“Love Works”

Isaiah 7:10-16    Matthew 1:18-25

Rev. Zachary L. Bay

Love.

Today is the Sunday devoted to it. Well, of course, they all are—but this one is named Love by the fourth candle on the Advent Wreath that the Daniels led us in lighting a few moments ago.

The Apostle Paul was the first of the New Testament authors to write down the Gospel message, predating the Gospel of Mark by about 10 years. Maybe more. Paul was the person who lived and wrote chronologically closest to Jesus, and it was Paul who wrote: “Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greats of these is love.”

Faith: the whole reason we’re here today—the affirmation of a better way to live and a redemptive end to the human journey—and our striving toward all of that.

Hope: the fuel of the human heart that keeps life running in good times, and especially, in bad times.

Both of these great things, Paul says, fall short of the greatest: love.

“Love never ends,” Paul tells us. As for all the rest, it does end. But love never ends.

Paul wrote that even before Mark had the opportunity to write the first of the New Testament Gospels. But he wasn’t the only one or the last one to write it.

The First Epistle of John came much later—somewhere around the time Luke or the Gospel of John was penned. First John says even more boldly what Paul did. Paul said “Love never ends.” The implication is there in Paul—for there is only one thing in all the universe that never ends—but it is made explicit by First John. First John says it outright: “God is love.” Twice.

And somewhere in between the time Paul wrote it and John wrote it, Matthew wrote it. That brings us to today’s Gospel Lesson. Guess what it says.

In its way, it says, “For God so loved the world…”

In its way, it says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”

It says, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place… And they will call him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God with us.’”

If you hold together in creative tension the New Testament texts and all the theology and tradition of the church, you get one heck of a piece of Good News: God…the Creator of all the universe…the Creator that ever ends…is Love…such that God would put aside all that so as to taste and see what it is like to live as you and I do. This passage says that God is the CEO that understands life on the factory floor.

When I was in college at Georgetown, during my summers back home, I worked full-time in the Transportation and Logistics Department of the manufacturing company that Mom worked for her entire career. I was, in part, in charge of trucks. Keeping track of them. Running them down when they went missing. One of those summers, a bit shot exec came from St. Louis to Maysville to meet with our department. He had spreadsheets and flipcharts and no small amount of swagger. He had questions, and he had answer to them. I remember one answer he had. He questioned the route that our department prescribed to the tractor-trailer companies for bringing trucks into the docks. He said that he’d been studying our street maps before he left St. Louis, and that routing all of those trucks up over Forest Avenue and then down to East Second Street was inefficient. We could save, he said, x number of hours per year loading and unloading if we sent the trucks up East Second Street instead.

My department manager tried to tell him…but he wasn’t there to listen. He wasn’t there to learn about life on the factory floor. He downloaded his answers to us, and he left them signed and sealed from corporate. He was back on a plane that same day. My department manager would have told him, but he wasn’t listening. He was the boss, though, and so my boss said, “Okay.”

The next two weeks, after two different Star Transport trucks took out two different sets of street lights, traffic lights, and utility poles at the old and narrow corner of East Second and Main, the City of Maysville was on the phone. “We know,” my boss said, “but this came from corporate. I’ve got a business card here. Would you like the number?”

Friends, a preacher can, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent just a few days walk out from the light and warmth of the manger spend a sermon on details. Joseph. Mary. Shepherds and magi. Virgin births and angels scaring the wits out of everyone just before telling them “Do not be afraid.” That’s certainly not an illegal approach to the nativity, though it may risk getting hung up in the power lines. It’s not illegal, but it may be too narrow. Too small.

In my reading this season, this story in Matthew’s Gospel is really about one large thing: it says boldly and clearly: the CEO knows what life is like on the factory floor.

Friends, the God of all the world—of all that is—is connected to your life and my life. Come Christmas Day, God will cross over Wall Street and Main Street and be born right in your living room. And God’s name: Love.

Let me close this sermon on the Eve of the Eve of the Eve of Christmas by saying that because God is love, and because God is connected to the world that God so loves, and because God knows that you and I can’t make that turn onto Main Street, God has made the turn for us.

And because God is love and God made the world, love works in this world. This church has been accused of “hiding behind love” by many a local preacher through the last several decades. They mean that we don’t rant and rave about sin enough. But I want to say to you on this Sunday named Love that love works. That love is indeed, as Paul said, “the greatest of these.” And by “these,” he meant everything.

Don’t believe it? Think we need to hold on to just a little judgment…just a little punishment…just a little righteous anger? That’s fair—if we’re honest, we all believe that. But in the light of Love today, let’s consider a few recent experiences we’ve had as church:

Since we, First Baptist Church, took courage and crossed the street and welcomed all who might come into our house on Thursday nights for dinner and fellowship, do you know that we find markedly less trash on the church grounds? The last time I checked in with Billy, he told me that he hadn’t found a needle on the church grounds in quite some time.

Who knew? Jesus was right. Love works.

And just yesterday, I was talking with a church member who volunteers on Thursday nights. This church member was saying that she can no longer walk around stores and sidewalks in Middlesboro and look the other way as she passes folks carrying backpacks and wearing tattoos and dirty jackets and hungry faces. She can’t look away because she knows…that one’s Fred. That one’s Sally. That one’s Bill. And they know her, and they say hello to her; they call her by name.

Who knew? Jesus was right. Love works.

And this year, though one of our stalwart Live Nativity partners didn’t take a shift as they historically have, we still had enough volunteers in part because the CCM volunteers who cook and serve meals on Thursday nights said “Thanks for hosting us” by taking the most difficult shift to fill.

Who knew? Jesus was right. Love works.

Love works in this world

because God is love,

because this work is God’s,

and because if you watch carefully,

you’ll catch God walking the floor, listening with love.

Merry Christmas.