God of Love and God of Hope
The God of LOVE and the God of HOPE.
LOVE and HOPE are two of the greatest virtues of our Christian faith. They are the central part of the Good News we proclaim and today, we clearly hear this message through the Gospel Reading and in the Liturgical feast we celebrate. Last Sunday we began the new ecclesiastical year on September 1st, and right from the beginning of the new church year we hear how God loves each one of us, and we celebrate a feast that fills us with hope.
First, we hear the most famous passage in the Bible in today’s Gospel reading. “For God so loves the world so much that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not sent the Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:16-17) We always read this passage on the Sunday before September 14th, the feast of the Holy Cross. And this passage summarizes our Faith; it reminds us of what Christianity is all about.
God doesn’t want to condemn us. We don’t believe in a God who is looking to punish us. He’s not sick and tired of us, wanting to reject us. Absolutely not! We need to understand God for who He is and what He really wants from us. God is LOVE and He passionately loves each one of us!
Unfortunately, deep down, so many people feel unloved, not cherished, of little value. Something deep within many people makes them feel they are not worth much. Maybe because society is always telling us we aren’t pretty enough, rich enough, sexy enough, cool enough. Social media often highlights what it perceives as our shortcomings. And we listen to this deceptive voice and too often feel we are not good enough. We don’t feel valued and cherished.
The Good News of our faith, however, is that God passionately adores each one of us and wants us to live as His beloved and cherished children. Don’t listen to the lie of social media. Today the Church proclaims loud and clear that we are loved. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.” We are called to live each day remembering who we are – beloved children of love – and in this love, discover the meaning and purpose of our true identity. Knowing and truly believing that we are loved will change our entire perspective on life, and the way we view each person we encounter. Knowing we are loved and living in God’s love. It transforms the world we live in into a beautiful place.
Well, along with hearing John 3:16-17, the most famous Bible passage of love, we also celebrate today the birthday of the Virgin Mary. We all love birthdays! We celebrate. We have parties. We give gifts. Birthdays are special days when we lift up a person we love as we thank God for their life! So today, we are lifting up the unique life of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of the world, and the one person chosen in all of history to give birth to God, the one who is the Birthgiver of God!
Of course we can highlight the life of the Virgin Mary, as we do in so many different feasts and celebrations throughout the year. Yet what I want to highlight on her birthday are the parents of the Virgin Mary, Joachim and Anna, and the HOPE that their story can offer all of us.
Anna was an old woman who did not have any children. Like many other examples in the Bible, she was a woman full of faith, yet her prayers for a child didn’t seem to be answered. Similar to Abraham’s wife Sarah, or the prophet Samuel’s mother Hannah, or St. John the Baptist’s mother Elizabeth, they were all faithful and devout women who wanted children, who pleaded with God for a child, and yet, into old age they remained childless.
For many in Biblical times, not having children was believed to be a sign that God was holding back His blessing. Yet Joachim and Anna never lost hope. They understood that all things are possible for God, even for an old woman to give birth to a child. So they prayed continually with hope! Saints Joachim and Anna even vowed to dedicate their child to God if He would hear their prayers.
During one of the Jewish feastdays, Joachim went to the temple to offer his sacrifice to God, yet the high priest did not accept it because he considered Joachim unworthy since he was childless. In deep distress, Joachim went into the wilderness and prayed and fasted for 40 days. Meanwhile, Anna didn’t complain against God, but increased her own prayers asking for God’s mercy.
And in their old age, well past the age of childbearing, the Archangel Gabriel came to each of them separately and brought them the Good News that God heard their prayers. They would bring forth a blessed daughter who would bring forth the salvation of the world!
It sounded impossible. It seemed ridiculous for people of their age. And yet, the God of Hope heard their prayers and brought about a miracle!
So today, we celebrate not only the birth of the Virgin Mary, and not only the Sunday before the Holy Cross, but we highlight and lift up the two central virtues of our faith – LOVE and HOPE.
We are beloved children of God, cherished and adored by our Creator. He is not interested in punishing us or rejecting us or condemning us. He loves us and wants to save us.
And like Joachim and Anna, we are people of hope. We never despair even if our situation seems hopeless, even if certain dreams seem unrealized. If circumstances in life seem to not happen as we wish, we never despair. Instead, we continually and faithfully turn to God in prayer, hoping in His mercy and kindness.
LOVE and HOPE. Two central virtues that will sustain us throughout life!
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