“Experiencing Love”

This is the last sermon from my Advent series. I preached it a week late, on this past Boxing Day, because of the previous week’s snowstorm.

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and we testify that the Father has sent his Son as the world’s Savior. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God—God remains in him and he in God. And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.

1 John 4:7–16

It’s the most well-known Bible verse of all time, so well-known that people at football games would hold up banners just with the Bible reference. You know it well: John 3:16.  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Another translation puts it this way: For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.And at the heart of John 3:16 is God’s love made known in the sending of the Son into the world to bring everlasting life.

And here we are. It’s the last Sunday of Advent. We’ve lit the last candle, the candle of love. And of all the themes of Advent, love is at risk of being the most sentimentalized and misunderstood.

When we think of John 3:16—and especially the part where it says For God so loved the world—we want to be careful to define love by understanding who God is—and what the Bible says—rather than define God (and his love) by our human experiences of love.

Often in our world love is defined as an emotion, by how we feel about this or that person. We say things like, “I love you SOOOO much!” That’s an expression of emotion. And while our emotions are a part of love, love is much, much more than that.

C.S. Lewis puts it this way: “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” Think about that definition: Love is . . . a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good. That means that God’s “steady wish” for us—his ultimate will and desire for us—is to have eternal life, to be with him forever. Jesus comes into the world to make this happen. And all of this because God loves.

In our passage from 1 John 4, the apostle says this: God is love. God not only loves; he is love. Love is at the heart of who God is.

And so if want to understand what this love is like, we listen to what he did out of the overflow of his love. 1 John 4 continues: God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Sounds just like John 3:16.

The Greek language in the NT has several words for love, because there are different kinds of love. There’s the love between friends. There’s romantic love. But the word used of God is agape. David Nelmes explains it this way:

“Agape love [is] unconditional love that is always giving and impossible to take . . . It devotes total commitment to seek your highest best no matter how anyone may respond. This form of love is totally selfless and does not change whether the love given is returned or not.”

This is the love that God reveals in the sending of the Son, our Lord Jesus. This is the love that God is. And so it is with this kind of love that God loves you.

Do we believe God loves us? I mean, really believe it? Do we believe his love is unconditional or that he only loves us when we behave or perform?

Working on my message this week, I came across these words from Joseph Langford:

“The same God who loves us as we are also loves us too much to leave us as we are. Perhaps because we tend to hold to ideas about God that reflect our own suppositions and fears, more than God’s self-revelation. We reduce God to our own dimensions, ascribing to him our own reactions and responses, especially our own petty and conditional kind of love, and so end up believing in a God cast in our own image and likeness.”

Because here’s the thing: while I don’t think most of us believe God’s love is conditional, I also doubt we believe his love is unconditional. Not completely, anyway. Because I think we often live as though God’s love is semi-conditional. We say we believe his love is unconditional and that it doesn’t depend on our good behavior or how well we perform. Yet I think we often live differently. We live as though the way we act has an effect on his love for us.

For instance, do we ever avoid praying because we haven’t prayed in a while? Do we ever feel like maybe God is angry at us or disappointed with us?

Or to put it another way: Have you ever felt frustrated with God or even angry at him because even though you always go to church and put money in the offering plate, someone you love still got sick or something in your life went wrong?

In both cases, aren’t you basing God’s love for you on what you do, on how you live or behave? Either that your poor behavior keeps God from loving you or that your good behavior guarantees that he will? And does that sound like unconditional love to you? Aren’t you putting conditions on God’s love that God doesn’t? But isn’t this how we live sometimes?

I heard someone say this once: “Nothing you do (or don’t do) can make God love you more or love you less.” That’s unconditional love. That’s what it means to say that God is love.

So let me ask: Is this how you see God? Is this how you relate to God? Do you see God’s love for you as unconditional? And what might it mean—and how might it affect you—to believe that God’s love for you is unconditional?

Every day I tell my kids I love them. Most days, anyway. And often when I do, they will say, “I know. You tell me all the time.” I just want them to be sure. But making sure they know means more than saying words. I want my love to be perfectly unconditional. But it can’t be. Because I am flawed. I am sinful. I am broken. I show them I love them, yes, but imperfectly. Thankfully, God is perfect. Thankfully, his love is unconditional.

And ultimately, this is first and foremost how God loves. By perfectly showing us. By perfectly acting to bring about our ultimate good. As John 3:16 says, God loved the world in this way. How? By the sending of the Son into the world.

This is why the love candle is the penultimate candle in the Advent wreath (the last candle is traditionally the Christ candle, lit on Christmas Eve). The greatest of these is love, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13. And we know this precisely because by how God acted upon his love.

