Love Out Loud

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  December 19, 2021

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Luke 1:46 – 55 (NRSV)
It seems hard to be believe, but today is the fourth and final Sunday in the season of Advent.  Over the previous three Sundays, we have focused on themes of hope, peace, and joy… and now we come to what Paul says is the greatest of these… love. 
And so, for our time together this morning, I want to center our attention on the subject: LOVE OUT LOUD.
As I thought about this idea of LOVE OUT LOUD, I found myself thinking about how some groups and organizations engage in an activity during the holiday season known as Secret Santa.  I am guessing you are all familiar with the concept. 
It is a gift exchange between people whose identifies remain a secret until a designated time.  For some groups, there may be a number of gifts exchanged over a certain period, like the 12 days of Christmas… while for others there may be just one gift given before the office or group holiday party… but whatever way the Secret Santa exchange is done, the key is to keep the identity of the gift giver secret.  Part of the fun; however, is for the receiver to try to figure out who their Secret Santa is before the day of the big reveal.
Now, thinking about Secret Santa exchanges reminded me of another intriguing type of secret… perhaps you have even had one yourself… I am referring to a secret admirer.
I was a sophomore in college when I received a beautiful card in the mail from someone who identified themself as my secret admirer.  I seem to remember that the note inside of the card was written by someone with really nice handwriting...  and whoever sent the card wrote some very complimentary things about me and had clearly been watching me.  Thankfully this was all long before the days of having to worry about stalkers! 
The note in the card asked if I would meet my secret admirer in the student commons at Thwing Center, a very public place I might add.  And so, I went.
Now, I have to tell you, when I was attending Case, I was not exactly a social butterfly and I was not one of the more popular girls on campus.  But as luck would have it on that particular day, as I sat alone at a table in the middle of Thwing Center waiting for my secret admirer to appear, not one, not two, but three guys that I new from one of the student organizations I belonged to came and sat down.  I did not get the sense that any of them was my secret admirer but I did not have the nerve to tell them all to go away…
After they finally got up and left, no one else came.  A couple of days later, I received another card in the mail from my secret admirer letting me know that they had seen me sitting with all those guys at the table and they figured they did not stand a chance with me…
I never heard from my secret admirer again.  But I do believe that all things happen for a reason… who knows what might have been?  But if I had met my secret admirer way back then, I might not have been in a position to meet the true love of my life... someone who I am always ready and willing to LOVE OUT LOUD.
And as we continue to think about what it means to LOVE OUT LOUD, I want to turn our attention to our New Testament lesson found in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel which is a passage of Scripture that is often referred to as “The Magnificat” or “Mary’s Song of Praise” or simply, “The Prayer of Mary.” 
And as we look at this text, we see how Mary glorified God for all that He had promised to do for the world through her.  Mary’s prayer is very reminiscent of Hannah’s prayer after she brought her son, Samuel, to the priest, Eli, and dedicated him to the service of the Lord… all of which we read about back in the Old Testament in 1 Samuel 1 and 2.
Their prayers are also similar to what we find in Psalm 146 (6-10) which reads in part:

