What is this? For more information, read the introduction here.
And finally, love, our fourth Advent theme. “The greatest of these is love” writes St. Paul, and few of us would disagree. At the deepest level of our longing is surely our longing for love, our elemental need to be loved and to love. Hope, peace, and joy, or any other good thing in life is likely to feel empty and unfulfilling, without love. Look at the cult of romantic love in our culture: pop songs, Hollywood movies, dating sites, all hold up finding the right partner as salvation, the one essential key to a happy life. How blissful it can be when these hopes are fulfilled – and how bitter when they are disappointed. The yearning this cult of love points to is genuine, and it is profound, at the very core of our being.
It is the yearning, first of all, to be loved: to be truly known by another, known without masks, for who we really are, and treasured in that knowledge. It is the experience of being affirmed in our identity: of being told, in the midst of billions of other people, and an unimaginably vast and empty universe, that we are of unique, irreplaceable value. This is what love, and only love can give us, whether the love of friends or partner, parents or children. Equally basic is the instinct to love another, to delight in their irreducible particularity. The ability to give and receive love is what gives our life meaning and purpose.
At the heart of the Judeo-Christian faith is the conviction that this longing within us finds its answer in the very structure of the universe – the belief that the creative force that gave shape to the universe is not indifferent or even hostile to its creation, but delights in it and treasures it. “God is love”, the Scriptures tell us – and this love that is God is not simply an abstract idea of love, but a living and active force, delighting in and treasuring each of us, and calling us to respond in love to the universe and to one another.
This is a conviction that speaks through all of Scripture: in the accounts of the God’s relationship with Israel, in the engaged and passionate prayer of the Psalms, in the jealous and tender words of the prophets, in the vision of a community of radical love set forth in the Epistles. But for Christians it is of course especially the birth, life and death of Jesus sums up all Scripture: in him we see the force that underlies the cosmos face to face, and his face is tenderness and compassion. God’s love is so great, that God chooses to be Immanuel, “God with us”, chooses to share our daily lives in the intimacy of human flesh. The Christmas story is so familiar to us that we can miss the radical ingenuity of the final twist: that when God comes to be with us, it is, incredibly, in the form of a helpless baby – loving us, yes, but also calling forth all our instincts to ourselves love and cherish the child.
Fourth Week – Sunday December 18th
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
But Zion said, The Lord has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.
Can a woman forget her nursing-child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands. – Isaiah 49
We live in troubled times: news of famine, war and natural disasters across the world fill our television screens. There is poverty and illness in our own cities, in our homes, and we wonder why God does not act. Thomas Aquinas talked about the “hidden God” to describe the times we cannot sense God’s presence or discern His activities. But God reminds us that although we may think He has forgotten us, He is with us in our suffering. This is our comfort: that God has compassion on us, and suffers with us. We are forever in His memory, “inscribed […] on the palms of my hands.”
People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.
This Advent devotional is intended to help you enter into the season of advent. We hope you enjoy it! Much thanks to the Rev. Paul Jennings for his help putting these reflections together.