Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. Dear friends,since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
-1 John 4:7-12
Love is a very strange word. It means so many different things. I love my son, I love reggae music, I love my dog, I love God, I love the smell of rain in the spring, I love reading ancient Celtic history, and I love hot pizza with lots of meat and pineapple. But all of these feelings are different, all of these relationships require very different things from me and I receive very different things from each of them in return. I think it is amazing that we have taken such a wide array of emotions, relationships, and responsibilities and summed them up with one overly simplified word which doesn’t really do justice to any of them.
I feel like we would need a whole dictionary just to define this one word. I feel like maybe it is too vague a word to really mean anything at all. Yet it is an essential word, it is a word that stirs up all sorts of reactions when it is used. We can change the course of someone’s life just by saying “I love you” and yet we may not ever really know what we mean when we say it, at least I don’t. I know when I love someone, don’t get me wrong, and I know that it is very different from how I love pizza, and I can honestly say it is the most real thing I have ever felt, despite the fact that it also seems the most surreal.
The love I have for my son has completely shaped my entire life and the way I go about making decisions, the things which I prioritize, and the way that I spend my time. My whole life revolves around this one little dude and there is nothing more real to me than my love for him. But if you asked me to explain it to you or even to describe it I couldn’t even come close. Despite the fact that love is the single most important force in my life it may also be the most elusive and mysterious. What a strange situation that something so powerful and personal and life shaping is also something that we may have little to no ability to comprehend, something that even when I am in the midst of I still don’t understand.
And it is extra strange because it isn’t something that is happening outside of us. I don’t understand the stock market, but it isn’t part of me so I don’t really care. But love is not just inside me, it is me. It is part of who I am in a major way and it completely escapes any understanding. There is this huge piece of me that is pivotal in shaping who I am and I just can’t wrap my head around it. When I look back in life there are times when I was sure about love and in retrospect I can’t really say for sure what happened, I’m not really sure I even know what love is. How can we discern what is love when we don’t even have a proper definition for it?
There are countless references to God’s love in the Bible. God’s love is the basis for a whole bunch of psalms, it is an integral message in the Gospels, it is the foundation for forgiveness, and Jesus cites it as the one true law: to love God above all else and to love your neighbour without hesitation. Many people would say that God is pure love, that his love is what sustains us, his love is ever present, it never fails, it always forgives, and it is selfless – and I agree. But is that what love looks like when we see it in the human heart?
It seems our love is such a very human thing – riddled with all sorts of human emotions and subject to our human follies. Love makes us jealous, it makes us foolish, it makes us act selfishly, it causes quarrels and arguments, it makes us lose sleep at night. It brings out the worst in us, but it also brings out the best. It makes us willing to sacrifice, it makes us forgiving, it helps us find meaning in a confusing world, it gives us purpose, and it gives us hope. With such a mixture of things associated with it, could it possibly be true that what we think of as love in our lives is really the same love that flows from God?
Is our love a divine truth coloured by our own human experience? From our love springs joy and sorrow alike. If I think about my happiest moments they come from either loving another or being loved myself and if I think about my saddest moments they are all from love lost, or broken, or accompanied by dysfunctional relationships. It seems that we are trying to have these divine moments underneath our very human skins. We want to be like God but when we try it gets all muddled up and we do it all wrong. We are constantly striving for it but never really seem to accomplish it, at least not in the way God does.
While God’s love is a complete and perfect peace ours is more like an inexplicable passion. Love is the primary driving force in the human heart. We take the biggest chances for love, we put ourselves out on the line and we make ourselves vulnerable for it. We sacrifice for love, we work our hardest for it, we throw everything out the window just so we can chase after it. Someone once told me that the tingly feeling you get when you fall in love is common sense leaving your body. We abandon reason for the sake of love and that might be the most beautiful thing about it. That might be the very thing that makes it divine. Perhaps we have love so that we can be released from the burden of common sense and come just a little bit closer to God.
