Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent: All You Need is Love

Today is when Christians everywhere light the candle of Love.  Growing up, this was the one pink candle on the wreath, but the church my family attended in Washington was weird and didn't do that and lit another purple candle and it threw us off and-

Anyway.  Back to reflection.


I was lucky enough to learn at a young age that "love" isn't just a warm fuzzy feeling you get when you see someone you think is cute.  Love isn't wanting to kiss or have sex with someone.  What I learned from a book when I was 13 and have seen in my relationship through this past year is that love is being angry with someone, but the moment someone asks if you want to leave them the thought is too painful to bear.

Even that's not a good enough description of what love is.  It's a really difficult concept to describe, you just know it when you see it.  Unless you don't.

The Greeks back in the day had multiple names for love, each describing a different kind.  The one I see many Christians use to refer to "Christ-like love" is agape.  Agape is defined by Wikipedia as being "divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful" love.  Agape is the love Christians believe is to be shared among all humans, and the love between God and humanity.  It was agape, we believe, that led God to be born as a human boy in the lowliest of circumstances.  My pastor every year reminded us just how lowly those circumstances were, but I know many readers of my blog aren't Christians, so let me break it down for you:

Christians believe that the God of the Universe, who created everything we know exists and much beyond that, chose to be born to an unmarried teenage girl from a backwater town*.  Not only that, but this God also was born (so the story goes) in a stable surrounded by stinky animals and first slept where those stinky animals ate their meals.  All of this happened with the backdrop of being born a Jew in a Roman-occupied state.  God was born as an oppressed poor boy with no hope for anything better than life as a carpenter in said backwater town.

Why do this?  Agape, love, for all of humanity.

There's a huge theological mess about whether God was born to be crucified, or God was born to teach and the crucifixion was a consequence God was willing to experience for such radical teaching, and I don't want to get into that.  Instead, I'd like to finish this reflection with what I think are some of the most beautiful words ever written about love, by the Apostle Paul in his letter to Corinth:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.  
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

*Someone in the New Testament is quoted as saying "Nothing good can come from Nazareth" or some such thing.

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