Advent 3: Love

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
Genesis 33:1-11
December 13, 2020

The sermon recored on Friday. It’s not exactly the same as the text below, but pretty close.

Thoughts at the beginning of the service:

            As we’ve done for the past few weeks, we’re looking this morning at a unique passage of Scripture for Advent. Why not, we’re coming up on a weird Christmas with the precautions we have to take to slow the spread of COVID. 

 Our scripture passage is about Jacob, one of the patriarchs of the Hebrew tradition. You know him. A cheater, who found himself cheated. He deceived Esau, his brother, out of his inheritance by offering a hungry boy a bowl of soup. And if that wasn’t enough, he took advantage of his father’s failing eyes to obtain his brother’s blessings. This creates a rift between him and his brother. He flees for his life. 

While wandering, he fell in love with Rachel and agreed to give her father seven years of work for her hand in marriage. But his father-in-law tricked him into first marrying her sister, Leah. So, Jacob worked seven more years for the woman he loved. Then he had two wives, each jealous of the other. Jacob’s is not be the first dysfunctional family in Scripture, but his is one of the more extreme.[1]

Jacob had battled with a mysterious being. Was his adversary God?[2] He shows the scars of battle as he limps along. But God blesses him. His family will carry on the promise first given to Abraham. 

Jacob returns to his homeland which means he must confront his brother, Esau. Jacob, the fair skinned momma boy, must meet his macho brother. They’ve not seen each other in two decades.

A message of love

            While Jacob is the main character in our story, I hope you will consider this passage from the eyes of Esau. Esau shows us how to be gracious. He displays love. The jilted brother quickly forgives his conniving sibling. Esau could have had Jacob’s head on a platter, but instead, he buries the ax. 

Esau’s love is similar to the love God shows the human race. Our Heavenly Father could have been done with human sinfulness and wiped us off the map. Instead, God shows amazing love by coming to us as an infant. As we prepare to once again celebrate Jesus’ birth, we need to remember we’re called to love and to let go of grudges.  

After the reading of Scripture

            I’ve heard that procrastination is a sign of creativity. I’m not sure it’s true, but I hope so. I’d want to use it as an excuse for waiting till the last possible moment to buy Christmas presents. 

            Jacob, in our story, had put off meeting his brother as long as he could. One of the things we’ll see exploring this text is that there are things we shouldn’t put off for too long. 

The danger of putting things off:

            When there’s something I don’t want to do, I put it off… I fret over it… Especially when an apologize is called for. Don’t you hate doing that? Apologizing? If you’re like me, you struggle to do it. After a while, what could have been easily corrected with a hand-written note or a phone call becomes a huge task. 

            Or maybe because I felt slighted, I didn’t want to take the first step. There’s an important lesson here. We can’t control others; we can only control ourselves.

            It seems important for Jacob to make an effort at reconciliation with his brother even though he’s not sure how it was going to turn out. He can only control what he does, not how his brother responds. 

            I wonder if the years he was away, he’d fretted over making such an effort. In doing so, he creates a monster out of the task at hand. The more Jacob thinks about it, the more he worries that his hairy masculine brother will wring his neck. 

            On the night before he encounters Esau, Jacob’s hip is pulled out of joint in a wrestling match. Now, the big day arrives. Limping, there’s no way he can outrun Esau. He’s stuck. He’ll meet his brother and face the consequences. 

We all change:

            Another thing I have notice about myself is that although I realize I’ve changed, I have a hard time imaging how other person has changed. This is especially true of someone from my past. I remember them as they were when I last saw them. If we really think about it, they, too, have changed. 

            Have you ever been to a class reunion? You look around and wonder who are all these old people? I do, not realizing they’re probably thinking a similar thing about me. 

            I also have experienced this phenomenon on Facebook. An old friend sends a friendship request. I look at their profile picture, thinking it must be from my friend’s parents. We all change. 

            Is this part of Jacob problem? Does he still see Esau as the young man he’d wrong and assumes that Esau had spent the past two decades letting his anger boil? After all, Jacob has spent time fretting over what might happen when they meet again.

