1 Corinthians 13:1
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, on which we consider the aspect of love. We have looked at Hope, the expectancy of the rebirthing of the Christ Spirit within us. We have talked about the Peace that we receive as we release our concerns and simply know with certainty that Christ dwells within us. We have considered the Joy of the season of Advent, as we become aware of our connection with other souls and with Spirit. Today, we do the same with Love. We look at opening our hearts, minds, lives, and souls to the flow of Love that Christ Jesus exemplifies.
Love is why Christ came to this earth at that time of ignorance, war, and lost people who were disconnected to God. Love is why are we here, amidst the same sort of circumstances, where there is such a prevalence of war, hunger, hatred, turmoil, judgment, and ego-centeredness.
Whatever the question about human desires, goals, wants, and needs, the answer is almost always involves love of some kind, whether it is through service, caring, patience, non-judgment, empathy … whatever we are looking for, it seems it is always related to Love in some manner. That is why Christ was born.
Love is the most powerful healing energy we have available to us. It can bring about wholeness from incompleteness, balance from imbalance, and ease from ‘dis-ease’. Love can elevate emotions to levels of peace and joy. When we access the energy of Love, we open our minds and hearts to all of God’s plans, goodness, guidance, as well as the unlimited creative pull of the Universe.
This is why we are here today; this is why the baby Jesus was born to us, and why we celebrate the rebirth of the Christ in our hearts – Love. Maintaining and expressing Love daily, moment by moment, is the most difficult and demanding task we have as we walk this earth in these bodies.
In Luke 10:25-28 we read this: 25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" 27He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" 28"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
Do this and you will live – love, and you will live. Love God, people, and yourself…and you will inherit eternal life. For me this is the single most important message that Jesus was born to give: Love God, love others, love yourself. A simple message: easy to understand, not a lot of interpreting necessary, and yet it so difficult to practice.
Sometimes our difficulty lies in loving ourselves. Sometimes we don’t even like ourselves, let alone love ourselves. The challenge begins when we compare ourselves with others. We know ourselves so intimately: our weaknesses, our foibles, our past actions, our thoughts. Our egos dictate certain standards and behaviors, and when they are not met, we condemn ourselves. With this unfair focus we conclude that we are inferior to others.
The mistake in this line of thinking is that we cannot see the person with whom we are comparing ourselves in the same way we see ourselves. If we could, we would see that they are equally flawed, filled with human weaknesses, just as we are.
Of course, the exact opposite can happen; we can judge ourselves superior to others based upon our perception of them. But we can’t see their heart, their ethical code, their moral compass, their relationship with God, or how they love others. We judge them based upon religion, ethnicity, life situation, or just one moment when they are less than stellar. They may be a saint, but when we see them, they have low blood sugar and are crabby. We think, “Some saint he is! He treats everyone terribly. I may not be a saint, but at least I am considerate of others.” When we stop the comparisons, we can love ourselves in a healthy manner, neither condemning nor exalting ourselves.
I heard a story about a family who were financially challenged. The dad was out of work and had been for many months. He was depressed because he felt like a failure to his wife and eleven-year-old son. His ego was setting standards that he had not met, so he was beating himself up. I know that feeling, because I’ve been there. I’ve experienced that mental battle, and it is not enjoyable – to wallow in guilt and self-deprecation.
It was Christmas time for this family, and they had no tree, no gifts, no food, and of course no hope, peace, joy, and no love. Their church heard of their struggle and got together and brought them a tree, some groceries, and some presents for each of them.
The father could not psychologically deal with this. He saw it as further proof that he was unable to provide for his family. What he drew from this experience was that he was worthless. In fact, he was so distraught that he left and never returned to his family. He had allowed the unrealistic standards of his ego to totally destroy his sense of self-worth.
The eleven-year-old had an entirely different reaction to the situation. What he saw was that they could now eat! They had gifts to open, they had a tree to enjoy. His spirits were lifted. He accepted and appreciated the love, care, and generosity of these people. What this boy learned was that people can be trusted, people were giving, loving, and could care for each other.
When this boy was 17, he was working and had put a savings aside. At Christmas time he singled out one family and did for them what had been done for him. He purchased a tree, food, and gifts, and gave them to a family. That was all he could afford. But the next year he bestowed this gift upon two families, the following year four families, then eight families. As the years passed, his desire to share with others demanded he get help in this project. Today, billionaire Anthony Robins, author, coach, motivational speaker, and philanthropist partners with the Feeding America organization, and has a goal of providing one billion meals for the hungry.
