The Advent of Love
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12
The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is apathy – not caring, not seeing another, acting as if the other does not exist. The presence of homeless and other marginalized persons in our midst is a manifestation of our lack of commitment to manifesting love as a society. I remember being told that the most longed for word any of us wishes to hear from another is our own name. Even when expressed with anger, frustration, or hatred, hearing my name spoken by another is an affirmation of my being, that someone recognizes me. While romantic and emotional expressions of love are important, they are not necessarily love’s highest expressions. Nor are they what Jesus commanded us to offer to others. The love Jesus demands is action. Jesus did not just feel bad for the sick; Jesus healed the sick. He did not just feel sad for the hungry; he fed the hungry. He did not just weep for the social outcasts; he included the outcasts and affirmed their presence by seeing them. That is the nature of the love to which we are called.
When we do not see or affirm others, regardless of their situation in life, we cast them into the outer darkness of oblivion. We separate ourselves and act as if the world would be as good or better without them. Acting in this way towards another is not just unhealthy for the other person, it is unhealthy for us, too, because we reap what we sow. When we sow seeds of love, we reap the bounty of love. When we sow seeds of apathy, we reap separation, isolation, and loneliness.
As I write this our world is in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, and separation, isolation, and loneliness are rampant. But in truth, they were rampant long before COVID. As a society, we have become increasingly isolated from neighbors, family, and friends. Perhaps it is because we are too busy; perhaps we believe ourselves to be satisfactorily independent of others; or perhaps we sense no responsibility for others. It is an interesting paradox that we now isolate from one another for health reasons, as an act of caring as opposed to an act of negligence. Unfortunately for most of us, social isolation comes too easily, comfortably, and naturally. In truth, there are plenty of ways we can and should make certain others are being seen and affirmed, even when socially distanced – cards and letters, phone and zoom calls, waving across the street or through the window.
In the story of the birth of Jesus, we are told there was no place among their fellow humans for Mary and Joseph to stay. It was as if they were invisible or non-existent. Too many people today experience what they experienced; yet, love demands that we see others. While we may not be able to affirm everyone who is separated and alone, we can affirm one other person at a time as we encounter them. Our loving response to the sad situation of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus could be to commit to affirming the existence of some of the overlooked persons in our midst – not that we can always or ever fix their situation, but that we make certain they do not suffer the indignity of being unseen in their situation. Being made to feel invisible adds insult to injury. Besides, when we see them we may also find ways to help their situation.
If we believe that Jesus came to free us from our sin, and if we believe that sin is what separates us from God and others, then Jesus came to free us from our separation from others. Jesus came to bring us together. The name Emmanuel means God with us, which is to say that God is not apart from us. Jesus came as a bridge between heaven and earth, the spiritual and physical realms. His life demonstrated that our sense of separation from the heavenly, spiritual realm is only an illusion. It is our creation, not God’s. Jesus loves us by connecting us to and inspiring our heavenly natures. He connects us with God and with each other. When we see and acknowledge another, God affirms them through us. And by the example of his life he says, “This is what a loving, connected life looks like. Follow me.”
This is the Advent of Love: that we notice and care for others as we are able. That we do not turn a blind eye to anyone. That we are always willing to make room for Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus wherever, however, and whenever we encounter them.
For a musical meditation on Love: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3b6cSMHLx40&t=8s
I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.