There's a great Old Testament word--hesed. (It's one of my pastor-husband's favorite words to preach on.) It gets translated love, loving-kindness, mercy, faithfulness, covenant faithfulness. It's all those things and more. The Jesus Storybook Bible talks of it as God's "Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love." It's God keeping his promises to us, and finding a way to rescue us from our sin because it's who he IS, and he can no more be unfaithful or unloving to us than we can make a square circle or smell blue. It would be a nonsensical impossibility.
And this is the love of God that is being called on and celebrated in the readings this morning. Psalms 146 and 147, two of the great praise psalms, remind us that hope and salvation are in God. That he is our faithful king, that he rescues all who call him . . . and that if we look to people for the sort of salvation and faithfulness that only come from God, we're going to be disappointed every time. But Yahweh lifts up the humble and heals the broken-hearted. It is with the knowledge and assurance of the hesed of God that the psalmist of Psalm 80 calls for rescue. And then we get to Zechariah, and I'm going to steal a little from tomorrow's reading, because the canticle of Zechariah is one of the great songs of the Bible.
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
(Luke 1:68-72 ESV)
That showing mercy? That's hesed, there. But let's look just a second at just who God redeems and how and why. He redeems his people. He raised up a horn of salvation for us. He calls us and redeems us together. Now of course, there is no group that is not made up of individuals, but God doesn't leave us alone to be individuals. He puts us together with other people to . . . do hesed to each other. To love each other. Be faithful to each other. To help each other along the path of redemption.
Real love is hard. Loving real people with real problems is hard. That's one of the reasons that the soft-glow version of Christmas doesn't really do us much good. If we have a God who nicely loves people who don't actually have much in the way of problems that they need fixed, it doesn't help us in loving each other when we run facelong into the fact that really loving real people, in our church, in our marriages, with our children, in our communities, is rather horribly gritty most days. Loving my kindergartner when she's home sick with stomach flu . . . well, there's just not much you can do to romanticize that, or cast it in a 40 watt glow. But God, in his Never Stopping, Never Giving Up Love, becomes Incarnate. He detonates a bomb of mercy, grace, forgiveness and God-With-Us-ness into our world, because that's what it needs, and so that's what he's going to give.
God loves you. God loves me too. He loves my kids, more than I do. He loves the elderly lady in the pew across the aisle, and the uncooperative kid who just wants to lie on the floor during junior church. He meets us at the point of our brokenness and dwells with us and loves us, and heals us, and saves us. And by loving us this way, God teaches us how to love this way. He shows us that love starts with being present. Which he is. That is reason for praise.
The LORD will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the LORD!
(Psalm 146:10 ESV)