Dec 19th: Love Endures, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
A Part of the Series:
Dec 19th: Love Endures, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, Mary will conceive and give birth to a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel, which means God with us, Brown wrote. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love. Belonging, joy, courage, empathy, creativity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose and deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives. Vulnerability is the path.
It’s not our perfection that connects us with a distant God whose approval we seek. It’s our vulnerability that connects us with a vulnerable God whose love is already with us. It’s not our strength that connects us with one another. It’s our willingness to be vulnerable that connects us. We celebrate in the birth of Jesus, the mystery of divine love becoming flesh in a naked, helpless, crying, vulnerable baby.
Let that sink in. God didn’t come to us in brute strength and invincibility God came to us in a child in sheer defenseless. Vulnerability saying, I love you. It’s not strength that connects. It’s vulnerability.
We don’t connect to one another wearing armor, pretending everything’s okay, pretending to have our life altogether, pretending we’re in control so that people might admire us like us, maybe even love us. It doesn’t work. We connect by willing to make ourselves vulnerable.
In the birth of the Christ child, God became vulnerable to connect with our vulnerability. God came to be with us in the muck and the mess, to be with us in the pain and the loss and the disappointments of life. Mary will have a child. His name shall be called Emmanuel, which means God with us. Writer Sarah Bessie said, I’m not sure of what I believe anymore about God.
But there’s one thing I hang on to. Emmanuel. God with us. She wrote, God with us, God with us in every hospital room, at every graveside, in every dark room after everyone else has gone home to their normal lives. God, with every immigrant kid trapped in a detention center and every refugee turned away at the last door and every gay kid convinced God hates them.
God with every addict and every victim of abuse. God, with every foster kid with a garbage bag full of their treasures and God with every protester crying out in the streets that black lives matter. God with every person experiencing homelessness and with every unheard, uncelebrated and ignored child of God. God with the grieving, with the scared, with the angry God, with those who show up and do their best to be with others in those weary places where both love and God seem absent. God with us, God comes to us where we are and as we are, God has entered our world as it exists, not the world as we often wish it would be.
Earth is not an epidural to escape the realities of life. God with us reminds us, we’re never alone as we face those realities at the stage of my life. My faith in theology has been stripped down to a place where the more I know, the more I understand how little I know, but what I do know, I know in the very depth of my bones, and it’s all I need to know. It’s the one thing that can sustain us through the darkest of nights, the one simple and essential truth.
Emmanuel God with us a prevailing belief and trust that somehow some way God is with us.
Love is with us, a vulnerable love that meets us where we are most vulnerable, a love from which we can never be separated in life or death. I read a story about a woman with a brain injury who would sometimes just fall to the floor, the people around her who would rush to her immediately and would immediately try to get her back on her feet again before she was actually quite ready to get up. And this woman said, I think people rush to help me up because they are so uncomfortable with seeing an adult so vulnerable lying on the floor.
But what I really need, she said, is for someone willing to be vulnerable enough to get down on the ground with me.
God’s, love is vulnerable with us, down in the muck and the mess and the struggle with us, and that love is born anew each time we’re willing to be vulnerable and present to one another.
Matt Cavanta is a Presbyterian pastor. He tells the story when he was 16 years old, he told his father that he loved him. His father was in an inpatient psychiatric care facility. Matt’s dad was consumed by depression, and Matt said when the depression came, his charismatic father would disappear without leaving. Matt told his dad that he loved him because he did.
He was 16 at the time, and he felt that if his dad remembered just how much he was loved, he wouldn’t be sad anymore. As Matt grew older, he learned something about love.
Love can’t always fix things. Love can’t always fix depression because depression is not a result of a lack of love or a failure of love. Depression is a mix up of chemicals in the brain that might prevent you from hearing and trusting that you are loved. Over time, Matt learned love couldn’t fix his dad because love doesn’t have the power to fix everything, he said. What love does have is endurance.
As the Apostle Paul said, Love endures all things. Love never ends. God is with you and loves you and will always love you, even if you don’t know it or believe it, especially when you can’t believe it. It’s still true.
And because love endures, we’re able to endure those things that can’t always be fixed.
I remember when my father died from Alzheimer’s. Love didn’t fix that horrible disease, but as I held my dad and kissed his forehead and told him he didn’t have to be afraid as he breathed his last, I knew that God was with him. I knew that God’s love was holding both of us, holding us with a love that endures, holding my dad with a love that would carry him from this life to more life, holding him with a love that outlasts. Alzheimer’s, a love that never ends.
Emmanuel God with us. God didn’t come to us in brute strength and invincibility.
But in the sheer vulnerability of a helpless child.
Maybe the best way to celebrate this vulnerable love is with a willingness to be vulnerable with one another before we unwrap those presents. What if we took the time to unwrap our protective layers and be present, really present to one another? What if we asked, how are you? Really?
How are you?
Where is it hard for you right now?
What do you need?
How can I best love you? What if we gave one another the gift of honesty and vulnerability? What if we didn’t insist on pulling people up into the light where we’re more comfortable? But we were willing to get down there on the ground in the muck and the mess and just be present. Just be there, everyone’s fighting some battle, carrying some unhealed wound, holding some, some grief, clinging to some fear.
What if we found some way to say I’m with you? You’re not alone. It may not fix everything, but it just might be what’s needed to keep going. Trusting love endures.
In one of my earlier churches, I went to visit a woman who’d been teaching Sunday school in that Church, frankly, longer than I’ve been alive. The children loved her. She was dying of cancer. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to say.
So I said everything. I talked and I talked and I talked and I talked, covering up my anxiety with noise. I spoke of the flowers in her garden. I talked about the children from the Church. I spoke of the day she might return to teaching.
I just kept talking and talking.
I remember it so vividly, she lowered her head and lifted her gaze and held up a bony finger and said, with the spirit of love, shut up.
I did shut up and all my words.
My heart wasn’t present to her heart.
A few days later, I visited again and said nothing. I sat all afternoon with her in her garden without words, just presence, presence and tears until the shadows stretched across the yard and with the shadows came the spirit. And I spoke the words given to me, the same words God spoke in the birth of Jesus.
I love you.
And she said, I love you.
It didn’t fix everything.
But that was enough, friends. What if we gave one another the gift? The gift of our tender and vulnerable hearts this Christmas? What if we were present to one another? Really present and present to those who are suffering?
As if love was all that mattered? It may not fix everything, but it just might be enough to endure those things that can’t be fixed.
Mary will give birth to a child, and his name shall be called Emmanuel Will, which means God with us. God.