We made it through Advent, with its wonderful sense of expectation. We joyously celebrated the Nativity, with rich food and gifts and decorations. We kept up the celebration for the twelve days of Christmastide, rocking in the New Year at the Feast of the Holy Name, and then we celebrated some more at the Epiphany. Two days later, we renewed our baptismal vows with the story of Christ’s baptism by his relative John.
And now, we get a little quiet, a bit of downtime before the next season of expectation and preparation and the fifty days of feasting and celebration that follow. The church is changed back to green, and we get to hear stories of how God-With-Us — Emmanuel, Jesus — manifests himself in our world.
This Sunday, the readings are a love note from God. Last week, we heard this love note very clearly: You are my child, the beloved, and I am well pleased with you! This week, it will be a little more subtle, but it’s still there. We will hear God call the boy Samuel in the night, a charming and funny story of mistaken identity. I rather doubt anyone will laugh as they hear this read in church tomorrow, but I hope people do, because it really is a funny little story. You can hear gruff Eli telling the boy to shut up and go back to bed already. Really, Samuel, let the old guy sleep! Finally Eli figures out what’s happening and tells Samuel what to do; the story doesn’t say it, but I’d bet money that Eli told him not to bother him again until morning.
My favorite bit from this story is in the last verse: As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. Isn’t that beautiful? What an amazing gift! Who among us can say that all of our words are heard, and none of them fall to the ground? It’s really hard to listen and heed; I know I struggle with this every day. I know that really listening to someone shows that I value them, that I value who they are and what they are saying. This gift God gave Samuel — he was valued among his people.
And the psalm, the psalm!
LORD, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting-places
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,
but you, O LORD, know it altogether.
For you yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will thank you because I am marvelously made;
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
If this isn’t a love song, then I don’t know what is! I can well imagine speaking to a lover this way, or hearing words like these from his lips. The language of love is filled with hyperbole and repetition and even baby talk. You’ve known me forever, we might tell our beloved, and you known me better than I know myself. And (to use one of Jesus’s favorite rhetorical techniques), if we can imagine speaking and hearing this language with a human love — whether a spouse or a beloved friend or even a child — then how much more is this love poured out for us by God?
I’ll admit that it’s a little harder to find the love note in Paul’s letter. We get hung up on the fornication, and all we can think about is dirty, lascivious, lustful concupiscence. (I love that word!) But this reading isn’t really about prostitution or fornication or any of the things those words imply. No, Paul is reminding us that all the things that we believe are ours — not just our souls, but even our very bodies — really belong to God: your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit; therefore glorify God in your body.
It’s January. It’s the time for making (and breaking) New Year’s Resolutions. I generally shun the whole Resolution thing, though I usually toy with the idea of making New Year’s Resolutions at Advent I, the beginning of the church year. And, of course, I establish a discipline or two for Lent, when it rolls around in February or early March. New Year’s Resolutions are just so secular, even mercenary; there’s an entire market built around them. There’s no coincidence that Weight Watchers and the YMCA and Planet Fitness have special offers in January. They know the Resolution Market, and they would be stupid not to take advantage of it.
And yet, here’s this reminder from Paul. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. God loves us. God gave us our bodies. The psalmist reminds us that our bodies are marvelously made. But are we really glorifying God in our bodies? I know that I don’t treat my body properly. Yes, I’m taking advantage of the special offer at the YMCA this January, because my body is one crappy temple. When we fall in love with someone, we try to look our very best, because we want them to love us in return. Well, God loves us. God loves me. I’m pretty much in love with God… but I’m not looking my very best for God. So this little love note is a bit of a kick in the pants for me. I know God never says the things other people have said to me, the echoes in my mind and heart like you promised you’d never get fat or your body is repulsive to me. Rather, I hear God saying to me, Yeah, I love you, silly! I love you whether you’re fat or skinny, healthy or sick, exercising or watching tv. And you really are beautiful, and I love to see you at your very best. And this — this brings both tears to my eyes and joy to my heart.
Then, we finally hear Jesus in the gospel reading. Jesus says those simple words: follow me. We will witness great things, if we come and see. Just like the child Samuel, we hear Jesus calling to us in this gospel: follow me. Come and see. There is so much that God has to show us, if we just listen, without letting God’s words fall to the ground.
Philip and Nathanael and Andrew and Peter had no idea where Jesus was taking them or what he was calling them to — no more than we know where God is taking us or where Jesus is calling us to. The promise remains, though: we will see great things; we will see heaven opened. We will see the love God pours out for us, infinitely, continuously, perfectly. And the best part? When we open up and start pouring this love out for others, then God pours even more out for us, so that we are overflowing with grace and forgiveness and loving-kindness. I promise — because God promises — that you are loved, my friend. You are valued and cherished beyond measure.
So here’s your love note. I hope you’ll keep it, maybe in your pocket or in a jewelry box, maybe on the refrigerator or taped to your monitor at work. Or maybe you’ll pass it along to someone who really needs to know how much they are loved. That’s the promise: you are loved.