On this past Christmas Eve I found myself preaching at church. Most years that would not have been news, but this year I was on paternity leave. My good friend who was providing pulpit supply was under the weather, so I pulled together a sermon based loosely on what I had been reading. I had been spending a lot of time reading the 1973 translation of Bernard of Clairvaux’s “On Loving God” produced by Cistercian Publications. My sermon was effectively revolved around the concept that we should love God and celebrate Christmas because it is a celebration of Christ becoming the incarnation of God’s love for us.
As I type this blog entry, the sounds of my two elder children are pouring in through the door between my church office and the church nursery. Outside it is still snowing despite the fact that the snow day my kids prayed for last night has become the reality of today. By the road there are piles of snow building besides cleared paths. The piles are growing with every pass of the snowblower. The snow keeps falling despite the fact that I asked it to stop nicely. The snow will keep falling because the snow is stubborn.
As I was pondering the snow this morning, I came to a realization. Technically, I had two realizations. First, I realized that the snow would be breaking my back if it were not for the blessed snowblower. I injured my back last year and have had to become very careful with how I use it in order to keep from injuring it again. If I were to lift up that much snow my back would be destroyed.
Second, I realized the snow could be seen as a great analogy. The snow is heavy, deep, and weighty. In the same way, the love I owe God is heavy, deep, and weighty. So, let’s draw in Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard writes (on the eighteenth page):
“‘What shall I render to the Lord for all that he has given me?’ In his first work he gave me myself; in his second work he gave me himself; when he gave me himself, he gave me back myself. Given, and regiven, I owe myself twice over. What can I give God in return for himself? Even if I could give him myself a thousand times, what am I to God?”
So, God gives us two gifts. First, God created us. To bring in some language from Psalms, we are knit together in the womb by a loving God. We are created in the image of God by God. How in the world could we ever repay God for such love? Can we give anything to God that wasn’t made possible by our creation in the first place?
Second, God recreates us. Bernard writes (a couple of lines before the previous quote): “He spoke and they were made. But he who made me by a single word, in remaking me had to speak many words, work miracles, suffer hardships, and not only hardships but even unjust treatment.“ God went to extraordinary lengths to take me as a broken person and provide a path towards redemption through Jesus Christ. What could any of us do to repay that much kindness and love? What gift could we offer?
What God has done is like the snow falling from the sky. Try as I might, there’s no way that I could ever lift all of that snow. My debt to God for his loving creation and remaking of my life is deeper than any snow drift I could shovel, heavier than any snow falling from the sky, and utterly beyond my ability to shovel, melt, or remove. God’s love is like a blizzard and there’s no way that I can ignore the weight and the effect it has on my life.
Ultimately, all that we can really do is accept the gift of God’s love and respond as best as we can with the love we have in our hearts. The love of God will keep falling down on the beloved children God has adopted, May we respond with grateful hearts!