The coming of Christ into the world through the incarnation—which begins with the manger and ends with the cross and empty tomb—is both miracle and mystery. It’s simple enough for a child to grasp but yet deep enough for us grown-ups to forever ponder.

I’ve always loved how Eugene Peterson translated John 1:14: The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. Best Christmas Bible verse ever. God loves you so much that he wants to move in next door. Better put, he wants to move right into your house.

To show us his love God came into our world. The second Person of the triune Godhead took on flesh, blood, and bone, confined himself to time and space, in order to demonstrate his love for us. The Creator entered his creation. The Painter entered his painting. 16th century Protestant Reformer Martin Luther once said, “The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.”

And here’s the truth: this was the only way for us to come to know and experience God’s love. Only through the Son of God coming into the world. Only by God becoming human in Jesus. Only by Jesus going to the cross to remove the barrier between ourselves and God. That is the perfect, complete, and ultimate expression and demonstration of the love of God. To know Christ is to know God’s love.

By becoming one of us, God the Son pursues our ultimate God. By becoming one of us, God shows his unconditional love. By becoming one of us, God shows he is love.

While I am unable to comprehend this adequately or completely, I can receive this beautiful, wondrous truth and absorb it into my life. In fact, I can only receive it, trust it, and put my faith in it. I can’t wrap my mind around the God who was wrapped in swaddling clothes. But I can kneel. I can repent. I can worship. I can allow this love of God to take hold of me—or pray that God will take hold of me with it.

What about you? What keeps you from receiving or experiencing the love of God? Is it past or ever present hurts? Feelings of guilt or anger? Have you perhaps imagined God to be other than he is, as a tyrant looking to trip you up rather than as a Father looking to embrace you? Or as a distant, cold deity rather than as Emmanuel, God with us? Or as a legalistic rule-maker, rather than as the Good Shepherd who wants to lead you into wide, green pastures?

How do you need to experience the love of God this Christmas? Where does the light of his love need to shine into your life? Do you need his perfect love to dispel your fears? To bring you comfort?

If nothing else, Christmas ought to remind us that God is love. Christmas ought to remind us that God went to the utmost to give us his utmost. Christmas ought to remind us that God gives us the gift of himself. 

There’s 12 More Days of Christmas!

When they saw the star, they were overwhelmed with joy. Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew 2:10-11

Years (and years!) ago my grandfather would always say right after Christmas dinner, “Christmas is now further away than ever!”

Calendrically, he was correct. The next December 25 is a full year away. Only 365 shopping days till the next Christmas!

But it’s not entirely true. After all, there are the 12 days of Christmas between December 25 and January 6. That’s where the well-known song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” comes from! And January 6 is what some used to call “Old Christmas.” Usually Christians refer to it as Epiphany, the day we acknowledge the appearance or revelation of the Christ child to the Gentiles in the biblical story of the magi honouring Jesus with their gifts.

That’s why we leave our tree and lights up until after New Year’s. Not because we’re lazy. And, yeah, we also enjoy the Christmas lights and like leaving them up for awhile longer. Actually, we’ll probably take the tree down but leave other lights up until the days get longer and the evenings are lighter.

So don’t think that Christmas is over. More, the story of Christmas—of the Son of God penetrating space and time to bring hope and healing to our broken, hurting world—is a story for any time of year, for 12 more days and beyond!

A New and Glorious Morn’

In the birth of Jesus, centuries of hoping and waiting have come to an end for Israel. The carol “O Holy Night” captures this moment beautifully:

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;
Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.”

May our Lord bless you this day. May you experience his peace. May you know his joy. May you live out of his love. And may you look ahead with hope that the Christ who entered the world more than 2,000 years ago will once again come to make all things new—to usher in the new and glorious morn that will never end.

Christ is the Lord of Time

Here is a portion of this morning’s Advent Project devotional, written by Rev. Dr. David McNutt, Associate Editor at IVP Academic and Professor of Theology and Philosophical Aesthetics at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. I have genuinely been loving this devotional series. And I am also grateful that it continues through the “12 days of Christmas,” therefore ends on Epiphany and not tomorrow.

