This coming Sunday is the fourth Sunday in Advent, its all about LOVE.
What does it really mean to love? We, of course can bring to mind all the trappings of love: two people holding hands, hearts – lots of hearts, animal enthusiasts with their pets, parent with child. The list could go on and on, we have LOTS of images which appear to exemplify love. But what is real love? Where do we find it, and how do we give and receive it?
I have friends from other countries and other cultures, I learn so very much from all of them. They keep me grounded and teach me how to get out of my most Western thought patterns, to see the world and others through various eyes and experiences. I feel as if we Westerners confuse love with romance/relationship/sexual experience. We confuse love for the trite and overused images our minds replay. In talking with my friend Moussa from Central African Republic about love, he says he shows love by his presence.
To me, love seems to be an action word. We, I, love. Love appears to be something we do. I love cooking. I love movies. I love animals. I love you. Its something we engage in, an act of doing something. Another unnamed friend once told me he loves and shows he loves by what he does for others. He doesn’t put much stock in saying “I love you,” he says his actions are what conveys his love for others. Its wrapped up in what he does. Again, its action. Love = action.
When we consider this fourth week of Advent, we must consider Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem for the government’s required census. Not an easy journey, especially considering all the whispers and rumor-mongers who would have been pointing their fingers at Mary and her, ahem, condition. Joseph loving Mary enough, and trusting God enough to continue their engagement and marriage. This love was action-oriented, as it demanded Joseph do something. He married and provided for Mary. God loving the world enough to break into the world in such a common ordinary way. God’s love appears to be action oriented too, God is doing something by being born among us.
When I go back though, and consider what Moussa said to me about what love means to him, I’m seeing something quite extraordinary. He says he loves by being present. In Matthew 1:23, the author is referring to what the prophet Isaiah had said was going to happen, “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, ‘which means, God is with us.’” I think Moussa is on to something here. The greatest gift God could give us was love. For God, love = being with us. God’s love is expressed by being present with us.
I do believe love is an action word, it should be expressed by what we do. But action doesn’t have to always equate to frenetic activity, or any movement at all. The action of love may be best expressed by our presence with one another. Real presence, not just being in the room. Being physically present is one thing, but real presence engages mind, body, heart, soul. When we are present for others in our total being, we are giving them a great gift, our whole self. This is what God does for us, God gives us God’s whole self. God is present WITH us.
In this action oriented world we live in, to love as God’s love will mean sacrifice. We will have to put down our electronic devices. We will have to no longer be clock watchers. We will have to clear our schedules. We will have to make and take the time to be fully present to those we say we love. Our UNDIVIDED attention will be a sign of our love. It won’t be easy, it will be a sacrifice to give our total self to someone, but think of the volumes it will speak about our love for them. I read something recently that said when a child grows up they will not remember who gave them what toy, what trinket, but they will always remember who was there and present for and with them.
This Christmas season as we celebrate in all the ways we do, let’s make time to be present to and for one another. God made time to come to earth and be present for you and me because God loves us. If we love, we do so by emulating this same action for those around us.
May the God of love show us the way this season. May our hearts be filled with such love that it causes us to put down whatever has our attention, and be fully present to those we love.
Your fellow traveler on the Way,