often, that the sign of love that God sent into our world was not a thunderstorm breaking forth and a baby floating down from the heavens, it was not God incarnate with lighting bolts streaming from fingertips and flowing golden locks of hair appearing out from behind marvelous white clouds, it was a baby born in a room of a house reserved for animals, born into a feeding trough, and probably quite dirty and unkept.
But more so than the actual birth itself, is the symbol that God bursting forth into our lives in the from of a baby holds, the sign of love that we received o so many years ago…A baby needs to be cared for, nurtured, held, loved. A baby needs to be raised and taught and helped along the way. A baby is the most fragile form our human bodies take until our dying days when we are fragile once again. And so, if you have not thought of it yet, here is the important fact we often overlook…our salvation came in a form that requires our attention, our care, and our love; which means God incarnate, God in our lives, requires our attention, our care, and our love.
In other words, we must nurture each other, we must care for each other, and we must be the love for each other as if everyone we meet is God incarnate! In this respect, the sign of God’s love is in each of us, the love God has for the world lies within our hands and feet, and the only way we will ever recognize God within us is when we begin to recognize God within each other!
I know the cynics out there are immediately wanting to know about criminals or the mentally insane or the abusers and harassers and the list goes on. And you are correct, because we cannot change the past. But remember, Jesus did not come to change our past, He came to change our future. Jesus was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, His coming fulfilled all prophecy, but His coming was to give us a future which we could live into, one where we are free to love without restrictions and to choose anew. And if we fail to recognize the sign of God’s love within ourselves and each other than we will never realize God’s love in the world, or see it even in the innocence of a baby.
And so, if there is only one thing you ever know about Christmas may it be this: God loves you!
Is there a hole in your heart? God loves you
Do you miss someone? God loves you
Are you a believer? God loves you
Do you doubt or absolutely not believe? God loves you
Are you sad or lonely? God loves you
Are you conflicted, guilt-ridden, sin-filled? God loves you
God loves you so much that instead of staying distant and far away, instead of being something you could never feel or see, instead of being something you could never relate to; God burst into our world so that you could touch the divinity which exists within you, and you could see the divinity that exists within the other.
You might be wondering how I could know that God loves you, how could I possibly know? I know because I am broken, I am imperfect, at times lonely, at times depressed, and in those moments when I feel that I am not worthy of love, that I am not worthy of God’s grace, that I am not worthy of the life I have been given, in those moments when the deepest love of my most dearest loved ones or those who love me beyond compare cannot even reach the depth of my despair…It is in those moments when God’s love fills me and repairs me; because I am God’s child, I am of the Creator, and I am loved as a carnal being of God’s own hands.
As we have journeyed through the Advent season, we have spoken of putting on the Armor of Hope and awaiting the coming hour of God, we have spoken about the Root of Peace and how God calls each of us to be promoters of peace regardless of our history, we have celebrated the Joy that children bring through song and Scripture, through music and innocence. And here we are now on the cusp of celebrating the birth of Jesus into our world. As this season ends, it will bring relief to many that the busyness is over, the cooking is done, the family time spent, all the gifts either bought or not bought.
But the irony is that we will just ramp things up again, that we will inevitably speed up to the pace of life again, and we will undoubtedly start to go so fast as to miss the very important signs of God’s love in our lives once more. This is what happens to us, this is why the Advent season is so important, this is why we eventually come to another season of reflection and waiting in Lent, and this is why no matter how many times, years, decades we experience the message of Christmas, we need to hear it again and again and again. That God loved us so much that Jesus was born to save us, to love us. That the one true sign of God’s love lives within us all, and that love is meant to be shared with one another.
And so, let me leave you all with a piece of advice, a sign of God’s love. This is not from me, but rather this advice is from a Holy Man on the Mountaintop: “If you look on everyone you meet as a holy person, you will be happy.”
What better sign are you waiting for?