Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent
December 15, 2013
They tried to warn me. They said, “you won’t be sleeping much.” They said, “you’ll be changing diapers all the time.” Everybody warned me that, when our baby arrived, I would be snatching a couple hours of sleep here and there and that I would be a walking zombie. They said I would be living off coffee.
Of course, being as stubborn as I am, I didn’t really believe them. Look, I’ve pulled some late nights studying in college and seminary. I was a whitewater river guide in Maine. I know what it means to live on just a few hours of sleep. Or at least I thought I knew. So here is my public confession – you were right. I was wrong.
Turns out that caring for a newborn is absolutely, utterly, positively exhausting. You all warned me, but I didn’t listen. Ever since our daughter Lydia was born on Thanksgiving Day, I have been relearning that lesson, every night.
Changing a diaper at four in the morning is a transcendental experience. First I hear the fussing. Then the crying, then the screaming. I have to will myself out of my warm bed and walk my way down to the nursery. The dogs are confused. I’m confused. And with eyelids half up half down, I’m asking myself, “is this a dream?” You get the irony there, right? Maggie and I had been dreaming of having children, and so here we are, and it’s a dream alright.
But if you were to stand there with me, at four in the morning, with dirty diapers and baby wipes and confused dogs and a crying baby, and if you were to ask me, “Do you love her?” I know how I would reply. “Do you love her?” I would say, “that’s a stupid question. It’s four o’clock in the morning, I can barely even remember my own name I’m so tired yet here I am changing her diaper. What do you think? Of course I love her.”
Now, on to this story about Jesus. At this point in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus has called the first disciples, given the Sermon on the Mount, cleansed a leper, healed a sick man, healed Peter’s mother-in-law, calmed the storm on the sea, cast spirits out of two demoniacs, raised a dead girl to life, healed two blind men, and healed one man who could not speak. And here come the followers of John the Baptist, and they ask this question of Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Jesus gives them that four o’clock in the morning stare and says, “That’s a stupid question. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. What do you think?” Of course Jesus is the one to come.
Jesus meets the sick, the dying, the poor, and the undesirables. In Jesus, God, the creator of the world has stooped down to us, dirty diapers and all, and loves us. God loves us. God loves you.
And I know, I know that you have come to Jesus like the followers of John the Baptist, your heart full of worry and doubt. But Jesus, I’m not a good person. But Jesus, I have cancer. But Jesus, I’m divorced. But Jesus, I feel so alone. And then you say to Jesus, in those dark nights of the soul, can you love me? Can you love me with all my dirt, and filth? Can you love me as the failure that I am, the drunk that I am, the wreck that I am? Can you love me even with all of my dirty diapers?
And there’s Jesus, who changes the dirty diapers of your heart, and Jesus says to you, “That’s a stupid question. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Of course I love you.”
Of course God loves you. Every day, every hour, God looks upon you and says, “you are beautiful. And I love you. Dirty diapers and all.” Dirty diapers and all. As the prophet Hosea says, God pulls you close as one who pulls an infant to the cheek. That kind of love, the apple of your eye kind of love. That’s how God loves you.
Now, this love will cost you something. Because it’s coming to the realization that God loves that jerk who cut you off on 45 just as much as God loves you. God loves the neighbor across the street who plays their music too loud. God loves the meth head with five kids living on welfare just as much as God loves you. God loves the unlovable.
That is the great lesson in humility. That God’s love is equal and across the board. Blind. Lame. Deaf. Dead. Poor. Whatever. God’s love is the same. God’s love is not just for you, it’s for everybody. Accepting the love of God is going to cost you something; a little bit of pride, a little bit of ego.
And this is something that my daughter has not yet learned. Oh my goodness, babies are the most self-centered, narcissistic, egotistical people I have ever met. It is seriously all about them. Lydia doesn’t care when I want to sleep. She doesn’t care when Maggie and I need to eat dinner. Our little newborn Lydia only cares about herself. She’s got a lot nerve that little punk.
I love my daughter dearly, and I really don’t mind changing her diapers at four in the morning, but I do pray that one day this will come to an end. I pray that she eats solid food, sleeps through the night, and is willing to consider others. I pray she matures, that she grows up, that she becomes an adult.
That’s the process of life. And that’s the image of our life with Jesus. Precisely because God loves us, we cannot stay in our diapers forever. We cannot eat milk forever. We need the solid food of faith that God wants to give us; that is caring less about ourselves, and more about God. Loving ourselves less, so that there is more room in our heart to love others. It is time to be mature Christians, mature followers of Jesus. You all are way beyond the spiritual milk. You are past insipid Christmas songs and sappy sentiments. You have outgrown your spiritual selfishness, you understand that this thing called faith is not about you. God loves you too much to let you stay in those diapers. Do not be the newborn that you were when you first met Jesus.
Because here’s the thing – anybody who meets the love of Jesus does not stay the same. Everybody is changed. The blind see. The lame walk. The lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised. That’s the thing about love. It changes you.
I see a day, a night really, when I’m sound asleep at four in the morning, because our daughter has matured. And I see a time coming, in your life, when you don’t worry about if God loves you. A day when you aren’t asking that silly question, “can you love me?” I see a day coming, when your eyes are opened, and you realize that all along, God has been holding you up to his cheek in a warm embrace. And then you see that all along, God is love.