The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Guest Sermon - December 23, 2018
  Rev. Sandy Daly

Scripture Reading: John 1:6-9
Sermon Title: God Is With Us

Ours is a God of surprises! Throughout the Bible God seems to delight in turning our expectations upside down. Abraham and Sarah did not expect to bear a child in their old age; nor did Elizabeth and Zechariah; David, who was the smallest of his brothers, was yet anointed as king; Mary, a young village girl, carried within her the child of God… and Jesus entered the world not as a triumphant ruler, but as a vulnerable baby. Ours is a God of surprises!

The ancient world was one of violence, uncertainty, and economic turmoil. While there is much that separates us from ancient Judah, these dynamics are not unlike the world in which we live today. We too know of terror and vulnerability on international, local, and personal levels. We, like they, hope that the world will be different. We, like they, yearn for security and peace. The promise of the prophets is that God will be faithful …and it will most likely be in surprising ways. We are invited us to look for God’s presence – God with us – God’s faithfulness - where we least expect it.

A few nights ago Roger and I watched one of our favorite Christmas movies: Love Actually. The opening scene is at Heathrow Airport where one after another a loved one or friend is greeted with hugs, kisses, laughter and tears. The opening words of the film are, “Love …actually… IS… all around.”  Even in a place of chaos, frustration, fatigue and impatience – like an airport – All we have to do is look for it, and love is all around us. All we have to do is make room for it in our hearts… and love will enter in.

Most of us are full of expectations - especially during the holiday season. We have strong memories, people we miss, and people we look forward to seeing. When we think of holiday celebrations, there are often powerful images that come to mind… But ours is a God of surprises. Our expectations are sometimes met in unexpected ways: a Christmas card or phone call from a long-ago friend, an opportunity for random kindness - received or given - and we find our heart warmed.

In Love Actually, the story braids together many kinds of love: the deep heart-wrenching love of a man who grieves for his wife,  and the tender love he holds for his young step-son, who is himself in the throes of puppy love… The enduring love, struggling for forgiveness in a marriage put through trial; the temptation of flirtatious love and the desperate flirtations of the tempter….. There is unrequited love, selfless and sisterly love and finally, chance love, unlikely yet somehow blossoming anyway. God is present in all these loves and more. God is present in the lives of the people in these stories… and God is present in the love stories of our own lives.

The Christmas story is one of love, vulnerability, and surprises…love in unlikely places and circumstances. Certainly Mary was frightened and vulnerable     giving birth to her first-born child in a barn. Surely Joseph was unprepared for this. Shepherds and kings and angels and stars… all surprising and unexpected signs pointing to this gift of great love: Emmanuel… God with us. In this babe, in this life, we may come to know God’s love.

In the next couple of days, look for God’s presence,  for love IS actually all around if we have the eyes to see it… and open hearts to receive it. Look for it in smiles and hugs, in thoughtful deeds, in the simple gift of time and attention. Look for God’s presence in the face of a loved one… or a stranger. See God’s love in the beauty of nature, in the warmth of the hearth, in the joy of music, or the stillness of peace and quiet. Be watchful for those precious moments when you sense God’s presence… God’s peace.

God is with us… love is all around us. As you rise in the morning wonder, “Where will I find God today?” As you prepare for bed, ask yourself, “Where did I see God’s love …actually?” Throughout the day, be watchful… In those moments, God is with us moments. our faith is strengthened. By just a shade, our world is changed.

Listen to these words from an advent blessing by Rev. Shawna Bowman:
God is always giving birth
and getting born somewhere,
in human skin and breath,
in hands outstretched,
in hearts broke open
in endings, and in new beginnings.
God has promised to be our midwife,
our companion on the journey as we carve our humble path,
as we find our way towards love that is honest and just,
as we seek forgiveness and restoration,
as we experience the loneliness of being the only one in our particular skin,
as we find our way into community …
and celebrate every body in our midst,
as we gather our courage for the journey ahead.
In the weeks... in the year ahead… may you find yourself surprised… and surrounded by love… For God ACTUALLY IS  with us! Amen