John 15:17 This is my command: Love each other.
Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, on which we consider the aspect of love. We have considered Hope, the expectancy of the rebirthing of the Christ Spirit within us. We have talked about the Peace that we achieve when we balance the world, God, and ourselves. We have considered the Joy of the season 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 so that we can partake in the divine nature that Christ Jesus exemplifies.
Psychologists have differentiated at least eight types of love. The Bible mentions three: Eros, Agape, and Phileo. The last two forms of love are the most often mentioned in the Bible, with Agape love first. This is how God loves all of us: it is impartial and unconditional. The Bible also refers to ‘brotherly love’ or ‘phileo’ love. This is the love that we show in the physical world as kindness, care, respect, and tolerance to one another. God wants us to express both types of love, and Jesus was the perfect example.
To reflect the life of Christ, demonstrating moral excellence is not enough. 2 Peter 1:5-7 explains that if we are to become ‘partakers of the divine nature,’ we should also demonstrate phileo and agape love in our lives. “… make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness,7 and godliness with brotherly affection (phileo), and brotherly affection with love for everyone (agape).”
Love is why Christ came to earth. At the time and place he arrived there was ignorance, war, and lost people disconnected from God. Love is why we are here today, amidst the same sort of circumstances where there is such a prevalence of conflict, hunger, hatred, turmoil, judgment, and ego-centeredness.
Whatever the question about human desires, goals, wants, and needs, the answer 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, so that we can ‘partake of the divine nature.’
Love is the most powerful healing energy we have available to us. When we access the energy of Love, we open our minds and hearts to the unlimited creative pull of God’s plans, goodness, and guidance. Love is the reason we are here today; Love is why the baby Jesus was born to us and why we celebrate the rebirth of Christ in our hearts. 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 a legal expert asks Jesus, which commandment was the most important. 26"What is written in the Law?" Jesus asked. "How do you read it?" The expert 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 interpretation necessary, and yet it so difficult to practice.
Sometimes our difficulty lies in loving ourselves. Our egos dictate standards and behaviors and when they are not met we condemn ourselves. We compare ourselves to others and conclude that we are inferior. Our mental mistake 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 comparing, we can love ourselves in a healthy manner, neither condemning nor exalting ourselves.
If we want to love Christ, and demonstrate our love for Christ, then doesn’t it make sense to live the life of Christ, to follow his example? 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 ignore 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.
I heard a story about an old man needing a ride across a river. It was a bitter cold evening in northern Virginia many years ago. The old man’s beard was glazed by winter’s frost while he waited for a ride across the river. The wait seemed endless. His body became numb and stiff from the frigid north wind. He heard the faint, steady rhythm of approaching hooves galloping along the frozen path. Anxiously, he watched as several horsemen rounded the bend. He let the first one pass by without an effort to get his attention. Then another passed by, and another. Finally, the last rider neared the spot where the old man sat like a snow statue.
As this one drew near, the old man caught the rider’s eye and said, “Sir, would you mind giving an old man a ride to the other side? There doesn’t appear to be a passageway by foot.” Reining his horse, the rider replied, “Sure thing. Hop aboard.” Seeing the old man was unable to lift his half-frozen body from the ground, the horseman dismounted and helped the old man onto the horse.
The horseman took the old man not just across the river, but to his destination, which was just a few miles away. As they neared the tiny but cozy cottage, the horseman’s curiosity caused him to inquire, “Sir, I notice that you let several other riders pass by without making an effort to secure a ride. Then I came up and you immediately asked me for a ride. On such a bitter winter night, I’m curious why you would wait and ask the last rider. What if I had refused and left you there?”
The old man lowered himself slowly down from the horse, looked the rider straight in the eyes, and replied; “I’ve been around these here parts for some time. I reckon I know people pretty good.” The old-timer continued, “I looked into the eyes of the other riders and immediately saw there was no concern for my situation. It would have been useless even to ask them for a ride. But when I looked into your eyes, kindness and compassion were evident. I knew, then and there, that your gentle spirit would welcome the opportunity to give me assistance in my time of need.”
These heartwarming comments touched the horseman deeply, “I’m most grateful for what you have said,” he told the old man. “May I never get too busy in my own affairs that I fail to respond to the needs of others with kindness and compassion.” With that, Thomas Jefferson turned his horse around and made his way back to the White House.
Part of God’s love is learning 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 builds his church from 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 is easier to love family.
Rather, Christ instructs us 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 do not 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. Christ does not ask us 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 and loved by 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.
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, tolerance, compassion, 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.