“Let Evening Come”
by Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

“What shapes our understanding of time as Christians? Of course, as embodied creatures, we live under the same reality of time as everyone else. We set our clocks back (or forward) like others. Our taxes are due on the same day. We have parent-teacher conferences, trash pick-up days, doctor’s appointments, and church services that rely on an agreed upon understanding that this is when such-and-such will take place. And yet, as followers of Christ, our understanding of time is – or should be – quite different than worldly views. For Christians, time is part of God’s good creation and therefore falls under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made (Jn 1:10; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2). Thus, it is the season of Advent and our collective anticipation of Christ’s birth, not January 1, that marks the beginning of the Christian year. In today’s world, this practice is almost an act of defiance. No, my calendar is not determined by the next mattress sale, soccer tryouts, or the first snowfall. My time is marked by the Lordship of Jesus Christ. On this Christmas Eve, we praise God, for we witness the fulfillment of the promise found in Isaiah’s prophetic words. We take comfort in the fact that the eternal Son became incarnate. We take comfort in the fact that he has come into this world, which is so often a series of winding, bumpy roads, in order to make a straight, smooth path. We take comfort in the fact that he bound himself to time, becoming truly human. And we can also take comfort in the fact that Christ is the Lord of time – not just of Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but of all time. Indeed, as the eternal Son and Word of God, he is the Lord of the “time before time” and the “time after time.” So, in the words of American poet Jane Kenyon, we can say, “let evening come.” Yes, let evening come. Let evening come because we know what awaits us in the morning. Let evening come because our Lord is the Lord of time.”

A Father’s Embrace

I’m over my head and lost

And the ground feels unstable and I can’t make this stop

But this I call, this I call to mind

How the Father runs to the wayward son

Comin’ back alive

Storehouse,” The Gray Havens

The above depiction of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15) is by Nova Scotia artist Matthew Cupido. It was given to me by a friend and mentor at the end of a spiritual retreat a few years ago. I added the quote from the parable underneath.

As someone who was abandoned by his own father, I have often struggled with accepting God’s love for me. Often we unconsciously project our broken human relationships onto our ideas of God. I know I have. I probably still do, at least sometimes. And as a result I am still learning to receive and experience the unconditional love of my Heavenly Father, shown ultimately through the coming of Christ.

Christmas reminds me of the extent God will go to embrace me, to demonstrate his love, and to make me his own. Jesus’ parable, imagined by Cupido and referenced by The Gray Havens in their song quoted above, is the story of the Father’s love. In the incarnation this love took on flesh and blood. This season is about many things, but it is about this most of all.

No Perfect Christmas

Maybe you or someone close to you is sick this Christmas season.

Maybe you don’t have a lot of money for Christmas gifts.

Maybe you can’t visit family.

Maybe Christmas brings your feelings of grief to the surface.

Maybe you’re estranged from a loved one.

Maybe the state of the world (or your own community) makes it hard to feel “Christmas-y.”

Maybe you always try to have a perfect Christmas, one that reflects your happiest childhood memories or makes up for your feelings of disappointment.

But there is no perfect Christmas.

My wife is still dealing with her asthma, which has been seriously bothering her since early fall. We’re unable to visit family over the holidays.

No matter the season, life is still life.

There is no perfect Christmas.

As it happens, on the first Christmas . . .

A young girl, engaged but not yet married, becomes mysteriously pregnant after an angel visits, nearly resulting in a broken engagement.

This young girl—Mary—and her fiancé Joseph end up having to walk roughly 90 miles to go to Bethlehem, his family’s home town, to participate in a Roman census.

When they get to Bethlehem, they end up staying in what amounts to a barn. Because there’s no place for them to stay. Even though that’s where Joseph’s family is from.

After Jesus is born, Joseph is told in a dream to take Mary and their son and go to Egypt. Otherwise, Jesus’ life is in danger. That probably meant a trip of more than 300 miles.

This is before Uber and airplanes.

Mary and Joseph were told that their son Jesus would be the Saviour of the world but that he would also face great opposition.

I can’t imagine what all of this was like for Joseph and Mary. To have your lives be the means by which the Messiah, the Son of God, arrives in the world. No pressure.

Even the first Christmas wasn’t perfect. Yet, at the same time it really was.

Because this is how God works in the world. In ways that are messy, uncomfortable, unexpected, and sometimes even mundane.

Christ came into the world—Creator entered creation—to join us in our mess and to redeem it.

That includes your mess and mine.

Advent means “arrival” or “coming” and Christ comes to us in three ways. First, he comes in the incarnation as an infant boy more than 2000 years ago.

Second, Christ will come again to put everything right again at the end of time. This is his Second Coming.

Yet, there’s a third. That’s how Christ comes to us now right in the midst of our present circumstances. He wants to enter your life here and now. He wants each of us to experience his presence here and now. Not apart from your mess, but in the middle of it.

No, you and I will never have a perfect Christmas. Maybe we’ll undercook the turkey, wish we’d been able to buy our kids more gifts, miss loved ones, or feel under the weather. Maybe not everything will be “just so.”

