LOVE. Advent 4. For Christians, one of the favorite verses we love to quote when we think of love is John 3:16 and 17 … for God so loved the world… Can you finish it? Let’s read it from The Message:
16-18 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.
How we remember this verse often resonates within us as we internalize the word “love” and often is tinted by our experience with human love. We remember dating rejections. “I love you” was code for “I want to sleep with you, no strings attached!” Others have lived in and through abuse and the word “love” becomes a chain to bind us to painful, humiliating and dehumanizing relationships. “I love you” may be an elusive dream of words you long to hear and turn you inward to reflect on your shortcomings and inadequacies. Advent comes with a focus on love found in that babe to arrive in Bethlehem. “Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. ( 1 Corinthians 13:13)”
The Advent story fleshes out “gave” from John 3. “God so loved the world that he gave..” Love gives. Elizabeth, Mary or John the Baptist did not need to earn love. The sun does not shine because we are good. God gives and so the Advent story is a story of waiting for an undeserved gift. Another word for this is grace. No strings attached. No “to-do” list and no “to-be..” list.
The Advent story is for “whoever.” God so loved that he gave “to whoever…” Love is not a secret code word that opens a secret door. It is not written in only one language. It is lived out for anyone and everyone. Love is not exclusive or possessive or abusive. It is for “whoever.” Love shares and does not grab.
The Advent story is about “life, “eternal life.” God gives to whoever “that they might have eternal life.” False love drains and kills but God’s love comes that we might have eternal life as we believe. Ooops, there’s the word “believe” that feels conditional. But in-fact the Word that was at Creation speaking the world into being, acted without our faith. The babe of Christmas grew to walk through death on the cross to demonstrate that death is conquered by love and faith. Believing is opening our hearts and receiving the love we talk about at Christmas.
So this week we will see how love is expressed in the four openings of the gospel letters to us. Advent reminds us that God gives, to anyone who wants, and for eternity. As you spend time this week, perhaps lighting those Advent candles, may you soak in that unconditional love that does not require standing in line for a shot that lasts briefly, or needs to be voted on by Congress, but love that is available to us today! Blessings.