• Steven Marsh

Worshipping The Triune God of Unconditional Love–The Exiles and Threats of Love: a Reflection

The Hope, Peace and Joy candles are lit. Advent ties the preparation for the birth of Jesus, to the climax of redemptive history with the Second Coming of Jesus. This Third Sunday of Advent focuses on the Joy candle. My friend Dr. Steve Hayner defined joy this way, “Joy is not about my circumstances, but rather about being held and sustained by God’s love.”[1]We participate in God’s limitless future rather than being bound by the limitations of present circumstances. Joy meets us in the exiles and threats of love.

Many people at this time of year feel exiled that is marginalized from others because of the downturns in their lives. Others won’t risk loving due to the threats of being hurt and the general brokenness of life. Do you know how loved you are? When Stephen Colbert, the host of CBS’s The Late Show, was 10 years old, his father and two of his brothers, were killed in a plane crash. Stephen was the only child still at home with his mother in the years that followed the tragic plane crash. In an interview with GQ, Colbert was asked how he dealt with the death of his Dad and two brothers without becoming angry and bitter. Colbert said, “I was raised in a Catholic tradition … That’s my context for my existence…to know God, love God, serve God…That makes a lot of sense to me. I got that from my mom. And my dad. And my siblings. I was left alone a lot after Dad and the boys died. … And it was just me and Mom for a long time. And by her example I am not bitter … She was … broken, yes. Bitter, no.[2]Our Scripture readings today tell that story of transformation.

The texts in Philippians, Luke and Zephaniah tell a story of how worshipping the Triune God of unconditional love transforms us in the exiles and threats of love. Worship brings us face to face with God, the one who loves us the most and knows us the best. In Jesus Christ we become reconciled with our Creator and one another. Sandra Maria Van Opstal writes this about worship, “Hospitality and solidarity lead to mutuality. First we say, ‘We welcome you.’ Then, ‘We stand with you.’ In mutuality we say, ‘We need you.’ Engaging in each other’s forms of worship, and worshipping together across differences, leads us to a deeper place of dependence.”[3]Each reading shows us how to live so that we are ready for Jesus to meet us in the warp and woof of life. In Philippians, we learn that Jesus guards our minds and hearts. In Luke, the preaching of John the Baptist helps us look to Jesus the one who gives us in word and deed the unconditional love of God. And, the prophetic word of Zephaniah exhorts us to cling to God’s strength and salvation in the midst of condemning voices. All three texts demonstrate that when we think all is lost in the exiles and threats to God’s unconditional love, God gives back God’s very self. When we cling to God, we experience unconditional love in a way that wipes away whatever is owning us at the time.[4]

Stephen Colbert allowed joy to transform his experience of tragedy. You can to. Joy lifts us out of exiles and threats that exercise “ownage” of us just like Mary’s knowledge of her pregnancy and the accompanying questions of how and why? Once she embraced God’s choice of her as the mother of the Messiah, society’s scorn no longer owned her although the exiles and threats continued throughout her life. Friends, we need Jesus to experience transformation and joy.

The joy promised by God is good news even though there are constant exiles and threats to love in our daily existences. Finding and experiencing joy in the midst of the exiles and threats of God’s love for you is possible. This is the good news of Advent.

[1]Steve Hayner, former president of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, died of pancreatic cancer on January 31, 2015.

[2]Adapted from Joel Lovell’s article, “The Late, Great Stephen Colbert,” GQ (8-17-15).

[3]Sandra Maria Van Opstal The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 71.

[4]Some ideas in this paragraph were influenced by Alan Gregory, Cynthia M. Campbell and Joel B. Green in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 36, 40, 45.

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