The first step to following the teachings of Jesus is to love our selves, which paves the way to loving others and to loving God. For me, it is difficult to love God when I have feelings of hostility towards others. It’s easy to say, “I love God”, but it is difficult to feel love for God when we are unsettled spiritually.
I can even go through the motions that would indicate I love God. People could look at me and say, “There goes a lover of God.” I can put up a good front and fool others. But I can’t fool myself, and I can’t fool God. Acting lovingly, speaking loving words, thinking loving thoughts is an excellent first step, but I can only feel close to God when I am right with my fellow man. So, I spend time on forgiveness during my prayer time, and concentrate on accepting others. I believe this is a common situation for humans, which is why Jesus taught us to say, “…and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
If we want to love Christ, and demonstrate our love for Christ, then doesn’t it make since to live the life of the Christ. That life is one of forgiveness, acceptance, appreciation, and love. It is difficult for me to hear people say that they love God and then treat other people with disdain and disrespect. As Christians, how can we claim to love God and then not choose to live by the principles that Christ modeled for us? Christ would not berate someone for what they believed. He was not mean-spirited or a religious predator. The Christ within directs us to appreciate others for who they are, where they are. They may be different from us in numerous ways, yet we are commanded to love them.
Gradually, we must learn to love the diversity of this creation and not seek uniformity in all things. Christ guides us towards love, inclusiveness, and acceptance, not towards exclusivity. Christ wanted to build his church based upon love, not fear. He did not intend his church to be a small band of believers, quick to attack those who think differently than themselves, or who look different, or sound different. He did not want his followers to defend their position in outspoken tirades of “I’m right and you are wrong” and one-sided arguments of accusation and belittlement. That is the religion of fear and ignorance, not of Christ. Christ’s church is made of love.
“Love your neighbor,” is the commandment, not love your neighbor only if they like you, only if they act like you, only if they agree with you. Those are the easy ones to love – they are like family. It’s easier to love family, ususally. But we are instructed to love our neighbor – someone “outside the family”. Those are the hard ones to love - those neighbors. Many of them are different; some are weird … and we are commanded to love them anyway.
When we can look at a terrorist and see them for who they truly are – a child of God in need of Spirit’s guidance because their behavior is destructive – then we are seeing them through the eyes of love. We don’t hate them or wish them ill. When we can send them prayers for the light and love of God, asking that God fill their hearts, then we love our neighbor. We are not asked to agree with our neighbor, change our neighbor, condone or judge our neighbor, only to love them – to see them for who they really are – naughty or nice, they are a Child of God.
When we can look without judgment upon ourselves, and acknowledge that our past thoughts, words, and deeds perhaps have not met God’s standards, yet still hold ourselves in esteem because of who we are – a Child of God – and not berate ourselves, but encourage ourselves on the next attempt, and speak positively about ourselves to others and in our own minds, and treat our bodies with respect, then we love ourselves.
When we can love our neighbor and our self with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and all our mind then it becomes easier to love God in the same way.
When we can love God, ourselves, and each other, we change; we no longer live in fear. We see situations neutrally because we are not judging the people who are causing the situation. We see that they are behaving based upon their spiritual awareness. We have our awareness and are doing the best we can with what we have and know, and who we are. So is everyone else. Love allows us to look past behaviors, attitudes, and fears and see into their hearts.
A mouse is just a mouse; it is a creature of God. We don’t have to fear it; we only need to know how to treat it and avoid it. We can still love it and allow it to be. We can remove it with a live trap and take it to a field. Despite the infinite variety of creatures that live on earth, we can learn to get along. Love asks that of us.
This is why we celebrate Christmas, to share the Love of God with the world. It took a baby to claim our minds and hearts; it took Christ to claim our souls and bring us back to a path of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. It took Spirit to help us realize who we truly are - a Child of God, another blessed baby safe in the manger of God’s loving arms.
Advent concludes on Christmas Eve, and it is my prayer that each of us finds it within our hearts to honor what Christ came to offer: Life, Light, direction, abundance, forgiveness, strength, courage, Hope, Peace, Joy, and above all else, Love. It’s all about Love.
I wish each of you a wonder-filled, spirit-filled, Christ-filled, love-filled Christmas Day.