He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them— he remains faithful forever.  He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.  The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.  The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. The Lord reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations.  Praise the Lord.
Both Hannah and Mary’s prayers along with Psalm 146 as well as many of the other psalms, paint a picture of God as the champion of the poor, the oppressed and the despised… as One who makes the choice to LOVE OUT LOUD when it comes to those that the world would deem to be unlovable.
We see this first with Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth… a woman who was barren and well beyond child-bearing years… a woman who would have been subjected to ridicule because she was childless and was unable to give her husband, Zechariah, a son to carry on the family line.
And yet, Elizabeth was one that God chose to LOVE OUT LOUD… one He chose to bless in plain sight of those who would have looked down on her with contempt. 
If we go back to the beginning of this first chapter in Luke’s Gospel, we find the story of the Angel Gabriel coming to Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, to tell him of the miracle that was yet on the way… that Elizabeth was going to have a son… a son who they were to give the name, John… a son who would be great in the sight of the Lord… a son who would be filled with the Holy Spirit… a son who would bring many of the people of Israel back to the Lord their God.
Elizabeth’s barrenness would no longer be a source of shame for her or for her husband.  God’s decision to LOVE OUT LOUD by doing the mighty and the miraculous in their lives would erase their suffering and eradicate their shame… and using their son, John, to prepare the way of the Lord would transform their tragedy into triumph.
But Elizabeth and Zechariah were not the only ones that the Lord chose to LOVE OUT LOUD
It was about six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy, that the Angel Gabriel brought news of yet another miracle… only this time it was for Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary… a young woman who was pledged to be married to a man named Joseph.
In much the same way that the Angel had brought the good news to Zechariah, Gabriel told Mary that she was going to give birth to a son… a son who she was to give the name Jesus… a son who would be great and who would reign over the house of Jacob forever… a son whose kingdom would never end.
And in responding in a fashion that was similar to Zechariah’s response, Mary asked Gabriel how this would come to be since she was still a virgin…
Now, this clearly would have presented a problem for someone else… but not for God… because as Gabriel reassured Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.”  After all, Mary’s much older cousin, Elizabeth, who had been barren was six months pregnant herself. 
But, as comforting as that thought may have been, there was still another major issue.  Elizabeth may have been old and barren but she was married… Mary, on the other hand, was not, at least not yet… and an unwed teenage mother, even one who was pledged to be married, was someone who definitely would have been ostracized … in fact, in Matthew’s telling of the story, Joseph, the man Mary was to marry, “did not want to expose her to public disgrace” so he planned to “divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19). 
But God’s plan called for Joseph to LOVE OUT LOUD… to go ahead and marry her and raise the child as his own… giving no thought to what others might say… and he was to give the child the name, Jesus, because “He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20 – 21).
Now, as we look closer at our New Testament lesson, at Mary’s song of praise, we find even more examples of God choosing to LOVE OUT LOUD by blessing those who others might look upon as the last, the least and the lost… those who God calls to come in from the margins to rest in the shelter of His love.
Mary starts by recognizing the significant blessing that she has received as God’s humble servant, that she, this unwed teenaged mother would be called blessed throughout all generations. 
That is not something that should be taken lightly… God chose a young girl, one who had no perceived status within the community, especially during that time in history… God chose to use her to be the vessel to bring His child into the world… and centuries and generations later, we are still calling her blessed. 
This ought to be a reminder for why we should not judge others… because the very ones we may be looking down upon could be the very ones that God is lifting up to use for His glory.
And as Mary’s prayer continues, we are also reminded that those who think they should be lifted higher than others are the same ones who will find themselves being cut down to size.
The text tells us that those who are proud in their inmost thoughts will be scattered… rulers will be brought down from their thrones… and the rich will be sent away empty.  Meanwhile, God promises to LOVE OUT LOUD, lifting up the humble and filling the hungry with good things.
So, what does this mean for us today? 
Simply put, we need to do likewise.  We need to LOVE OUT LOUD.
And for those who might wonder what that might entail, we need look no further than to Jesus and His commands. 
In Matthew 22 (37 – 39), we find Jesus’ response to the question of which is the greatest commandment in the law, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
We LOVE OUT LOUD by loving God with every fiber of our being and by loving our neighbor as ourself… by caring for those who are sick and imprisoned… by feeding those who are hungry and giving drink to those who are thirsty… by offering clothing and shelter to those who are in need.
We LOVE OUT LOUD by remembering Jesus’ words that are found in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
And we LOVE OUT LOUD when we take it even a step further and make it our mission to follow Jesus’ call to “love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matthew 5:44).
Now at the risk of overstating the obvious, we are living in a day and time when it feels like there is no shortage of people which this means we are called to love… those who seem to go out of their way to push our buttons… those who challenge us to set aside our personal feelings… those who do not make it easy to love but who we are called to love nonetheless…
And following the Lord’s example to LOVE OUT LOUD may take us outside of our comfort zone as we learn to love those who may seem to be unlovable… but we should not forget that we have not always been so lovable ourselves.
In fact, Romans 5:8 reminds us that God chose to LOVE OUT LOUD by “demonstrate[ing] his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
That means when we were at our worst, God loved us the most… making a way for us to spend eternity with Him. 
It takes me back to the story of Christ being crucified, hanging on that cross at Calvary, between two criminals… (Luke 23:32 – 43).
Although the Scriptures do not tell us exactly what crimes these two were convicted of, suffice it to say, their crimes must have been heinous if they warranted death by crucifixion.
And yet even with all of that, when one of the criminals made a simple request, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42), the Scriptures do tell us that criminal received something far greater than he could have ever imagined… he received the promise of eternity in paradise with Jesus. 
That is the ultimate example of what it means to LOVE OUT LOUD… giving the gift of salvation to one who might easily be described as the lowest of the low… a criminal sentenced to die for unspeakable crimes…
And if Jesus was willing to LOVE OUT LOUD like that for someone like him… there should be no doubt of His willingness to LOVE OUT LOUD like that for you and for me.
The assurance of this is found throughout the Scriptures, but particularly in John 3 (16 – 17) where we read:
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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Like the criminal who hung beside Jesus on that cross, if we will just believe in Jesus, we have the promise that we will not perish but will have eternal life. 
That really is Good News for us, particularly on this fourth Sunday in Advent when our hearts are focused on the love that came down from heaven as a babe lying in the manger… love that was willing to go all the way to a cross at Calvary.
Love that was not given to us in secret like something in a Secret Santa gift exchange or from a secret admirer, but love that was gifted to us by the One who chooses to always LOVE OUT LOUD.