Wonders of His Love

by the Rev. Lee Woofenden

Bridgewater, Massachusetts, December 24, 1998
Christmas Eve


Jeremiah 33:10-16 A Righteous Branch

This is what the Lord says: "You say about this place, 'It is a desolate waste, without people or animals.' Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither people nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying, 'Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good; his love endures forever.' For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before," says the Lord.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: "In this place, desolate and without people or animals--in all its towns there will again be pastures for shepherds to rest their flocks. In the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem and in the towns of Judah, flocks will again pass under the hand of the one who counts them," says the Lord.

"The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will fulfil the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness."

Luke 1:26-38 Gabriel Foretells Jesus' Birth

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end."

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God."

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

Luke 2:1-20 The Birth of Jesus

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.


Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good; his love endures forever. (Jeremiah 33:11)

It is wonderful to have all of you here this evening. This is my favorite service of the year--and not only because it is our biggest service of the year! That helps; but the reason it is the biggest is that in this service we celebrate the biggest event in our world's history: the birth of our Lord Jesus.

It seems that each Advent season, one or two things especially strike me as I think about the Lord's birth among us. This year, what strikes me most strongly is that God chose to come down and be born among us.

"Well, of course!" you say, "That's what Christmas is all about!" But let's think about it for a minute. God is an infinite, all-knowing, all-powerful being who exists outside of time and space, in an eternal present that is pure love.

This state of being is far beyond our limited human minds, so let's put it in terms we can understand. Was there someone on your Christmas shopping list who was practically impossible to get a present for because he or she "already has everything"? Well, God is the ultimate person who already has everything! God is pure love, pure wisdom, pure creativity, pure joy . . . . The list could go on and on. Suffice it to say that if it's good, God already has it--because everything good comes from God.

Why in the world would the God who has everything have the slightest interest in coming down into this world of ours where there is so much selfishness and greed? Where we do so many damaging and painful things to one another? Even today, in this "enlightened age," we humans continue to wage war on each other, continue to engage in lying and stealing, corruption and bribery. And we as individuals continue to say and do things that hurt each other. Or, perhaps even more often, we simply don't put out our best effort to do for others what we would like them to do for us. We are imperfect beings living in an imperfect world. What could there possibly be here to motivate the God of the universe to come down from a state of pure bliss and enter this world of light mingled with darkness?

The only answer I can come up with has to do with the wonders of God's love. God may not need anything from this world or from us. But there is something God wants to offer to us--to give to us if we will accept it. That something is God's love.

Emanuel Swedenborg wrote, "Love is wanting to give what we have to someone else, and feeling the other person's joy as joy in ourselves" (Divine Love and Wisdom #47). This is the kind of love God feels for each one of us. God has and is everything that is good, and God wants to give it all to us. God wants to give us love and understanding, joy and peace. And God is willing to do whatever it takes to give these gifts to us.

God did not choose to come to earth and be born as the baby Jesus in order to get something for himself. No, God chose to be born and live among us in order to give to us the gift of his divine presence among us. God chose to join us and live among us to show us how we, too, can feel something of the joy that God has at the core of his being. God gave of himself 100%, even to the point of being willing to die for us, to show us what love and joy are all about.

And even though God is the ultimate "person who has everything," there actually is something we can give to God in return. Love is not only giving what is ours to others, but also feeling the other person's joy as joy in ourselves. When we accept the love and the pure joy of living that God offers to us, we complete the circle of love. Then, the joy that we feel in ourselves makes God's love and joy complete. Love can never be real unless it is given away, and God has chosen to give his love to us. What remains is for us to accept it.

How do we accept God's love? If love is giving what is our own to others, then we accept God's love by showing the same love to all the people that we come in contact with each day. We can return God's love by loving the other beings God has created to be with us. Every time we bring joy to another person, we bring joy to God. God loves each one of the beings he has created, and feels their joy very intensely in his own soul.

Each time we decide to make that extra effort to show kindness and understanding to another person, we are multiplying the wonders of God's love. Amen.

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