Monthly Archives: November 2013

all My Loving Heart – Hope

Blind Faith (No. 48, 2013)

Weekly Devotional for November 29, 2013

all My Loving Heart – Hope

2013 Advent Theme: all My Heart

First Sunday of Advent December 1, 2013: all My Loving Heart

Hope is the first of the traditional themes of Advent. Many congregations use Advent wreaths and banners with symbolic reminders of the traditional themes for each week of Advent – hope, peace, joy, and love. A number of churches combine these themes with a concept that guides that particular worshipping community through its shared season of waiting for Christmas and celebrating God’s greatest gift, the Son of God born to save. Readers away from First Baptist Church, Huntsville, Alabama will meet my church’s 2013 Advent theme, All My Heart, only in these next four devotionals. This first Sunday of Advent we will consider the overall theme from the vantage point of All My Loving Heart.

Hope and love are intrinsically intertwined. Love always hopes for the best to prevail. Two people in love hope for a lifetime of sharing dreams, family, careers, and the wonders of discovery and achievement. True love strives for the welfare, enrichment, and fulfillment of the loved one – even beyond those hopes for oneself.

But tying hope to love can be problematic. Our love is notoriously fickle. One moment we are head-over-heels in love, and all the world centers on expressing our love and realizing our highest hopes with our loved one. Far too often and sometimes with the flimsiest provocations, we are hopelessly out of love, crestfallen, and wanting to distance ourselves from the one now broken away from our heart. When so-called love is founded on faulty foundations we are especially susceptible to abrupt vacillations of love and indifference, causing hope to crumble.

When we think of giving “all my loving heart” to God in response to his overwhelming grace given to us through Jesus, we must take care that the love we are giving God is the genuine article. If we simply decide that we will “go with the flow” because we want to be part of a group of friends who attend a church we like, and so we agree to be identified as a Christian, that’s not the real thing. If we are enamored with the stories of the Bible, or with the social implications of being a good church-going person, we stand on shaky ground for professing our “love.”

John – Jesus’ “beloved disciple” – clearly identified the true source of genuine love in two of his writings. John explains that love is not something we think up on our own as a pathway to a better life. We are not the source of genuine love. The most basic description of the nature of God is that “God is love.” Our best practices of love originate in God’s love: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. {8} Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. {9} This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. {10} This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins..

{15} If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. {16} And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.. {19} We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:7-10, 15-16, 19 NIV) John follows his cosmic version of the Christmas story with its meaning for us. He details how genuine love that originates with God can become part of our nature, too: “God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. {18} No one has ever seen God. But his only Son, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart; he has told us about him.: (John 1:17b-18 NLT) Our loving commitments that are built on the foundation of love delivered to us by Jesus directly from its source in God are infinitely more reliable for sustaining our hope.

John’s phrase indicating just how intimately Jesus is connected to the source of love, . near to the Father’s heart .” cued up a hymn that should become an Advent carol for this year’s theme. It does not mention any details of the Christmas story, but the simple hymn expresses the highest hope of true followers of Jesus. It uses the intimate phrase from John’s gospel 12 times, if all 3 verses and refrains are sung. It identifies the source and the hope of our loving hearts:

1 There is a place of quiet rest, Near to the heart of God;

A place where sin cannot molest, Near to the heart of God.

Refrain: O Jesus, blest Redeemer, Sent from the heart of God;

Hold us, who wait before Thee Near to the heart of God.

2 There is a place of comfort sweet, Near to the heart of God;

A place where we our Savior meet, Near to the heart of God. [Refrain]

3 There is a place of full release, Near to the heart of God;

A place where all is joy and peace, Near to the heart of God. [Refrain]

(Near to the Heart of God, Cleland Boyd McAfee, 1903)

Near to the Heart of God was written after the death of the composer’s 2 young nieces due to diphtheria. Cleland McAfee was President of Park College in Kansas, and also Pastor and Choirmaster of the campus church. His daughter said that her grief-stricken father was searching for words of hope and assurance that might communicate the strength of God’s love in the worship service following the girls’ tragic deaths. He penned the hymn, taught it to the choir in a Saturday evening rehearsal, and it was sung by the choir that night at his brother’s quarantined home and in the next day’s worship service. The Savior, “sent from the heart of God,” brings to us the sustaining love of God that calls us, in turn, to live in the divine hope of abiding near to the heart of God. Although the hymn was not composed or first sung during Advent, the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love are both explicit and comprehensively affirmed in the lyrics.

My loving heart is most ideally modeled after the infinite loving heart of God. The best Advent/Christmas gift I can return to God and to others is to give them all my loving heart. My best hope is to live every day and for all eternity immersed in that love, near to the heart of God. May this be your ardent Advent hope as well.

– J. Edward Culpepper

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