Making Room for Love – 12/19/21

One of the things I find stressful about the holiday season is gift giving.  When Kathy and I first started dating, I told her I was a good gift giver.  Maybe I was hoping to bribe her into staying in a relationship with me by knowing there would be good things to come if she stuck with me through another birthday or another Christmas.  But making such a statement puts a lot of pressure on you, particularly after you have been successful in your gift giving and have to live up to expectations.  Each year I stress about whether I will find something meaningful to give, something that shows how much I care about her.  And I have generally always felt that I was successful.

But lately Kathy has been in a cleaning out mood.  Kathy is never one to throw things away.  If there is any way that things can be donated or recycled, she does it.  Because I am a little OCD, I notice when things are missing. And I began to realize that some of those gifts which I thought were so meaningful seem to have found their way into the give-away piles.

At first, I was a little taken aback by this.  I have never given away any gifts that Kathy has given me. Fearing I would hurt Kathy’s feelings, I have hung on to every shirt, every knick knack, even every card. And I wondered what this meant for our relationship that she doesn’t have that same attachment to the gifts I have given her.  And in my tendency to catastrophize, I wondered if I would be on that give away pile at some point in the future.

In our first reading for this morning, Isaiah indicates the Divine is “about to create new heavens and a new earth.”  The author assures the people of Judah that the change they hope for will come.  Their deliverance will so alter the present reality that the heavens and the earth will seem to be re-created.  The past will be forgotten.  The former things will not be remembered, will not come to mind.  Even though the gifts they have received in the past have come and gone, the love of Divine will endure, will be made manifest in the Divine presence with her people.  And, ultimately, that love will shape all of their experience.  In turn, the people will “rejoice forever in what I am creating.”  There will be no more sounds of weeping nor will there be cries of distress.

This transformation which is promised in Isaiah, this promised realization of the presence of the Divine love, did not mean that things would remain the same.  It meant quite the opposite.  That before experiencing this transforming love, the people of Israel will have to be willing to release of some things from the past.  While the life they loved, the way they practiced their faith, the way they lived as a people would not be destroyed, it also would be forever changed.  The land they would go back to would be different, the temple they would worship in would need to be rebuilt, the way they lived their lives would have to shift.

Love is often described as what we give to another person.  The affirmative action we take.  The things we do or refrain from doing.  Our commitment and advocacy on behalf of another.  But love is also about making room.  It is about being willing to let go of things to express the love we wish to share with others.  The challenge is that this often puts us in a place where we feel torn between two things – things that we may have one time treasured and things which are uncertain.

One way that we make room for love is like the passage of regime change where the powers of one generation are passed onto the next. Every time that happens, there is a possibility, an opening for love to break through in a new way on the stage of human history. This is the opportunity for us as we pass leadership to another generation. But that’s a very vulnerable thing to confess.  As church, as families, we spend so much of our time trying to form the next generation so that they will be like us.  But making room for love involves a willingness to be shaped, rather than shaping.  Making room for love involves being willing to put our standing in the give away pile so others can make use of it.

For many of us, particularly those who come from a place of privilege, the privilege of knowing love is not a difficult concept to grasp, not an experience that stretches us to imagine.  But possessing this privilege can make it difficult to understand the perspectives of those who have not tasted that privilege.  We find it challenging to understand the lived experience of those who have not been able to find love in their surroundings whether that be in their church, their family, their neighborhood, or their nation.  But if we allow ourselves to be shaped by those we seek to love, if we make room for that experience by being willing to let go of things we value, love is something that not only enters the experience of those who we seek to love, it allows us to understand love from a new perspective.

But making room for love is not always just about those with whom we are unfamiliar, with those who normally do not enter our experience.  Brene Brown wrote, “Empathy is not finite, and compassion is not a pizza with eight slices. When you practice empathy and compassion with someone, there is not less of these qualities to go around. There’s more. Love is the last thing we need to ration in this world. The refugee in Syria doesn’t benefit more if you conserve your kindness only for her and withhold it from your neighbor who’s going through a divorce.”

For me, it is sometimes easier to make room for love with a stranger than with someone I know.  Easier to give up something I value for someone whose name I do not know that for someone I am closely connected with.  I think of members of my family, even people I see often that I struggle to be motivated to create this space for.  Making room for love in these circumstances may mean giving up a certain degree of our power in the relationship, giving up some protection of the walls we have built around ourselves, letting go of some hope for what the relationship might have been but could not be.  But when we are able to make room for love, even in these challenging circumstances, our ability and willingness to make room for love expands.  Finding love even for those we struggle most to love builds our ability to reach out in those circumstances which are less challenging.

While Kathy’s recent hospital stay was nothing too serious, it reminded me of the fragility of our lives.  That anything can happen at any time, and none of us know what the next day will bring.  And it caused me to recommit to make more room for love, not just for her but for everyone I encounter.  To not allow complacency, fear, or hopelessness to be more of a driving force in my life than a commitment to that love.  To not hold on to things so tightly, things which will pass regardless of how tightly I hold, so that I can make room for something new.

Initially I was not sure what drew me to use our second reading for this morning, other than my love for Maggie Smith’s poetry.  I nearly didn’t use it.  But as I reflected more, it reminded me not only of the delicacy of life, but that life is not always as beautiful as we hope it to be.  Even if we speak the words to make the lives of others different, even if we truly hope and believe it to be, that does not change the reality of the circumstances each of us face.  And if we truly want to make room for love, not just for those it is easy to love but for everyone, we may need to let go of some of these illusions we hold not only about our lives, but the lived experience of those we encounter.

Making room for love is something to consider in this time at NCC as well.  We all have many different reasons for being a part of this community, different things which brought us here.  But there is a thread which runs throughout each of those reasons, the love that you all share for one another.  More than anything else, you are here because you are people who choose love, who make room for its presence.  You choose it and each other.  You have become a chosen family for each other.  Over the years, you have had the choice to leave but haven’t because of the tie which binds you to one another.  Together you seek to create a safe space, a place where learning, compassion, and love is shared.  You make the choice to build each other up, to support one another in times of struggle.  Regardless of the differences which may exist between you, you come together around the same table each week.  And this is what makes a spiritual community special.  Unlike our birth families, we have chosen one another and we recommit to one another each time we gather.

When I mentioned to Kathy that I noticed the gifts I gave were in the give-away pile, she was kind of surprised I cared.  She told me to feel free to get rid of anything she has given me if I don’t use it anymore.  She recognized that our relationship was more the gifts we have been given.  It is the love we share which transforms our lives, not the earrings or the pictures which I thought were so meaningful.  Not the things we hold on to, but the things we are willing to give up to make room for love.

For the final week, each of us will have the opportunity to light the advent candle for love.  During our time of response, I invite you go to the back of the sanctuary where we have the word “love” spelled out in tealights.  As you light one of the candles, it is an opportunity to make room for a fuller expression of love in this new year and in this new time at NCC.