Bible Readings: Genesis 2:4-9 & John 3:16-21

How much?

Little Nutbrown Hare, who was going to bed, held on tight to Big Nightbrown Hare’s very long ears. He wanted to be sure that Big Nutbrown Hare was listening. Guess how much I love you” he said…
… Big Nutbrown Hare settled Little Nutbrown Hare into his bed of leaves. He leaned over and kissed him good night. Then he lay down close by and whispered with a smile, “I love you right up to the moon – and back.”

As I was preparing for this morning the thought struck me that maybe Bible could be subtitled “guess how much I love you”.

Right from the beginning of the Bible we get the sense of God who brings creation into being, looks at it and sees that it is good. On the shelves of my study at home I have a selection of things, mostly books, but some other stuff as well. Some are souvenirs from places I’ve been, a few are trophies I’ve won, and many are things that I’ve made over the years. None of these things are have much intrinsic merit to be honest – they range from very amateur acrylic paintings, to airfix models, to bits of lathe work from a metalwork shop.

The thing that they have in common, and that is most of their value to me, is that I made them. They are an expression of my creativity. I wonder if you feel the same about things you’ve made, that you’ve expressed your creativity through? I’m sure that God does. But it goes further than that. God’s love for the world didn’t begin after the act of creation, but before it. God loved the creation before it was created. In fact God created the world because God loved it. The closest human comparison I can make is when we imagine something, we have a vision for something, and we love the idea of it, we are passionate about making it happen, and then we do it and we love the result. Or perhaps it’s a bit like a couple who are hoping to start a family, there is a sense that they love the child before it even exists.

In the reading we heard from Genesis we see God’s love at work on the universal scale – God creating the heavens and the earth. Galaxies, stars, planets, nebulae – all God’s handiwork and creativity displayed on the greatest of canvases. Don’t be distracted by the common assertion that the Big Bang disproves the Genesis accounts of creation. I love cosmological science, but all it can do is tell us the details of the paintbrush not about the intent of the artist, an artist who loves the whole universe.

We also read about God’s love at work on the global scale – God creating this earth and its divisions into land and sea, with plants and animals, birds and fish. Every time you watch Blue Planet or Dynasties you are watching the results of God’s amazing, imaginative, creativity. You don’t even have to go that far, just stop and look at a daisy or see a sparrow on a bush, and see in even that tiny, common thing, the delight and artistry of the Creator. Again, don’t get distracted by arguments about evolution. That is another paintbrush answer when the Artist is there to be encountered, an artist who loves the whole world.

Finally we read about God’s love at work on the individual level. God created a man as a living being from the dust of the earth, with the very breath of God as the life force of humanity. Every human being ever since has been created individually, with intent, by God, who breathes life into each one of us. As the Psalmist writes, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” That was true for Adam, it was true for the Psalmist, it is true for each one of us here today. It is also true for the person who lives in the house next to yours, who sits opposite you at work, who you take the kids to soft play with. We are all created, as individuals, by God, who loves each and every one of us.

As our reading from John’s account of Jesus’ life said, “God so loved the world.”

So far, so good. God loves the world and everything and everyone in it,so much so that that love was actually the creative force behind it all coming into being. God so loved the world.

But there is a problem coming, and it arrives in the second half of verse 16 … that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Hold on a minute, who said anything about perishing? Where has that come from? What happened to all this creative, life giving, love for us all? That doesn’t sound very, “guess how much I love you”. What’s this about perishing?

Right at the end of our reading from Genesis we read that in the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What we didn’t go on to read is the part in which God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for otherwise they would surely die. Adam and Eve chose not to trust God’s love for them. Choosing to believe the lies of the deceiver they ate of the fruit of that tree. As they did, they were cut off from God’s life giving presence by their own choice. God did not stop loving them, but they stopped believing in that love, and so became unable to remain in relationship with God.

Again, don’t get distracted by questions of whether or not there was a historical Adam and Eve who were the first ancestors of all human kind. That is a paintbrush question when the artist is painting a portrait of every person who has ever lived, apart from one. This is a portrait of me. I am deeply loved by God, but I have not always believed in that love, I have not always returned that love, and if I were left to my own devices I would be cut off from the life giving love of God forever, and I would be condemned by my own unbelief and perish eternally.

Thanks be to God, I am not left to my own devices. In that great love God gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. You see, I think that I was wrong when I had the thought that maybe the Bible could be subtitled, “Guess how much I love you”. Because we do not have to guess how much God loves us. God loves us to the cross and back – which is much further than the moon and back. It is further than we can imagine or travel ourselves. Only Jesus, God come to earth (itself quite a journey from heaven) could go to the cross, bearing our rejection and disbelief, our sin and our shame, and leave it there, dead and powerless to defeat us, and return to life, bringing with him freedom for us to believe in God’s love, to return God’s love, and to live in God’s love – now and forever.

As we begin Advent this year we look forward to celebrating the arrival of that great gift, the birth of Jesus, – God made human, the only person in history never to doubt his Heavenly Father’s love for him – a trust that took him to the cross in the belief that God’s love would win in the end and return him to life. Which it did. We also look forward to celebrating the return of Jesus, when his kingdom of love will finally be seen in all its glory. Will we believe in that love, will we trust it, will we be part of it for all eternity? Will we invite others to experience it? Will we pray for others to be drawn into it? Will we show it to those around us?

God’s love is real and eternal, so is the life that it gives, and so are the consequences of rejecting it.

God’s love is real and eternal, so is the life that it gives, and so are the consequences of rejecting it.

This Advent let’s get ready for Christmas, Jesus’ first visit to earth, but we must remember that it is more important that we, and the people that we live among, work with, love, are ready for his second visit to earth. In the new year we will be running at least two Alpha courses for people who want to explore what it means to live in God’s love. You might want to come along, or you might want to take advantage of the season, and conversations that it brings up about Jesus, to invite someone else along. Don’t leave people guessing how much God loves them – show them and invite them to experience it for themselves.

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