But we can have good Christmas. We can have a Christmas that is more hopeful, more peaceful, more joyful, and more loving—all because, whatever else is going on—we experience Immanuel, God with us, in Jesus.

And that kind of Christmas is worth far, far more than one we might imagine as perfect.

“O Holy Night”

Advent is about the coming of Christ into the world—through the miracle and mystery of the incarnation. “O Holy Night,” written in 1843 by Placide Cappeau and translated into English by John Sullivan Dwight in 1855, tells of the meaning of Jesus’ coming into the world and his transforming power for human relationships. And in his name all oppression shall cease. The coming of Christ means the arrival of justice, which begins now and will come in fullness with Jesus’ second coming. This means Christmas—the real meaning of Christmas—should change how we see and relate to our fellow human beings. In the incarnation God restores human dignity.

Here are some words from “O Holy Night” that reflect this:

“Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother
And in his name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us praise His holy name.”

Christmas Memories

When I was growing up, almost every Christmas Day my Mom and I would drive from Newcastle (Miramichi), New Brunswick, to Bathurst to visit family. That’s where my Grandparents lived, as well as some aunts, uncles, and cousins. I have vivid memories of gathering around my Nanna’s dining room table to enjoy the holiday feast. I recall actually being there one year for Christmas Eve and morning. No doubt I’ve romanticized my memories a little bit, but it was great being together with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Not all memories are positive, of course. One Christmas Day while driving to Bathurst, Mom hit some black ice on the highway. Our car rolled and ended up right-side up. While upset, physically we were unharmed. But it obviously still took the usual joy out of the celebration.

As I grew older, and circumstances changed, Christmas could be a more challenging time. Coming home from university to visit my Mom and family was still enjoyable in a lot of ways, but my journey of faith was going in directions that would disappoint my Catholic family. I found myself reticent about sharing my shifting ideas of church and Christianity.

On a few Christmases my Mom went through some very difficult situations, one of which led to her moving. This change took us away from other family at Christmas. Often I felt like I was coming home to uncertain circumstances. It definitely made the holidays more stressful.

Then when I got married, I was embraced by my wife’s family—immediate and extended. Big family dinners became the norm again, and sometimes we ended up putting together two tables to fit everyone. And of course, once we had kids, Christmas became something else altogether. Something magical and messy at the same time. There’s nothing quite like Christmas with young kids.

As a pastor, Advent and Christmas has always been a busy and special time of year. I think of Sunday School Christmas concerts, choirs preparing special music, Christmas Eve services crowded with extra family, friends, and visitors. I think of quieter Christmas Eve services, lit by candles and filled with Scriptures, prayers, and reflections. I think of our last Christmas season at our previous church when an ice storm and power outage cancelled our Christmas Eve service.

Now, here in Nova Scotia, Christmas is coming again. It’s the tenth Christmas without my Mom and the eighth one without my wife’s Mum. Most of our Christmases here have been much quieter. Though over the last few years, we have had a friend and her kids over for dinner on Christmas Day. This year she even provided the turkey, a 17lb turkey no less! No doubt we’ll have a wonderful Christmas Day—barring unforeseen circumstances!

All this to say, that for me Christmas has never been perfect. But Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect to be good, to be joyful, and to have moments of peace. You can be a little bit sad, nostalgic, and melancholic but still have a meaningful Christmas. You can miss loved ones—and feel the pain of loss—and still feel blessed by who is with you. Most of your family can be sick with colds and you can still experience the joy of giving your kids their first dog (like we did years ago).

For some, Christmas is a painful time of year. Perhaps because of the pain of Christmases past. Maybe because of grief, broken or dysfunctional relationships, or financial hardship. There is no perfect Christmas. Not everyone handles their pain in the same way. Sometimes being able to see the light of Jesus in the darkness is difficult indeed. So for Christians for whom Christmas isn’t as difficult, we can share this light, this message of hope, our peaceful presence, with those in need.

Whatever your Christmases have been like, and whatever Christmas is going to be like this year, the promise of Advent is that God will meet you smack dab in the middle of the mess you’re in. As the late Eugene Peterson rendered John 1:14: The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. That neighborhood includes yours, no matter what this Christmas turns out to be like for you.

The Embodied Church

Today we had the first get together in person, face to face prayer meeting at our church in almost two months. While in lockdown in May and June, some of us would meet on Zoom to pray together. Having such technology available has certainly been a blessing over the last year and a half. Without Zoom and the ability to livestream, we would have had to have gone weeks at a time not being able to connect, hear each other’s voices, and see one another’s faces. Granted, the online option doesn’t work for everyone. Being the pastor of a church where some members don’t even have a computer at home means there are some who get left out of this online participation. But at least there was something. Though, honestly, I am much less enamored of such technological possibilities now than I was a year or more ago when the whole lockdown thing began. I am grateful for them but not satisfied by them.

