A Sweater Wrapped Up In LOVE! …Hello Weekend Readers, we’re in our last Advent musings and they are all about LOVE—the real love that came down on Christmas at the stable! I am starting with a wonderful story from Fran Maynard, a lovely writer whose life was changed with a love she never would have imagined. Here’s her story:

“Growing up Jewish, I celebrated Hanukkah.  I got to light the Menorah, play the Dreidel game, eat chocolate gelt and let’s not forget the 8 days of presents. Hanukkah, which is also known as the Festival of Lights, teaches children about the God of Israel. Learning about the miracles behind a candle lasting 8 days instead of one day offers hope and illustrates light in a dark world. But then, in my world my light went dim. At 7 years old my father got very ill at the end of Hanukkah. My candles went dark. Where is this God now, I thought? Shortly after my father’s funeral, a lady dressed up in a Christmas sweater knocked on my door and I opened it. It was our neighbor but since we were Jewish, we stayed to our lineage and didn’t do much with neighbors. She made chicken soup for me and my mother and that started a relationship that ended with us finding Jesus. Her love was incredible and it soaked up our lives like a delicious chicken soup! Now, the light that lit those temples long ago has come into our home and our world has a new Light—Jesus! Such love I still can barely comprehend, but one thing is steadfast, the Light of the world-our Messiah, gave my mother and I love through a neighbor and that love changed our lives forever. For mom and me, it was the best Christmas gift ever!”

Her story reminds me of the real love—the Biblical love that refers to more than just a feeling. It’s about caring for someone regardless of their response, and it’s modeled perfectly by Jesus! In Matthew 7:12, He says Love the Lord, your God completely. Love him with all your mind and with all your strength. Love him in everything that you think and you do.” In Mark 12:30-31, he says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second most important command is this: ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.’ These two commands are the most important.”

In our world today love is more of “you can have it under one condition” which is not even close to what Jesus tells us love is! OK, what is love then? It’s an unclear word in English because you can love your mom, and you can love pizza. And if the word love means the same thing in both of those cases, your mom’s going to feel really bad. So what did Jesus mean in his language, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.”  Love for God is the most important thing. Then Jesus quickly followed up, saying love your neighbor as yourself. So which is the most important? Loving God or loving your neighbor? Jesus’ answer is YES! To ask the question means you don’t get his point. To Jesus, they’re two sides of the same coin. Your love for God will be expressed by your love for people and vice versa. They’re inseparable and they are the most important lessons we need.

Here’s what’s fascinating about the earliest followers of Jesus; they didn’t learn the meaning of agapé by looking it up in ancient dictionaries. Rather, they looked to the teachings of Jesus and the story of his life to redefine their very concept of love. This makes it clear that, for Jesus, agapé love is not primarily a feeling for someone else that happens to you. For Jesus, love is action—it’s a choice that you make to seek the well-being of people other than self.

We wouldn’t be talking about Jesus today if he had only said things like ‘love your enemy’. This is how he actually lived—constantly helping and serving the people around him, and he consistently moved towards poor and hurting people who couldn’t benefit him in return. He showed love for the forgotten ones, the people who usually fall through the cracks.

Back to Fran’s story, we see how agapé love changed her life by a cheerful sweatered lady who lived next door that really didn’t know them but knew their father had passed away. What she did sums up this agapé love! Let’s embrace the fact that, when Jesus arrived on the first Christmas night, God’s love became an embodied reality in our world. The God of the Bible doesn’t merely express love through Jesus—JESUS IS that LOVE! In fact, as a triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit—he always has been and forever will be an ‘others-centered, self-giving, communal being’ who thinks, feels, and acts with pure LOVE. Now that demands an AMEN, if not the whole company of angels singing Hallelujah!