This week in our Virtual Church gathering we will light the second candle on our Advent wreath – the candle of LOVE. As I sit here to write this, I am left with a question in my mind, one which I hope to try to answer here: what exactly is love?
In the English language, love is “an intense feeling of deep affection” or “a great interest of pleasure in something.” We use this same word when talking about friends, parents, sports, spouses and in describing our relationship with the Almighty.
For me herein lies the problem. I love my wife. I love my kids. I love the rest of my family. I love the congregation of St. John, and the congregations of my previous calls, however, the feelings I have for these different groups are all distinctly unique, as is the love that I feel for and from God.
“Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8)
Love should not be dependent on feeling, but on fortitude. How we “feel” about someone should not impact our ability, or desire, to LOVE them. Think for a moment about a family member – do you always get along? Can you say that you always like them, or the things that they choose to do? My guess is that you don’t, yet regardless of this, you continue to love them.
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.” (1 Cor 13:4-8)
Love is much more than a feeling. This passage of scripture from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians – a text which is often read at weddings, mine included - outlines this. For in loving others we choose to act in a different way than if we did not love.
The reference above from 1 John states that God is love and that those who do not love do not know God. Taking that a little further to really emphasize the point here, it is not saying that if you love one person then you know love and therefore know God. The task is clear – live a life of love. Follow the greatest commandments to love God with everything, and your neighbor as yourself – without equivocation.
That is, after all, the love that God has for you. However, I would caution us all from falling into the trap that God’s love is unconditional – a trait I hear too often in today’s Church. We are covenant children of God, which means that we have relationship yes, but also that out of that relationship we have a responsibility. If we choose to live outside of the love of God, then we have that freedom to do so, and as such will not know God. It is true that he will leave the door open for you to return and will not cease from desiring that you do.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.: (John 3:16)
God’s love is there for all who choose to accept it, live into it, and respond to it. So, in this Advent season, as we light the candle of love, be committing to say “I will love God” (a choice to go forward and keep striving to love), as opposed to “I do love God” (a statement that refers to the here and now).