Defining Love

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I didn’t grow up knowing that I was loved. Affection and love were not often demonstrated in my family. I grew up thinking that you were lovable if you were good, perfect even. The idea that God loved me even though I was not perfect was something that I wrestled with well into adulthood. What I know now is that love is complex and hard to sort out because it is often mistaken for other things. God’s love is even more difficult for us to comprehend because it is so far beyond our capacity to imagine and, yet, not nearly as confusing as we human beings make it. The last week of Advent traditionally focuses on love, God’s love, and invites us to stretch the limits of our experiences and our imaginings.

Ahaz’s experience should have taught us a lesson about God’s love for humanity. It’s a lesson we need to attend to over and over again. Ahaz was a self-reliant, self-serving ruler who relied more on his ideas than on God’s wisdom and presence. He sought easy peace and assurances of his power while trading safety for security. He relied on human ways, forsaking God. He made alliances with Assyria for the protection of his kingdom only to have Assyria demand allegiance and claim power over Judah. Selling out your God and your people in the name of peace seems like a really bad idea. And it was.

And it still is. Fortunately for Ahaz (and for us) God’s capacity to love is not limited by human behavior. God continues to pour out love on the whole of creation even when we choose everything except love. In the case of Ahaz God did not abandon the people just because Ahaz had. On the contrary, God sent Isaiah to proclaim the day when God would regather all that Ahaz had given away and then some. I’m not sure Ahaz really heard a word the prophet spoke and I doubt he looked for any sign that God was in the midst of the devastation, working to bring about a new thing. I wonder if Ahaz learned anything about God’s love. I also wonder when we will learn that God’s ways are far more loving than our human ways.

Much of the world has stood silently by while Syria is destroyed. In the U.S. we have given our country into the hands of one who embodies white supremacy and endorses the rigid views of one branch of Christianity which endanger many who live on the margins. Like Ahaz, we’ve made a deal based on human ways while pursuing an easy peace. Some would say that we have also traded safety for security. It is safe for all people when we embrace the full diversity of those who live in the U.S. However, those with power feel more secure when they can maintain the illusion of a white, “Christian” nation.

It is hard to find a sense of God’s love while Aleppo burns, refugees are denied sanctuary, Muslims are threatened with having to register, immigrants are facing deportation, pipelines disregard treaties with First Nations people, and countless people live without getting their basic needs met. In Advent we anticipate and celebrate the love of God embodied in Jesus. This love is so powerful it breaks through all our human foolishness. This love broke into the world in an infant born to an unwed teenage mother and her carpenter fiancé in a smelly, noisy cave used to shelter animals. This love changes everything. It’s a love full of promise and hope, and it is for the whole of creation.

When I was young, I believed that love was supposed to be something sweet, simple, and easy and that there was something wrong with me when I couldn’t find that. The problem is that love is so much more than that, especially Divine Love. Sometimes it’s painful, complex, and difficult because it calls us to be more than we are without it. If we are still looking for something easy that keeps us secure, then, somehow, we’ve still managed to miss the proverbial mark. Divine Love embodied in Jesus of Nazareth is so much bigger than our traditions. Yet, we try to make it something we can grasp hold of and contain in a box, preferably on an ornate shelf, and take it down when we need something pretty to look at. This Love is not necessarily pretty – remember that birth and that death? It’s not easy – remember the escape to Egypt?. It cannot be defined, owned, or contained – remember the Resurrection which defied all the rules and expectations?

This Advent Love we proclaim wants more than empty adoration and nostalgic feelings. This Love wants to enter into our lives and transform us into the embodiment of Christ that we already claim to be. This Love is not a gentle, warm-fuzzy love so much as it is a refining fire that will strengthen and reshape us. This Love welcomes refugees, harbors those in need of sanctuary, demands peace where there is war, and does not accept silence in the face of suffering. This Love is tired of our human ways and really would like us to see the signs of God’s presence all around us and respond accordingly.

The Body of Christ can be so much more than it is if we learn what Ahaz did not. God is present in the midst of everything, even the utmost depths of destruction and pain, reaching out to us with a Love that is beyond our capacity to imagine. Isn’t it time we stop defining love and let Love define us?

RCL – The Fourth Sunday of Advent – Year A – December 18, 2016
Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

Photo: CC0 image by Melanie

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4 Responses to Defining Love

  1. Carolyn Herold says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful reminders on the reality of love.

  2. Molly Hicks says:

    Thank you for providing such a deep and insightful perspective on love during Advent! This is a beautiful blog-sermon. 🙂

    I’m glad I found you!

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