Sunday, December 22, 2013

Chapter I: Advent – The Candle of Love

Today, the final anticipation Candle was lit in churches around the world: the Candle of Love. This Theme is not as quickly understandable in light of the Themes of waiting and yearning as those of Hope, Peace, and Joy. We contemporaries tend to think of love in terms of here-and-now. We make this error in two opposite extreme ways.

First are the group who think of love in terms of lust. Lust is primarily about a desire to satiate one's own appetite and seeing the other as a means by which it is done. It is not explicitly sexual, though that is the most obvious application. Rather, lust can also refer to all sorts of things good Christians like to consider 'good': I have met women who lusted after children so that they could have their own desire to be needed met or a husband so they could have a family. I have met men who have lusted after a wife in order to have a family, increase their social standing, or have someone to keep the house. I have been someone who has lusted for friends and companions so that I am not alone. I have lusted after God so that I can get what I want from Him. Lust is a tricky and dangerous substitute for love.

But there is, I think, an even more pernicious substitute that infects those who do not fall into the above error: the divorce of love and desire. Those who can easily say, 'I love you disinterestedly'. We have all seen this: marriages in which the passion is gone but both parties remain out of duty, friendships in which one party takes a 'mentoring' role, parents who don't seem to take any pleasure in their children but still provide for all of their needs, Christians who go to church and live righteous lives and can quote the entire Bible (in KJV!) but do seem to understand what a relationship is. I know many people who would probably take a bullet for me (thus satisfying what they understand to be 'love') but would rather do so than spend a few hours having tea and discussing my favourites or interests or hurts or happinesses. This is clearly condemned in St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 13). It is no more love than lust is.

Love is neither an emotional state, as in the first group, nor an action, as in the second, though both are involved at times. Love is a desire for the other - a desire not based on utilitarian selfishness or causing the harm of the other, but an actual desire for the other person - to be with him or her, to interact, to cherish and be cherished.

The place in which we understand what real Love must be is the Holy Trinity. St. John said that 'God is Love' - one common error is to misunderstand this to mean that 'love is God', but that is not a danger for most Christians I know. The other common error, perhaps more dangerous, is to think that this simply means that God is the best example of love in how He treats us. I think we must take Scripture at face value here and understand that, in some way we probably don't fully understand, the Relationship among the Persons of the Trinity, which is the real definition of 'Love', is what we mean when we say 'God'.

If we were to examine that Relationship, I suppose we would never tire of writing or reading. But I want to key in on one aspect of that Relationship: Desire. That the Persons of the Trinity desire One Another is easy for us to believe - just read the prayers of Jesus or the Father's statements about the Son (both in the Old Testament and the New). Read Proverbs 8 for a glimpse at the desire between the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the New Testament speaks of the love between the Holy Spirit and Jesus.

The greatest difference between this Desire and lust is that it is never satiated, yet it allows for other relationship to exist. Indeed, the cause of Creation, I think, is that the Love of the Trinity spilt over. Love begets love. The Trinity's Love for One Another was so great that They desired to share it, so They created Man in Their Image - with the capacity for relationship, to be able to be loved and to love.

Yet Man fell - rejecting that Love. Here, we get to the real heart of this Sunday's Candle. The Incarnation is all about restoring that relationship. Certainly we humans desire to be with God (as Saint Augustine says) but how much more does God desire His creation back? Throughout the Old Testament, we see God's grief, His anger, His jealousy, His passion. In the New Testament, it is all wrapped into the Christ Child coming in three days.

There is a system of theology that says that God does not truly love the whole world but only those whom are lucky enough to be chosen. This is contrary not only to the clear words of Scripture but to the entire doctrine of the Trinity and Creation. Not surprisingly, this particular system prefers to start with the Unity of God over the Relationship among the Persons.

Love must have a way of being frustrated if it is true love. We cannot love food, though we may say we do, because food cannot be in relationship with us. We cannot love things or places or ideas. We may only love people and, to a lesser degree, animals - those very things which can reject us and turn us down, or accept us and show that they, too, desire us.

Love involves a mutual delight. The Book of the Song of Solomon is an excellent reading for today's Candle.

The past three weeks have been based around our waiting, yearning, and desire for the coming Baby. Today, we shift to God's waiting, yearning, and desire to send the Baby and to be the Baby. We realise we have a Companion on our Advent journey. Indeed, we realise that we are actually the companions, that this Season of Waiting is not primarily about us. All of our waiting, all of our longing, all of our distress and desire are a mere echo of the Trinity's love for us, which itself is an overflow of the Overwhelming Love among Them.

Someone yearns to be in relationship with us, to delight in us and to be delighted in by us. Our mere four weeks of waiting, and even the Jewish people's thousands of years of waiting, are only a dim reflection of the yearning that must go on in Him. And so He meticulously wrote the Story, planning each detail and desiring all along to walk with us in the cool of the morning again in a Garden. Thousands of yea rs of His waiting. Finally coming to a point in only three days!

With this in mind, the Lectionary Readings for this Sunday are:
  • Isaiah 7:10-16
  • Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
  • Romans 1:1-7
  • Matthew 1:18-25

This Sunday also marks the Commemoration of the Genealogy of Jesus Christ and is specially used to discuss Mary & Joseph’s role in the Christmas Story. All of those stories and biblical characters can be viewed through the lens of God's great passionate, desirous Love.

The perfect Advent hymn for today:

Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, til earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let Thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace, till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.

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