Last night in youth group, my fellow intern preached about the Advent theme of love. She said that love is really a word that she centers her life on. That is definitely a great word to be motivated by, but that is not the case with me. If I had to only pick one word to describe my life, it would be something more like grace or hope (which is a word my mom loves). While love is vital to the life of a Christ-follower, I do not really like the word. I remember hearing sermons on love and about how there are different Greek words for love and they mean different things and about how loving your favorite food is nothing like loving your significant other. I don’t know why, but I just don’t really think about the word “love” that much. But, since we lit the love candle in the Advent wreath last night*, I figured I cannot let the theme of Advent remain in the dark on my blog.
There is a song by Josh Garrels that I just really dig. (Please go listen to it here.) I will admit, I kind of just listen to this song on repeat because it is my favorite song off of this CD. There is this line in the song that goes like this:
“I wondered why the good man died, the bad man thrives. And Jesus cries because he loves em’ both.”
We all know John 3:16, right? Without a doubt, it was the first Bible verse I memorized along with all the other Bible lessons I learned when I was a six-year-old in Vacation Bible School playing Red Rover and drinking Kool-Aid without adequate amounts of sugar. But this Advent love is so much greater that it does not do it justice to monotonously repeat over and over again. This love of God is so great it needs to get past all the love clichés and reach into my heart. There is nothing fluffy and always feel-good about this love.
The line in that song resonates within me because Jesus loves us all so much. Jesus does not just love the ones in church we put on pedestals for their perfect attendance and ability to repeat the typical Sunday School answers. Jesus loves the ones who are pushed down and forgotten. Jesus loves the ones the Church is afraid to embrace. Jesus loves criminals, enough to give them second chances. Jesus loves the ones who ask the hard questions, even though there are not always simple answers. Advent reminds me that God’s love is so much greater than mine could ever be.
We read the Christmas story. We know it well. But something was pointed out to me by one of my professors in class the other day. Joseph and Mary were returning to Joseph’s hometown, so when they were turned away from every place to stay, they weren’t just turned away from full hotels, they were turned away from family. So the statement “there was no room in the inn for Mary” could mean that Joseph’s relatives had no room for them in their lives or homes because they did not understand and approve of what was happening. They shut them out. They took one look at pregnant unmarried Mary and said, “We do not want to take that big of risk on you.”
God does not have the same respond when we come to him. God loves us and never once are we turned away, no matter what we have done or what has been done to us. We need Him. We need his love.
Real love involves a risk of some sort of pain. That’s the kind of love we focus on during Advent. Jesus loves so much that he risked everything, even for the ones we never give a second glance.
So, love, this Advent love, this great love of God and Jesus, is something we are called to give away freely. Love is an action. It is a verb; it requires movement. I know that all that has been said before, but there is something so great about love that would enter our sufferings and our pain and take a risk on us, knowing that in the end, he would still get hurt. Advent calls us to love, really love, right now. It calls us to love more than Sharpie Pens and Pumpkin Spice Lattes, it calls us to enter into pain and love, even if that means getting hurt.
Just like Josh Garrels sings:
“Skipping like a calf loosed from its stall, I’m free to love once and for all.”
We are free to love.
*Actually, we did not really light the candle for love, or any candles for that matter. Even though we had the wreath, no one had any matches, so you will just have to pretend that everything in youth ministry always goes as planned (ha!), but all of this is neither here nor there.