I heard somewhere that there were statistics showing that in some places only 60% of people would return to church in person after COVID. The remaining 40% are those who have found the online option preferable because it is more convenient. After all, who wouldn’t rather watch church on their TV or laptop screen in their PJs with a hot cup of coffee? Any parent, knowing what it’s like having to wrangle kids into clean clothes and into the minivan to make the trek to church, might be tempted by staying with this option. So such a statistic, if its bears any resemblance to reality, is certainly worth unpacking.

However, as convenient or helpful as being able to go online has been, I can’t imagine it ever being a substitute for actually gathering together in person. I will show my bias by stating it simply: online church isn’t really church.

Why? My reason is simple. We have bodies. And our bodies are not simply transportation devices for our heads. Our bodies matter. Who we are as physical creatures, as flesh and blood human beings, matters. We are embodied souls created by God to live in relationship with other embodied souls. That we can gather in one place with other people, smile at one another, shake hands, hug, and even just hear one another’s voices and see one another’s faces, matters. Profoundly.

Whatever else we say about church, it has to be embodied to fully be church. People attend worship services not only–and probably not even primarily–to hear sermons and sing songs. Sermons are available by the millions online. No pastor should be under the illusion that their preaching is indispensable. You can stream music at home or in your car, lifting your voice along with your preferred worship songs and hymns. You don’t need to go to a designated building to hear good teaching or music.

But church–that is, genuine Christian community–is much, much more than sermons and songs.

You see, you can’t embrace or be embraced at a distance. You can’t mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice only by texting. You can’t shake hands or offer someone a shoulder to cry on while on Zoom. A kind, loving tone of voice doesn’t translate well in an email. Genuine, long-term Christian community requires physical presence. It means being with others. It’s virtually impossible to obey any of the New Testament’s “one anothering” passages unless people are actually together.

Staying online for worship and other forms of spiritual nourishment also has the potential effect of feeding our already bloated consumerist approach to church life and Christianity. I find what I like. I stream what I prefer. My favourite preacher. My favourite music. My favourite liturgy. And if we’re watching an online service and the speaker or preacher says something that doesn’t conform to our preconceived ideas, we can turn it off. We move onto something else. Our own preferences and comfort zones become the arbiter of truth and value. We can safely become theological islands. Our Christian faith becomes a buffet of biblical interpretation and practical application–all based on our own appetites.

And when “going” to church from the comfort of our living rooms, we can sidestep the awkwardness of actual relationships, of people who don’t like us (hard to imagine) or who rub us the wrong way (perhaps easier to imagine), the person who smells funny or doesn’t quite understand common social cues, not to mention the potential disagreements and conflicts that cause many to leave congregations in the first place.

No wonder some people avoid church and opt for watching their favourite mega-church pastor on YouTube or Facebook instead.

But doesn’t all of this messiness provide the very conditions within which God seeks to conform us spiritually into the image of his Son–our Lord–Jesus? Doesn’t growing into spiritual maturity involve much more than increasing the amount of biblical information in our brains? Indeed, isn’t wisdom not only the accumulation of scriptural knowledge but living that knowledge out around other people, in actual relationships, in specific circumstances?

Learning to live patiently with people who annoy us, even if they are brothers and sisters in Christ, is most definitely not the same as intellectually understanding the concept of patience. Bearing one another’s burdens is not the same as recognizing the importance of compassion and sending an etransfer to a worthwhile charitable organization. No, to become patient people, thankful people, humble people, faithful people, merciful, forgiving, and loving Jesus-like people, we need to be smack dab in the middle of Christian community, of a family of faith through which God by His Spirit cultivates these qualities in us by placing us with people who test them.

Besides, isn’t our faith an incarnational one? After all, God did not remain afar off, but came near–indeed, became one of us. The entire arc of the core biblical narrative is God dwelling with humanity in a reconciled, whole, flourishing relationship. That’s the whole point of creation and redemption. That’s why the second Person of the Trinity became a human being, entered our world, went to the cross, and was raised again. It’s why we need forgiveness and repentance. It’s what our sin wrecks. It’s why, ultimately, Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead. In the end, it’s all to bring together heaven and earth, to reconcile all things.

Being the church means learning to live into this reality even now, becoming over time a living display of what God intends and will bring about for all of creation in the new heavens and new earth. As hard, as messy, and as inconvenient as church seen in this light might therefore be, it can only happen in the way God fully intends when it’s embodied, with people actually gathering together, learning to forgive and love one another as Christ in the flesh has done with us.