Love’s Pure Light

Session Date: 
Sunday, December 16, 2018
Bible Text: 
John 1:1-18


Advent III, 2018


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light…From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.


Silent Night, holy night,

Son of God, love’s pure light,

Radiant beams from Thy holy face,

With the dawn of redeeming grace…


The birth of Jesus, Son of God, is the radiant beam of a favorite line, “love’s pure light. The gospel of John declares that God so desired to be “up close and personal” with humanity, that God came to live, breathe, feel, teach, touch, and love us. And as we are made in God’s image, we are called to  nurture relationships that birth, multiply, and radiate that grace in the world.


We begin with noting our word for the week, “Love” and John’s “grace” go hand in hand. In fact, as the Gospel of John begins the word “grace” is used four times, then doesn’t mention it again in the rest of the book. As one commentator put it, “the entirety of the Gospel will show what grace looks like, tastes like, smells like, sounds like, and feels like. As John tells it, God in becoming flesh in Jesus has committed God’s self not only to revealing what God’s grace looks like, but that God wants to know it and feel it as well.


God’s face in Jesus Christ has entered the world where it will be kissed by mother Mary, cradled in Joseph’s rough carpenter-hands, and washed after the feeding and burping that is real human life. Life, full of humanity wrapped around love’s pure light that will shine on us, redeem us and shed God’s grace upon us. So what would the world be like if indeed this “love’s pure light” was at the center?


It would look like the Mennonite congregation in San Francisco that shares a building with Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, a Jewish community founded to serve the LGBT community. The synagogue, often a target of both anti-Semitic and homophobic attacks, was most anxious following the mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. When the Mennonite congregation volunteered to stand guard during Friday night services, the rabbi said, “I’ll take 20 Mennonites over one armed security guard any day.”


What would the world be like if indeed this “love’s pure light” was at the center?


It would look like Willa Cather’s story “The Burglar’s Christmas.” The story is about William, who has failed at everything. Alone and desperately hungry in Chicago, he has been out of contact with his parents for years. On Christmas night he comes to the realization that “he never had the essentials of success, only the superficial agility that is often mistaken for it.” He concludes the one option left to him is to steal.


He breaks into a house that very night, only to discover that he has burglarized the home of his own parents – who unbeknownst to him, had moved to Chicago. His mother recognizes him rummaging through her jewelry drawers in the dark. She moves in to kiss her wayward son. “O, my boy, we have waited so long for this.”


Frightened and shaken, he resists her embrace. “I wonder if you know how much you pardon?” he asks. “Much or little,” she says, “what does it matter? Have you wandered so far and paid such a bitter price for knowledge and not yet learned that love has nothing to do with pardon or forgiveness, that it only loves, and loves—and loves?” Then she kissed him. And dawn began to break into his life.


What would the world be like if indeed this “love’s pure light” was at the center?


It would look like Adelita’s Fajitas, in Elkhart, Indiana. Serving a congregation in a low-income neighborhood of South Bend Indiana, the Rev. Michael Mather began to realize the in-take questionnaire for the church’s food pantry was based on the wrong concept. Like most, it sought to determine the need that had to be filled. Taking a cue from another non-profit that believed it is better to start with focusing on gifts, rather than what is lacking, the questions changed. They began to ask whether folks took care of children or elderly, could they put up drywall or fix a toaster, drive a car, play a musical instrument or garden? The interview would end with three questions:


What three things do you do well enough that you could teach them to someone else?


What three things would you like to learn that you don’t already know?


Who beside God and me (the interviewer) is going to go with you along the way? Then a follow-up: And who celebrated your last birthday with you?


The new approach enabled people to see they were not alone and began to tease out gifts and talents they could use and be proud of. An early applicant was Adele. She lived with three generations of her family and worked as a part-time cook at Notre Dame. When she told the interviewer she was a good cook, he said, “Prove it.” She was asked to cook lunch for the church custodian, secretary and pastor.


Later the neighborhood association wanted to use the church for a meeting. They filled out the form indicating they would be using the kitchen with a caterer. The church secretary told them, “Don’t’ do that. Let Adele cook for you.” She cooked for a parent-teacher meeting, the local health center, the chamber of commerce. For that one, the church invested $20 for 1,000 business cards for her. She connected with a women’s business association and a year and a half later opened Adelita’s Fajitas.


Instead of asking how poor she was, the church asked Adele what gifts God had given her. Looking for people’s gifts, rather than their needs, is recognizing love’s pure light in everyone.


What would the world be like if indeed this “love’s pure light” was at the center?


It would look like our own Karen and George. Several years ago they read the story of the Apple Garden motel and its residents in Ashland. They discovered a working poor family with a couple of children, health problems and fast-food jobs that would not allow them to break out of a cycle of motel living. Karen and George “adopted” the family. They helped with Christmas, helped with food and a strategy for getting out of debt. Then when the town decided to shut down the hotel, thereby evicting drug dealers and transients, but also low-income families like Karen and George’s new friends, they worked with the town leadership and the family to find them a safe, affordable apt. All because Karen saw a story in the newspaper. Or better yet, all because love’s pure light shines its radiant beams of redeeming grace upon us all. So think on two questions, where do you see love’s pure light shining? And how are you, the light of love for another?