Maybe even when it’s mucky and difficult and hurts us deep down inside the act of loving is, in and of its self, the path to God. And maybe there is a deep and divine lesson in the fact that love does hurt. What if this is God’s way of helping us set our priorities straight? What if he is saying that loving is more important than anything else, that it’s only when we are able to take the good with the bad and love despite the risks that we can really be disciples of Jesus? I think St.Francis hit the nail on the head when he said:
Oh master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love with all my soul
Maybe submission to God is only possible when we have embraced the absurdity that is love. Maybe it is required of us that we put down reason and follow something that is mysterious if we are ever to really follow God. I see a mirror of our commitment to God in our living out love – both set aside the cares of this world for something that is more important, but also something that can’t be properly explained. And that may be what love is all about, letting go of what we know, of what is secure and straight forward and pursuing something that is wholly inexplicable and unpredictable and still managing to have faith that it is the right thing to do.
Because that is what submitting to God is like, we don’t get a nice little package that explains what will happen if we follow God. We just have to move moment to moment and are never actually freed from hardships but instead realize that there is something more important than our own hardship. Love, like God, is something we cannot understand but also that we do not need to understand in order to recognize it as being a blessing for everyone. Even though our love falls short of God’s it is still a force for good in the world and in our own personal lives. Without that inexplicable and often uncontrollable passion we would never leave our own little logical bubbles.
We would never be able to see the world how God intended us to. Love sets us free from ourselves, it makes us willing to sacrifice ourselves for others, it makes us more like God, even when we are doing it all wrong. While I was doing some reading for this sermon I stumbled across a man named Robert Fulghum who writes books about love and he had this wonderful little quote which I would like to share with you:
“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”
It is a wholly absurd thing to say dreams are more powerful than facts, but I am not sure it being absurd makes it any less true. I think that in God imagination is more powerful than knowledge and that love is stronger than death. And we can see this in the birth of Jesus. The Christmas story is about the moment when pure love took human form and the entire story is filled with accounts of how people walked away from the logical world and followed a star into a barn, or left behind their flocks to go see a baby born to a virgin.
If we cannot see a beautiful acceptance of the absurdity of love in the Christmas story then I believe we are missing the point. Love leads us to follow God in illogical ways and that is something that we celebrate every year. Love is beyond reason, it is infinitely more beautiful than the logical world. And the Lord calls us to look up into the sky, just the like those wise men of old, and follow the stars. I think that God teaches us through the experience of love and I think that as we come closer to God we lay aside all the extremities in life and find what we are truly meant to be. We find that our own reckless, silly, messed up, and sometimes even selfish human love is actually the same as God’s and that we’ve just piled a bunch of junk on top of it.
We let go of our intellectual ideas about what love should look like, we stop imagining a Hollywood ending, a Disney love affair, a perfectly choreographed ritual and we embrace the fact that love is something beyond our control, and that it being beyond our control is what makes it like God. I believe that love may be the closest thing we can ever experience to being like Christ and that in it we can overcome death and find eternal life in Heaven just as our father wants us to. So keep on loving, even when it hurts, even when it doesn’t make any sense, even when you have no idea why.
But just let it happen, let love happen, don’t worry about whether or not it is real, or if you are just pretending things are the way you wish they were and let go of your ideas of what love is because no one will ever understand it and no one ever should. It wouldn’t be so magnificent if we could label it and stick it in a little box. It wouldn’t be love if it wasn’t messy and that is a beautiful thing.
Let’s all make sure this Christmas to embrace love in our lives. Let’s do the things our hearts lead us to and let’s remember that in Jesus love has conquered death and that we have only to see it all around us and in our own hearts. Let’s look up into the sky and follow a star until we find God. Let’s listen to the angel calling and leave behind our flocks. Let’s gather round a baby in barn in a small town somewhere and name him King of the Universe. Let’s accept our messy and imperfect love and share it with one another just the way it is. Let’s let the absurdity of love wash us clean and really just follow it until we find the source it comes from.
Lord, we thank you for coming here to this earth so long ago and for showing us how to love one another. There are no words that could ever do justice to the love that you have for us so we offer you our love in return, as mixed up and confused as it may be at times. And Lord, whatever the situation, whatever we may be doing, however it may seem in the moment underneath it all we love you with all our hearts and we are grateful for everything you have given to us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.