Messy Love

Scripture: Hosea 3:1-5          

There are two kinds of people in this world.   Those who think that Die Hard is a Christmas movie, and those who are wrong.    Every year around this time the legitimacy of Die Hard as a Christmas movie is debated on various corners of the Internet. If you do not remember the 1989 movie, Die Hard stars Bruce Willis as a fiery, short tempered New York cop who finds himself up against a group of well-armed professional thieves in a Los Angeles skyscraper.   The movie takes place on Christmas Eve and it does feature some Christmas music, giving some credibility to the idea of it being a Christmas movie.  Yet the naysayers will point out it is an action movie first and foremost.    The argument comes down to what makes a Christmas movie.   Does a movie simply have to be set during Christmas time to count or does it need to have a certain message?    Based on how vocal the supporters seem to be online, there are many people who watch Bruce Willis fight his way through the Nakotomi Plaza every single year.  Die Hard may not be what most people consider a typical Christmas movie, but it seems for some it is their favorite. 

            In the same way, this morning’s scripture is not a typical Advent scripture.   There is no mention of a foretold child being born, or Mary, or Joseph, or shepherds, or even angels proclaiming good news.    In fact there is a chance that for some of you this is the first time you have ever even heard this scripture.  Hosea is from the “fly-over” section of the bible, the Minor Prophets, which is full of weird names and obscure places.   This scripture is also never part of the lectionary, so you would have only heard it preached on if a preacher went of their way to get here.   This is not a typical Christmas scripture, but it is one that speak to the heart of what Christmas is all about.  Even though Hosea lived and preached over 2,700 years ago the message of this scripture is still relevant to us today.  

            To properly understand this morning’s scripture requires some background.  This morning’s scripture comes from chapter 3, but the story begins Hosea chapter 1.   There it states: “When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go and marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness the LORD.  So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.”   Gomer actually bares Hosea three sons, and each time God tells Hosea what to name them.   For instance, Hosea’s third son is Lo-Ammi, which means “not my people” and represented how the Israelites had broken covenant with God.

            This is all explained in just a few sentences of the first chapter of Hosea, but can you imagine how crazy and stressful this had to be for him?   His prophetic message was to make his life be an object lesson lived out.   God asked him to marry a woman, who he knew was going to cheat on him and commit adultery.   Can you imagine the heartache that Hosea felt knowing that the mother of his children was being unfaithful?   This was not some sort of hypothetical parable, but it was his daily life that he would have lived out for years.   His life was an illustration for the relationship between God and the Israelites.   Starting with Abraham, God made a covenant with the Israelites.   God was the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.  God heard the cries of the Israelites, honored the covenant of their ancestors and through many signs and wonders led them out of slavery in Egypt.   On Mount Horeb and then again on Mount Nebo, God made covenant with the people.    God would be their God, and they would be God’s people.  Then with Joshua at Schechem they renewed the covenant.    God was their God, but the Israelites were a faithless people.   They were stubborn and stiff-necked.     Like Gomer was not faithful and cheated on Hosea, the Israelites were unfaithful to God.   They turned away from God and they worshipped the false idols of their neighbors.    For generations, the Israelites did this.   They completely broke the covenant and they did not live as or worship as God’s people.   The covenant between God and Israel, much like the marriage covenant, was meant to be one based on mutual love for one another.   In the covenant God showed love by caring for, providing for, and protecting the Israelites.   By the same token, the Israelites were to show their devotion to God by upholding the law, by worship God alone, and by showing loving care for both one another and outsiders.   The covenant was meant to be a sign of a loving relationship, and when the Israelites did not follow it, they did more than act dishonorably, they broke God’s heart.   Hosea was probably an extremely effective prophet.  When he prophesied the word of the LORD that expressed God’s heartache and anger from the Israelites breaking the covenant, he was able to do so with real emotion.   Hosea understood the pain and heartbreak of unfaithfulness.  

            We do not know a lot about like Hosea.   The only place in the Bible that he is mentioned is in the book that bears his name.   We get a sense that some amount of time has passed between when God instructs Hosea to marry Gomer and the events from chapter 3 that are recorded in this morning’s scripture.   In that time period, Hosea and Gomer became estranged.   Gomer’s promiscuity and adulteress temptations led her away from Hosea and she found herself in a dark place.   We do not what series of poor life decisions led her to it, but at some point Gomer had to sell herself into slavery, and Hosea had to buy her, had to ransom her, back.   God told Hosea to be reunited with Gomer and to love her as the LORD loves Israel.   That love is an unconditional love.   It is a love that is willing to forgive any transgression.  It is a love that never gives up, and even when we walk away the love of God hold steadfast.    Hosea was told to love with this kind of love and he put into practice by buying back and literally redeeming the very person who had cheated on him.    This is the kind of love that God shows us and this is the kind of love that came down at Christmas. 

