You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Staying married, therefore, is not mainly about staying in love. It is about keeping covenant. “Till death do us part” or “As long as we both shall live” is a sacred covenant promise – the same kind Jesus made with His bride when He died for her.
My husband and I attended a wedding in an outdoor park years ago where the officiating pastor asked the couple to vow to each other to stay together “as long as we both shall will.” I remember thinking that was the most useless vow I’d ever heard because it was no vow at all. It was a poetic and tempting string of words, like a strand of colored lights buried in the snow, pretty but pointless. There was no promise to keep covenant with one another despite everything that can happen in life. There was no commitment to see things through, to be steadfast in the face of trouble, to not wander from the path set before us simply because we have the freedom and desire to do so.
Keeping covenant is particularly significant tonight in light of the news that one of our body, one of our church, has been given a devastating diagnosis of leukemia. He will be transferred to a leukemia unit at the regional university hospital to begin life-saving treatment. His wife, loving him as she vowed to do when they married, keeps faith with him through this toughest battle of all, serving his needs with her strength and endurance. The body of the church will keep them both uplifted in prayer, and provide for their needs as best we are able.
We are called by advent to keeping covenant–with each other, with the body of Christ, with God Himself. The complication is that we have been created with the freedom to choose not to do so or only do so as long we shall “will.” How genuine is our commitment?
The baby in the manger was God’s most tangible keeping of the covenant with His children. He came to us, stayed with us, died for us, and remains committed to us as we wait His return. We are kept whole, even through our greatest earthly battles and in our dying, by His love.
There is nothing which so certifies the genuineness of a man’s faith as his patience and his patient endurance, his keeping on steadily in spite of everything.