Lighting The Candle of Love

At my church, which is a PCUSA church lights a candle each week of Advent. The fourth candle is the candle of love. I would like to share my reflections on love. My intention is that my words will not only help you celebrate the Advent season better and deeper, but live the season in your heart now and later.

We’ve looked at hope, peace and joy and have seen how they go together and their importance to our faith journey. We now come to love. Love has many meanings and while I cannot go into all them here, love is something we all want and seek. Love is the single emotion and experience that we crave. We were created to be in relationship with God and others and love should be the basis of all our relationships. Romans 13, Galatians 5, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 1, and 1 John 4 tell us to love one another. When we light the candle of love, we are saying that love will guide our way through life that we want to express and extend the same love that Jesus has shown us.

Love is a response to God’s prior activity. It is a way of living that is expected of Jesus followers. We are not only to love those who love us, but also to show love to everyone regardless of who they are and maybe we should love the unlovable more so. The teachings of Jesus on love of enemy, part of the Sermon on the Mount should be what Christians are known for.

The Holman Bible dictionary defines love as:

Unselfish, loyal, and benevolent concern for the well-being of another. In 1 Corinthians 13:1, Paul described “love” as a “more excellent way” than tongues or even preaching. The New Testament maintains this estimation of love throughout. The KJV uses the word charity instead of “love” to translate the Greek word Paul used (agape). The word charity comes from the Latin caritas which means “dearness,” “affection,” or “high regard.” Today, the word charity is normally used for acts of benevolence, and so the word love is to be preferred as a translation of agape. Nevertheless, the reader who comes to the agape of the New Testament with the idea of benevolence in mind is better off than the reader who comes with the idea of physical pleasure and satisfaction.

Lighting the Advent candles should help us to reorient ourselves to these four important ideals. They should help us to remember what the Christian life is about and what we want our lives to express and extend to others. They are a way of grounding us in the true meaning of this season and helping us to direct ourselves for the New Year. I have reflected on these candles because I have a hard time with these ideals. My life seems out of balance. I lack peace, hope, joy, and love. I am not asking for pity, others have it much harder than I do. I want my life to be filled with peace, hope, joy, and love. I want to be at peace to be hopeful for what life has to have to offer, live a joyful and loving life and help other to do the same. Yet, I suppose the old adage is true when we pray for peace, hope, joy, and love God doesn’t implant them into us, but gives us moments to build them into our character. After all Stephen King was right when he had Mother Abigail in The Stand say, “God doesn’t call us cabs, but gives us His strength.”

Love is regard for the other person and causes to treat others how we would like others to treat us and not make a tally of all the things we do for and ask that they repay us. Love is not about us but the other person. We all want to be loved, but how often are we willing to love the other person not just for who they are or what they have done for us, but in spite of their faults love them for love’s sake. This is not just about romance or getting sex or anything else. It’s a response to life, a way of living your choice to follow Jesus in a concrete real life way.  

Henri Nouwen in The Return of the Prodigal Son writes: For most of my life, I have struggled to find… to know… to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair. Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not ‘How am I to find God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be found by him?’ The question is not ‘How am I to love God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be loved by God?’

We all waste time in finding God and pray for God to show up in our lives not knowing that all along He was there already. It just takes eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to touch, and feet to move us. Our hearts and souls are closed to God and we think we must do something to make ourselves presentable to God before we can approach God. We miss the really good news—God loves us as we are, but way too much to leave us that way. God wants to perfect us in spite our ourselves.

Brennan Manning in “The Ragamuffin Gospel writes: Do you really accept the message that God is head over heels in love with you? I believe that this question is at the core of our ability to mature and grow spiritually. If in our hearts, we really don’t believe that God loves us as we are, if we are still tainted by the lie that we can do something to make God love us more, we are rejecting the message of the cross.  

Many of us have a hard time accepting we are loved. This can be much harder to accept than it is to be a loving person. We see our faults too much and question how anyone let alone God, the creator and ruler of the universe could possibly love us. We think that if we do this or that or don’t do this or that we’ll be lovable and right in the sight of God. That’s a lie! The truth that we have a hard to time accepting is God loves us, no strings attached. Brennan Manning does an excellent job in his to pointing out that God loves us and even more likes us and wants us (doesn’t need us) to be in relationship with Him and His kingdom.

I pray for you, dear reader for the same thing that I pray and intend for myself in this coming year that my life will be full of, express, and extend the peace, hope, joy, and love of God in this coming year. My prayer is that for you and I 2012 will be a year full of God’s blessings, grace, and strength that it will be our best year yet.

I hope these Advent reflections have helped you celebrate and perceive the true meaning of this season. I have one left to post and that is the candle that sits the center—The Christ Candle.

God Bless Everyone!

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