            That kind of unconditional love can be messy, because it involves getting down and engaging us in the mess of our lives.   This kind of messy love requires the divine putting on human flesh and being born as a helpless baby.   Jesus came hundreds of years after Hosea’s life illustrated God’s relationship with the chosen people, but humanity still had not changed much in those centuries.   The Israelites may have no longer been eating sacred raisin cakes around Asherah poles, but they still put their hopes in things less that the LORD, they still did not worship God with their whole heart, or love their neighbor as themselves.   The gospel of John refers to this state of the world as darkness, but then John states “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”   In the first chapter of the gospel of John it then continues, “The true light that give light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.   Yet to all who did receive hi, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”  

            This morning’s scripture is an appropriate scripture for Advent, because just like Hosea payed the price to redeem his wayward wife.    God the Father paid the price to redeem a fallen creation.   Hosea had to pay silver and wheat, but God the Father paid with his very own son.   About the story of Hosea, Methodist author and pastor Mike Slaughter writes, “this scandalous biblical account testifies to the outrageous, pursuing love of God for a broken world.  This is the desanitized version of the Christmas story:  God love us and wants even while we remain under the influence of unworthy lovers such as greed, selfishness, addiction, and deceit.  So God has come to buy us back!  The magnitude of this kind of love is beyond my comprehension.” 

            It is beyond all of our comprehension.   That is why we celebrate Christmas every year.   Christmas is the celebration of when a love breadth than we can imagine, a greater width than we can grasp, and a greater depth than we can fathom became manifest in our world in the person of Jesus, a baby born in Bethlehem.   The reason why the Christian church has a long standing tradition of observing Advent is because we need to take the time to intentionally prepare our hearts to bask in the fullness of that love.   Charles Wesley knew this, and that is why he wrote the Advent hymn Come Thou Long Expectant Jesus.   We sang it a couple of weeks ago, but hear the words of the first verse, “Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.  Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth you are; dear desire of every nature, joy of every longing heart.”  

            This morning’s scripture promises that like Hosea redeemed his wife, God was going to redeem his fallen people.   Charles Wesley rightly captures in his hymn, that God did this through Jesus.  However, out of God’s great love God did not just redeem the Israelites.   No, Israel’s consolation is the hope of the entire earth.    During this time leading up to Christmas we should be properly preparing our hearts, and the cry of hearts should be come thou long expectant Jesus.   We should be crying out for Jesus because we need to be set free.  We need to be released from our fears and our sins.   Our weary and worn spirits are in need of rest.   The reason why we celebrate Christmas every year is to remind ourselves that God has paid the price, God has given the gift, that love came down at Christmas.    It is a messy love that meets us where we are at, it is a love that forgives our every wrong and that accepts us just as we are.   It is a love that redeems us and restores us no matter how far from grace we have fallen or how empty we feel.   Advent is a reminder that Jesus is coming, that over the course of this past year even though we may have given up on God, God has not given up on us.  Even though we may have turned away, God’s love has not failed.  Even though our heart has hardened and become calloused, God’s heart still breaks yearns to be reconciled to us.    Christmas is an annual ritual that reminds us it does not matter who we are, no matter unworthy we feel, we can worship the newborn king.   We can receive the gift of God.   

            This Advent if you know that you have wronged someone in a way that the guilt crawls at you, then may you cry out come long expectant Jesus.   If over this past year a faith that use to glow brightly is now barely flickering embers, then may you cry out long expectant Jesus.   If you have harbored hate in your heart that has hardened over the months, then may you cry out long expectant Jesus.   If you know that you are in desperate need for a change of the life course you are on, if you know that you have been worshipping at the feet of cultural idols instead of the throne of the one true God, if you know that you fallen short of the glory of God then may you cry out Come Thou Long Expectant Jesus.   May you prepare your heart, and this Christmas may you be overwhelmed and lost in the flood, of God’s messy love for you.  It does not matter what you have done, God’s love is large enough and deep enough for you, and God proved this love because love came down at Christmas, and the gift has already been given.   May you fully receive it this year.