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A Glimpse of Heaven, Part IV: Love

December 16, 2019

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

The heart emoji is a shorthand symbol for affection and love.  We use it in texts and emails to express our affection and love for our friends and relatives.  Luther included a heart in his seal because “[O]ne who believes from the heart will be justified” (Romans 10:10).  We consider our hearts to possess our truest and purest emotions and beliefs.   The heart of a matter is the central or critical part.

The heart of Christmas is Jesus.  He was sent to earth because of God’s great love for us, not only to save us from our sins, but also to set an example of what God’s love looks like in action.  Human love is not like God’s love. Human love depends on character traits that move people up a ladder to become a “good person.”  But Jesus reminded us that no one is good but God (Mark 10:18).  God’s love, on the other hand, does not require that we move up a ladder to become better and better.  God’s love requires an emptying of self, a surrender of self.  It lays low the proud.  God’s love is the way of the manger.  God’s love is agape—the Greek term for the highest form of love: God’s unconditional love.  God’s love for us does not depend on our “goodness.”

Before you can have an effect on people, you must show them that you love them.  Paul did this in writing to the church in Rome: “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people” [1](Romans 1:7).  Paul’s love for the people was evident in his writings to the church.  Paul was God’s emissary of love to the church in Rome.  God offers his love freely to all, though some do not accept it.

Last week, I described an incident that occurred on our way home from a Mammoth ski trip the night of January 3, 1998, when I “saw” my recently deceased friend, Stephanie, in my mind’s eye.  I recounted that I was enveloped in warmth and love during the experience.  The account of my experience continues here:

We drove on through the darkness. Slowly Stephanie’s visage faded, and the warmth that had enveloped my whole body slowly receded.  I didn’t want it to end.  I tried to hold onto it, but it continued to fade, and I was pulled back into the world of happy, noisy children.  It took me a while to come down from the experience. 

 I glanced at Bob, and reached over to turn the volume down on the tape player. “You can turn it off if anyone wants to sleep”, he said. It was now almost 10 P.M.  Three of the children were still talking and laughing.  Five-year-old Peter had fallen asleep with his head at an awkward angle. I glanced back and asked Julia to put his pillow behind his head. The Burger King crown was askew on his head. “How we all want to be kings; we are drawn to power from the earliest age” I thought.  Bob and I continued in silence, listening to the music. Was it coincidental that the lyrics spoke of heaven?

 I reached over to turn the music down a bit again. I really did want to talk to Bob about this experience, and he sensed that I had something on my mind. Finally, I asked ” Didn’t your father come to you after he died?” “Yes,” he answered slowly, as if remembering. “I was walking away from a building back to my car in a parking lot, when I was suddenly overwhelmed by a very strong sense of his reassurance to me that he was in heaven.”

 “Did you see his face?” I asked. “No,” he answered quietly.

After a short pause he continued, “I just had a very strong feeling of his presence, of his reassurance. I’ve never had it since.  It didn’t happen right after he died. It happened a year or two after he died, ” he added thoughtfully.

 I took a deep breath. “I saw an image of Stephanie tonight after we left Bishop, ” I said softly.  “And she spoke to me, in my mind’s eye.”  I recounted the details of the incident to him.  Bob glanced at me. “I think that such things occur.  There is so much we don’t know.”  I agreed, “There is much mystery in matters of faith.”  I looked up at the star-filled sky and wondered where Stephanie was, and what she was doing.  I had seen for myself that she was alive and full of joy and love.  I felt that the burden of my grief over her death had been lifted from me. 

  It was God’s plan all along to send Jesus to live among us to take on the burden of our sins.  Jesus did this because he loved us.  The birth of God’s Son was the greatest expression of love ever: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  God’s love for us is unconditional; it is agape.

After the angel told Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah, she was greatly honored and filled with joy: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation” (Luke 1:46-50).  Mary, in her humility, surrendered herself to God’s will, even though she had no idea of the challenges that would result from her surrender.  And so began her nine-month wait to meet this special child, and then years afterward coming to grips with the man he would become.

The common translation is that Mary “pondered” these things in her heart (Luke 2:19).  Yet the meaning of the Greek word is actually closer to “struggled.”  Mary struggled with the information she had been given.  She struggled during her wait as we struggle while we await surgery, or sit next to the hospital bed of a loved one, or wait for test results, or for the healing of a relationship or of a body, or to see if our home will be saved from a fire, flood, mudslide, tornado, or hurricane.  Like Mary, we struggle while we wait.

Yet, unlike Mary, we know what happened.  We know that the baby boy she bore would become her Savior as well as ours.  As the song goes, we know that the baby boy she delivered would deliver her and us.[2]  We are waiting to celebrate the birth that changed history over 2,000 years ago. We know the outcome.  While the Jews expected a great conqueror to loose the chains of oppression from their various oppressors over the ages, we know that Jesus was born to set us free from the prison of our sins.

Our hope was fulfilled in the resurrection of the One whose birth we celebrate.  This hope brings us the peace and joy we so long for when we surrender ourselves to God’s will as Mary did.  For there can be no hope without Jesus and the resurrection. There can be no peace without reconciliation with God. There can be no joy until the God-shaped hole in our hearts is filled with faith.  And there can be no love without surrendering our will to God’s will.

Jesus said: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:12-14).   Jesus was the flesh and blood embodiment of God’s love for us.  He explained that he would lay down his life for us, his friends.  His was the example of perfect love—of surrender to the Father’s will.  His command for us to love each other is not a suggestion; it is a command.  We are to express that love to those around the kitchen table and in the living room at home; in the classroom and the faculty meetings at school;  at meetings, on the phone, and in emails and texts at work; in meetings, worship, and interactions at church; while marketing, Christmas shopping, and interacting with everyone we meet.

Surrender yourself to God’s will.  Love God and love others. Pray each day for God to guide you to be a blessing to someone.

Prayer:  Thank you, Jesus for coming to us and for fulfilling the centuries-old hope for the Messiah.  Thank you for suffering and bearing our sins to bring us your Spirit of peace and joy.  Thank you for the love and blessings that you pour out on us as we wait for healing in our bodies, souls, and relationships.  Thank you for being with us through all of the uncertainty of this life and for your assurance of our life with you when our time on earth is over. Help me to be a blessing to someone today. Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Isaiah 7:10-17; Psalm 24; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25.  A version of this blog was published on this website in 2018.

[2] “Mary, did you know?” ” is a Christmas song addressing Mary, the mother of Jesus, with lyrics written by Mark Lowry in 1984, and music written by Buddy Greene in 1991.

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