What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12/18/18
The theme for the 4th Sunday of Advent is love. Love is the heart of Christian belief and practice. 1 John 4:8 puts it succinctly: “God is love.” But what is love? In preparation for Sunday worship I did my usual practice of searching the Internet for quotations, images, and videos related to this week’s theme. Not surprisingly there were countless references to love: stories about love, images of love, theories of love, love advice, love humor . . . everything you can think of. Relevant for our context is a Christian approach to love. The Apostle Paul gives us a good starting place:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
Christian love is modeled after God’s love, which we find expressed in myriad forms in the Bible. It encompasses the many human forms of love–romantic, familial, love among friends, even love that we have for pets or communities or causes close to our hearts–and puts them in the larger context of what in Greek is called agape or self-emptying love. Once again, Paul expresses this love, this time through the example of Christ:
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself. (Philippians 2:6-8)
There are cautions that come along with agape. After all, God is God. You and I are not. God is infinite. We are limited. Though we are limited, our capacity for self-deception is endless. So we need the help of good teachers, friends, and a faith community to help us see whether our agape is genuine or simply ego-centered martyrdom. Paul warns: “If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing,” (1 Corinthians 13:3).
The Advent season has been leading us to love and the powerful image of Jesus’ birth to Mary and Joseph in a stable in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. I invite us to meditate on the many images of love and let them inform our every encounter in this hurting and hope-filled world.