The Meeting:

            Seeing Esau approach makes Jacob nervous. He lines up his family, starting with the servants their children.[3] Then he places Leah and her children next. And at the end he places his beloved Rachel and her son, Joseph.

             Although we are not told the reason, it appears Jacob hopes that if his brother is out for blood, his vengeance will be appeased on the first group of his family. 

            He’s saved his favorite for the last. Maybe he thinks Rachel and Joseph will have a chance to get away. We’re not told how the mothers of his children felt about this alignment, but I am sure such favoritism didn’t bring harmony to his dysfunctional family.

            To Jacob’s credit, he goes first. He’s in front, limping along, with his extended family in tow. If there is going to be blood, he might as well offer his own. After all, he’s facing demons of his own making. We’re told that Jacob bows seven times as his brother approaches—the type of homage worthy of a Pharaoh.[4] Besides that, Jacob had already culled his flocks and sent the best animals ahead as a gift to Esau. Now he shows his submissiveness. 

            Jacob has no idea how his brother will respond. Will Esau extract revenge? 

The graciousness of Esau:

            Instead of vengeance, Esau is joyous! Much like the father in the Prodigal Son, Esau runs out ahead and embraces his brother. The two hug and cry together.  

            Then Esau comments on his brother’s family and delights in meeting his sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews. Jacob rightly gives God the credit for his family. Esau then insists that no gifts are necessary even though when Jacob presses, he accepts the gifts graciously. As Jacob says, he has all that he needs. But it appears that so does Esau. Both men have been successful. Jacob has herds and a large family; Esau has a small army.  

Encountering God through love:

            Then, in verses 10, Jacob expresses his joy, saying that looking at Esau’s face is like looking into the face of God. Jacob knows what he’s talking about for he has encountered God a few times by this point. And remember, Jesus tells us in a parable that we too will encounter him in the face of others.[5] Maybe a part of this has to do with Esau’s willingness to let the past be gone and to make the reconciliation as easy as possible. That’s a godly act.

            After a reunion, they go separate ways, partly out of necessity. With the herds and animals, Jacob’s crowd is much slower than Esau’s. What’s important is that the two brothers have been reunited and Jacob is back in the land of his father.

Implications for our Christian life: 

            A lot of times we are like Jacob, afraid of taking steps toward reconciliation. We worry and agonize over it. Like Jacob, we may even go to great lengths to pave the way, such as offering gifts. But when we finally get around to it, many times we find that it wasn’t nearly as big of a deal as we had made it out to be. Sometimes, like with Esau, the person we worry about has moved on with their lives. Other times, they’ve softened, or erased their bitterness. 

            Jesus teaches, as his followers, we need to be the person who takes steps toward reconciliation. That’s what being a Christian is about. However, it’s not often how other people see the church. They see us as being hateful toward things we’re against. We have work to do to show the world what being a Christian is all about.

The Christmas message in the passage: 

            I mentioned how Esau acts like the father in the familiar story of the Prodigal Son.[6] Remember, the father in the parable represents God. The younger son has done terrible things. The father was justified if he treated his son as dead. 

            Like Esau with Jacob, the prodigal’s old man doesn’t wait for him to arrive. Instead, he runs down the road to meet his wayward son. 

            Think about God running after us. Isn’t this what God does in the Christmas story. By coming as an innocent child born in a stable, God takes the risk to reach out to the human race. 

            Out of love, God takes the first steps toward us. Do we, like Jacob, continue to limp toward God, or do we try to run? Hopefully, because God comes as a child, we’re not threatened. We can embrace such love. And when we do experience such love, we’re to share it. 

            In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” or as a more modern translation would have it, “forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of others.[7] And Jesus tells us to make things right with our brother (or sister) before we come to make a sacrifice to God.[8] Our willingness to forgive the wrong done by others is linked to God’s forgiveness. But, as we see in our story of Jacob and Esau, it’s hard to take the first step and seek reconciliation. 

            We’re told this story from the point of view of Jacob. We don’t know what had gone on in Esau’s life. But it’s evident he’s glad to see his brother. 

What are we to do? 

