Date: Dec. 20, 2020 Fourth Sunday of Advent In-person worship, outdoors
Scripture Lesson: Luke 1:26-38 and 46b-55
Sermon: Rekindle Love
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
In the novel, Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story, Rachel Kadish has this to say:
“Love is an ecstatic compulsion to madness.”
I think that might be my favorite definition of love. An ecstatic compulsion to
madness. Think of the things we do because of love – entangle our lives with
others, spend our fortunes, move across the country, get up in the middle of the
night repeatedly, take on overwhelming responsibility, make stunning sacrifices,
spend untold time, money, and energy. For love. Of partners. Children. Parents.
Friends. Humanity. The Earth. Pets. Activities. Projects. Family. Strangers.
People do crazy things for love.
Last week was the 21st anniversary of Julia Butterfly Hill coming down from the
1500 year old redwood tree in California after having lived in the tree for 738 days
to prevent the logging of ancient old growth redwoods. That sounds like an
ecstatic compulsion to madness. It had to be done out of love.
What are some other examples you can think of that are crazy things that people
have done out of love? Maybe even something you have done out of love that is
Love. An ecstatic compulsion to madness.
Well, that’s what we heard about this morning. We hear of a love so compelling
that is leads to a wild plan to rescue those who are beloved. We hear about a God
so in love with humanity that this God comes up with a ludicrous plan for helping
these woebegone people. A love so desperate, it will go to any ends. Even the
insanity we heard about this morning. A story of an angel visiting a random
teenage girl from a small rural community and inviting her to be the mother of a
special child that will save humanity. That’s pretty crazy. What kind of a plan is
that? It’s madness. And she says yes. That is crazy, too! How can it be anything
In today’s context the main narrative associated with Christmas is about Santa and
elves and 8 flying reindeer that drop gifts down the chimney. It’s not really that
far-fetched when you think about the stories associated with of the birth of Jesus.
Zechariah being struck dumb, Elizabeth having a child in her old age, the angel
Gabriel visiting Mary, a donkey, a barn, shepherds, angels, a star, wisemen. The
stories of the birth of Jesus are crazy because they are about Divine Love in the
flesh. An ecstatic compulsion to madness.
And then today we heard the response that is attributed to Mary once she has
validation of her circumstances, the magnificat. The song of Mary, the magnificat,
is also kind of a celebration of an ecstatic compulsion to madness. It
acknowledges that this Divine plan is absurd. God choosing an obscure young
woman for something so significant. And then it goes on from there. This love
being birthed into the world through this unlikely mother is not a one off. The
magnificat goes on to extol the elevation of all of those who are considered of
lower rank. And the demotion of all those considered respectable and powerful.
This is a love that turns the world upside down and works the transformation
through, well, the least of these. Like Mary.
In a prophecy from Isaiah [61:1-4] that is often read in Advent, we are told:
“The Spirit of Exalted Yahweh is upon me,
for Yahweh has anointed me:
God has sent me to bring good news to those who are poor;
to heal broken hearts;
to proclaim release to those held captive
and liberation to those in prison;
to announce a year of favor from Yahweh,
and the day of God’s vindication;
to comfort all who mourn,
to provide for those who grieve in Zion –
to give them a wreath of flowers instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of tears,
a cloak of praise instead of despair.
They will be known as trees of integrity,
planted by Yahweh to display God’s glory.”
And then, what does this bound up, rag tag group do? They are the ones who build
a new future. The prophet goes on:
“They will restore the ancient ruins,
and rebuild sites long devastated;
they will repair the ruined cities,
neglected for generations.”
The most unlikely people will be responsible for the restoration of the community
and the fulfillment of God’s dreams for God’s beloved people. That must be love
for it is completely ludicrous. And yet, that is God. Crazy dreams. Crazy plans.
It can only be love!
I recently read Colm Tobin’s book, The Testament of Mary. It is a novel about the
life of Mary after the crucifixion of Jesus. And it involves her looking back on
Jesus’ life. And one thing is clear in the novel. Mary has only contempt for Jesus’
followers. She sees them as the dregs of the community, people who are not stable,
people who are needy. In the book, she describes them as “unshaven brutes and
twitchers” [p. 80]. She tells us: “He gathered around him, I said, a group of
misfits, who were only children like himself, or men without fathers, or men who
could not look a woman in the eye. Men who were seen smiling to themselves, or
who had grown old when they were still young. Not one of you was normal, I
said. . . Yes misfits, I said. My son gathered misfits. . .” [p.6] Several times in
the course of the short book she says these things. The Mary of this extremely
interesting fictional account has no faith in the capabilities of those who were
attracted to Jesus and his message.
And yes, as we know, it is those very people who somehow, someway, continue to
live out the love and reconciliation and justice and sacredness that they
experienced with Jesus. Their witness is so compelling that others are drawn to it.
And the movement grows. People are attracted by this new reality of equality and
generosity and wholeness. And from this tenuous, bizarre beginning, the largest
religion in the world has evolved and we are here today worshipping on a Sunday
morning in St. Petersburg because of these misfits.
These examples harmonize with the magnificat and the story of Mary that we
heard this morning. The lowly, the meek, the disadvantaged, are empowered to
bring to fruition the hopes and dreams of God for the wellbeing of all of Creation.
That is Divine Love. And it sure sounds like an ecstatic compulsion to madness.
This can only be a love story. A story of the love of God for humanity. Driving
this God to do crazy things. Manifesting a love, so compelling, that people are
want to resist it. And we are here today because we have been drawn into this love
story. We find ourselves compelled by this love which the world around us must
consider insane. We find ourselves among those drawn to the manger. To gaze at
the starlight. And hear the angel song. Smell the hay and feel the warm breath of
the cows and sheep. A crazy story. Yet one that draws us in. Because we know
that there is a place for us at the manger. There is room for us in stable. We are
welcomed into the community of outcasts and misfits and dreamers. Who are entrusted with the hopes and visions of God. For the healing and wholeness of
On this fourth Sunday of Advent, when the theme for the advent candle is love and
we remember the story of Gabriel visiting Mary, let us remember that we have
been drawn into a love story by a God of love. And as we find our way, our part,
in the unfolding drama, we find our life, our healing, and our wholeness. And, yes,
the whole thing is an ecstatic compulsion to madness.
We close with a love poem, a prayer really, from a prominent 20th century
German theologian, Dorothy Soelle, who lived through the holocaust and its
He needs you
That’s all there is to it
Without you he’s left hanging
Goes up in dachau’s smoke
Is sugar and spice in the baker’s hands
gets revalued in the next stock market crash
he’s consumed and blown away
that’s what faith is
he can’t bring it about
couldn’t then couldn’t later can’t now
not at any rate without you
and that is his irresistible appeal
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For
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