A few years ago, I was telling the Godly Play Advent story to a group of children after our Advent festival, where we’d made a bunch of Advent crafts. Some of you might have seen this story, but it involves the kids gathering around on the floor, and the storyteller setting out four candles on the floor, and pieces from the creche, and then telling a bit of the story for each week in Advent. It’s a little bit complicated- there are a lot of pieces to move around, and then you have to do that around the lit candles. One of the little girls I was telling it to had a piece of gold wire that she had been working with during the craft time, and she kept trying to swoop it down into the characters as I told the story. It was making me nervous, since I had the lit candles, so I kept trying to gently redirect her and get her to sit back down and hold onto her craft.

Finally, on the last part of the story, she nestled the wire right into the figures, which were Mary and Joseph and the baby, and she left it there, and that seemed like a good enough compromise to me, since it would keep any of us from catching fire, so I let her leave it there and went on with telling the story. When I was done and was putting the figures away, I handed it back to her. “Oh, it’s for you,” she said, “it’s love.” And sure enough, when I looked closer, the wire was a crooked little heart. She’d been trying to swoop love right into the story the whole time- she knew the essential point better than I did, with all my complicated figures and candles, as children often do.

Love is persistent, right? Love is always trying to wend its way to us. Love is in the reminders of parents to go get some fresh air, love is in the funny group text that makes you smile in a difficult meeting, love is in the careful pursuit of justice over years, love is in the prayer that crosses the distance between us when we cannot. All of us who have loved ones that we’ve lost know that love persists, even, beyond the power of death. Perhaps it would be easier if love faded away when someone was taken from us, when we could no longer see them, but love is stronger than that.

And tonight we celebrate that God was so creative, so persistent in loving us that God found a brand new way to swoop love into the world- not in a great army as a fully grown king, not in a crack of lightning that stunned everyone into silence, not in an eloquent voice from the sky telling us the answers to our questions about the meaning of it all. No, God came to live among us, as a human, as a baby, helpless, with us, at our mercy. Jesus was born and knew love, not just as the source of love but as a tiny child, dependent on it for survival, as we all are. Jesus came to live among us, and lived and grew and learned, and then showed us a new way, giving us hints of a realm beyond our own, a realm that is always, persistently breaking into our world. We’ll never be the same, here on Earth, after this great act of love in Jesus.

This is one of the great mysteries of our faith: Love has come here in Jesus, and yet here is still, well, here- this world that is broken, and scary, and uncertain. There is still injustice and pain and cruelty and hatred. We live in this great and mysterious in-between time; everything has changed in Jesus, and yet his work is not done. One day, we proclaim, Jesus will return, and he will be all in all, and there will be no more pain or injustice or hurt.

But until then, we live as people of faith and hope; faith that God is bringing this about, faith that God persists in loving us, faith that Jesus’ incarnation makes a difference, that Jesus is here with us still. And hope- hope that such a persistent love will not leave us where it found us, that this persistent love of God is changing us, is growing in the world, is swooping into the world in ever new ways each day, each year. Hope that this persistent love has already overcome death through this great act of God coming into the world to dwell with us, and that one day it will banish death forever. Hope that in telling these stories and singing these songs to one another, we can re-kindle that persistent love that created us, that sustains us, that brings us into new life.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t feel the pain and grief and fear that are part of being human, especially human right now, in this world that feels so chaotic and discouraging and difficult much of the time. To be a people of faith and hope and love in these times, I think, means that we can face those things with a sense that we will be sustained in them, that we are a part of a larger story than it might seem when we’re wading through the mud of the human experience. Perhaps by following Jesus, we can enter into the difficult parts of being human with a deeper peace, with greater courage and honesty and love, because we know that Jesus has already found a way through, into new life, and that he will guide us through to the other side, with his persistent way of love. We can reach out in love to the people around us who are grieving and afraid and alone, and share that love, and a piece of that story. We can reach out to the parts of ourselves who are grieving and afraid and alone too, and know that Jesus came to join us in all those parts of being human too, that Jesus loves us in the wholeness of who we are. We can trust that it is often in those sad and broken and discouraging places in our lives, in our communities, that we encounter Jesus, who goes before us there to make a way through.

So tonight, we remember the night long ago when a strange collection of people looked up from the way things were around them and saw the light of a wild star, and knew that love was swooping into the world in a brand new way. They followed in the mystery of faith and in hope, finding a love so powerful that it can show us the way from death to new life, so persistent that it came to join us in all that it means to be human. We can trust that love is present to us in every way this night, and always, and that it is kindly, persistently always ready to lead us toward abundant life in our savior.