While preaching a couple of weeks ago, I had a stray mid-sermon thought. Most thoughts that fill my mind while I'm preaching are ones that have already been processed in some form while I'm preparing to preach, but this one didn't fall into that category. Usually, mid-sermon thoughts are more like, "Why is that person leaving the sanctuary?"
On that Sunday I was trying to proclaim the amazing love and mercy of God that is revealed in Jesus. The text was from Romans 8:12-17 in which Paul explained how believers are "led by the Spirit" and how we are God's children. He points out that because we are God's children, we can cry out "Abba" to God. "Abba" is an Aramaic word that little children use to call to their father. If translated, the closest English word we have would be "Daddy" - a name of trust and affection. This word is a name that implies an intimate relationship. In Mark 14:36, Jesus himself called his Father "Abba."
But "Abba" is not the image that comes to mind for many people in our world when they think of an earthly father. Due to mistreatment, neglect, tragedies, verbal abuse, or some other childhood trauma from an earthly father, many have difficulty embracing their heavenly Father with a cry of "Abba." Rather than picturing God as a loving father, many people feel almost as if God has a hammer and is just waiting for them to step out of line-when they do, the punishment is delivered with intensity and speed.
In light of the sacrificial love and mercy of God captured in the story of Jesus, we must challenge such an inaccurate image of God. Mid-sermon that day, I realized that some people's concept of God is like an arcade game I've seen. In the corner of one local pizza parlor where I take my kids is a wildly popular game called Whac-A-Mole. You put 50 cents into the machine and grab a padded hammer. Then, little animal heads sporadically pop out of holes on the surface of the game board. The object is to pound them as quickly as you can. This one. That one. Here. . . then there. . . back again. Bam! Bam!
Sadly, some perceive this to be God's modus operandi. Could a God who sends his only Son into the world in human flesh. . . could a God who loves us that much. . . treat his children like Whac-A-Mole? No way! In fact, Paul says in Romans 5:8 that "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." The reason the Father sent His Son as the Child of Christmas was so that Child would become the Christ of Calvary.
Part of the amazing story of Christmas is that God was acting, moving, and revealing His love and plan before anyone could really perceive what was happening. God was already at work in the womb of a chosen woman.The most memorized verse in the Bible reminds us that God acted first and took the sacrificial step of love. John 3:16 says that "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
God gave the gift of Jesus in human flesh. And the God who loved us long before we could ever love Him desires to give us good gifts (Matthew 7:9-11).
In fact, He loves us so much that He wants us to trust Him as a child would trust a caring and compassionate father. He wants us to call Him "Daddy."I tried to convey the astounding message of God's self-giving, sacrificial love and care on that Sunday morning. It's as far from Whac-A-Mole as you can get, and I concluded: that's a thought worth thinking. . . mid-sermon or anytime!
Brad Estep is senior pastor of the First Church of the Nazarene in Kansas City, Missouri. He is married to Dawn and has two children, Christopher and Katherine.
Holiness Today, September/October 2006