            If there are those whom we’ve wronged, like Jacob, we need to take a risk on forgiveness. We need to be the ones to strive for a new relationship. And if someone comes to us seeking reconciliation, we should show the graciousness of Esau. Love is not just a feeling. It’s an act that works for the well-being of the one loved.  

            Loving one another is what Christmas is about. God came to this world as a bundle of love. When we accept the gift, our lives are changed, and we share that love with others. Amen.


[1] With Cain killing Abel, that distinction would go to the first family in Scripture. And Noah’s family actions after the flood also dysfunctional tendencies. 

[2] Genesis 32:28.

[3] Jacob has had children by both his wives and their two servants. 

[4] Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis, revised edition (1961, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972), 327.

[5] Matthew 25:37-40.

[6] Luke 15:11-24.

[7] Matthew 6:12.

[8] Matthew 5:24. 

Love Your Enemies

Arthur C. Brooks, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America for the Culture of Contempt (HarperCollins, 2019), 243 pages, index and notes.


In this year’s January Series from Calvin College, I heard Brooks speak. Much of his presentation, it appears, was taken from this book which was released in mid-March. I’m glad it is in print for I was impressed with his talk and liked how he addresses the lack of civility in American political discourse. What bothers Brooks isn’t anger. Anger can be effective in the right circumstances. Nor is he bothered by arguments. That, too, can be productive. He doesn’t even want us to tolerate each other for that seems to be a way to look down on others. Brooks argues for us to love everyone, especially our enemies. What frightens Brooks about American society is the rise of contempt for “the other.” When we get to a point where we wish our enemies would disappear or go away, it’s easy to consider them less than human. Then we have a real problem. Brooks’ points out how this is a problematic for both sides of the political spectrum in America today. Looking back at the 2016 Presidential election, he points to Clinton’s comments about the “deplorable” folks behind Trump, and to Trumps many comments in which he belittled or attacked the dignity of “others.”


Brooks is an economist and the director of the American Enterprise Institute, which he describes as a “center-right” think tank. He often draws from economic principals in a making a case for having a diversity of opinions at the table. He believes in competition in both the business world as well as in the marketplace of ideas. When there are more ideas and choices being discussed and debated, the chances of us coming up with a better solution increases. But when voices are silenced and viewed with contempt, we will all lose because the best ideas may be kept from rising to the top.


Brooks begins his book by examining the rise of contempt in our culture. He draws from many fields to make his case. He insist that those on both sides of most arguments have values and to treat the other side as someone without values is the beginning of a culture of contempt. Our problem intensifies (and is undermined) when we use our values as weapons. He suggests that we all make friends and really listen to those with whom we disagree. Not only will this help us sharpen our own views, we might learn something.  He also encourages his readers who feel they don’t like the other side to “fake it,” noting that just forcing a smile can help change our own outlook and help us to relate to others.


The book ends with five rules in which we can resist the culture of contempt in our society.

  1. Resist “the powerful” (especially those on your side of the debate). When you just listen to the politician or the news media you agree with, you are easily manipulated. He encourages us to stand up to those who belittle others, especially those with whom we agree. It’s easy to stand up to those with whom we generally disagree.
  2. Get out of our bubbles and listen to and meet those from the other side. How else will we hear diverse opinions?
  3. Say no to contempt and treat everyone with love and respect even when it is difficult.
  4. Disagree better. Be a part of a healthy competition of ideas.
  1. Tune out: disconnect from unproductive debates. Brooks sees social media as a problem for our democracy as we find ourselves in constant debates in which no one changes their minds. Sabbaticals from such dialogue can be helpful to our own well being.


Brooks is a committed Roman Catholic and while his faith is displayed throughout the book, he also demonstrates his openness to others. He is a good friend of the Dalia Lama from whom he has learned much. At the end of the book, he encourages his readers to become “missionaries” as we help with love and kindness to provide an alternative for the contempt in our society. This is a useful and timely book. I highly recommend it and hope it becomes a best seller. Interestingly, Brooks is donating all the profits for his book to the American Enterprise Institute. That’s an example of someone living the missionary life!