Love. Love. Love.

Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent: that season when we wait, in holy anticipation, for God to come into the world as one of us, among a dispossessed people in an occupied land; as a newborn, to new parents, who couldn’t find a place to stay for the night.

Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent: when we light a candle for love.

It might sound strange, but out of all the candles that we light during Advent, I think that love is the most difficult to understand.

We can understand hope. We all know what it means to hope, what it feels like when our hopes are dashed, and what it is to wallow in hopelessness.

We can comprehend peace. We all know those times when conflict has been absent and when we’ve experienced the familiar rhythms of life. We’ve all prayed for the presence of justice and righteousness; for the peace we will know when we lounge by the river of the waters of life, in the shade of the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.

We can grasp joy. We’ve all felt those moments of elation, when our hearts leap and our spirits are transported.

But love…

Look, I know that you know what love is: the love of a parent for a child or of a child for their parents; the love that partners and spouses have for each other; the love between friends and neighbors. There are so many kinds of love and we know so many of them. 

And yet… somehow… we still don’t know what it means to love.

Every year, about this time, we leave the First Testament and start our way through one of the gospels. This year, that gospel is the gospel according to John. And John begins with a familiar refrain; some of you probably know it by heart:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.

And it’s easy to get caught up on that word: Word

In Greek, the word is logos: In the beginning was the logos, and the logos was with God, and the logos was God. And, in Greek, logos means wordspeechthoughtreason; it’s the root of the word logic; it’s all the stuff that makes us rational beings. 

And it’s easy to think that what John is talking about here is God’s cold hard reason.

But…

Over and over, again and again, when John talks about God—when John talks about Christ—John talks about… love. 

John will tell us that God loved the world this way: they gave their only son that we might have life. 

John will tell us that, on the night he was betrayed, Jesus knelt before his disciples and lovingly washed their feet. 

And John will tell us that on that same night, Jesus gave them a new commandment: “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

And, later, someone—maybe this same John, maybe a different John, maybe just someone picking up what John put down—will tell us that love is from God, and that everyone who loves is born of God and knows God, and that anyone who does not love does not know God, and that God is love.

God’s word is love. God’s speech is love. God’s thought is love. God’s reason is love. God’s very being is love.

In the beginning was love, and love was with God, and love was God. Love was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through love, and without love not one thing came into being.

And God loved the world this way:

God created a world. And God gave that world as a gift to itself. And when we broke it, God looked at the world that they had made and had compassion. They put glory aside and become one of us. God came into the world as a new baby, to new parents, in a backwater province of a great empire, among a dispossessed people in an occupied land.

And God taught us and healed us and showed us how to be human. And when we hung God on a cross and laid God in a tomb, God got up… and said, “I’m not done with you, yet”… and showed us how to have grace.

God is love. Christ is love. The Spirit is love.

And here is the truth. It’s a hard truth. It’s a truth that we don’t like to hear too often, because it’s a truth that reminds us of who we are and of who we are called to be. But here is the truth:

In all of your wondrous brokenness, you are loved and worthy of love; and God loves you exactly the way that you are. And… God loves you too much to leave you that way.

And God is calling each and every one of us… to love each and every one of us… that way… exactly the way that we are, and too much to leave each other that way.

I know that you know what love is: the love of a parent for a child or of a child for their parents; the love that partners and spouses have for each other; the love between friends and neighbors. There are so many kinds of love and we know so many of them. 

But…

A friend of mine has this thing she does. I suspect that, sometimes, she does it lovingly; and I suspect that, sometimes, she does it cynically. But whenever she does it, even if she’s not feeling love in that moment, she is opening up the possibility of love in that moment.

You see, when someone is… showing their brokenness… in the worst ways… she asks a question that she got from Ruby Sales, the social justice activist, scholar, and theologian. She asks them, “Where does it hurt?” 

Because we don’t always see our own hurt; we don’t always acknowledge our own brokenness; we are experts at papering over the ways that we are not who we are called to be. So she asks were it hurts… because she cares… and because the question asks us to confront… ourselves.

It is a question that loves the person exactly the way that they are… and that calls them to something better.

And… I think… in general… not all the time, but often… we are good at doing that for the people who we are close to. We know how to love our family members, our partners and spouses, our friends and neighbors, exactly as they are. And we know how to call them to something better.

But it’s a lot harder to do that for people who are further away.

We read about a person on social media, or we see them in a story on the news, or we hear about them from a friend…

…and if they’re someone who we like, then we love them exactly the way that they are, without calling them to something better…

…and it they’re not, then we call them to something better without loving them exactly the way that they are.

And I know that we do that because do that. I do that on social media. I do that in conversations. I do that while watching television. It is even possible that, every now and again, I do that in sermons.

But here is the truth. It’s a hard truth. It’s a truth that we don’t like to hear too often, because it’s a truth that reminds us of who we are and of who we are called to be. But here is the truth:

That is only half a love. That is a love that refuses to acknowledge brokenness, or that is a love that reduces people to nothing but their brokenness. That is a love that leaves people lost in their brokenness. That is only half a love.

And God is calling us to love better… to love completely… to love abundantly… to love in that way that is wild and dangerous and full of grace.

God is calling each and every one of us… to tell each and every one of us… that each and every one of us, in all of our wondrous brokenness, is loved and worthy of love… that God loves each and every one of us exactly the way that we are… and that God is calling each and every one of us to something better.

God is calling each and every one of us… to love each and every one of us… parents and children, partners and spouses, friends and neighbors, strangers and enemies… that way.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent: that season when we recommit ourselves to the work of holy anticipation, in the hope that the seed that Christ scattered so long ago will grow and blossom, and the world will become what it is yearning to be… nothing less than the kingdom of God.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent: when we light a candle for love.

It might sound strange, but out of all the candles that we light during Advent, I think that love is the most difficult to understand. 

Because we are called to know a love that is so much greater than any love we have ever known. We are called to know that no matter who we are, and no matter where we are on life’s journey, we are loved and worthy of love; and God loves us exactly the way that we are; and God is calling us to something better.

And because we are called to love in a way that is so much greater than any way we have ever loved. We are called to love each and every person, in there and out there, no matter who they are and no matter where they are on life’s journey, exactly the way that they are; and to call them to something better.

Each and every one of us… is called to call each and every one of us… to the God who is love.

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