It’s the 4th Sunday in Advent – and the start of the Christmas holidays for me (and lots of other people). That’s definitely something to celebrate!
A couple of people have asked if I’m maybe a little bit crazy, choosing to fast in the run up to Christmas. Well, I can’t deny it seems that way: there’s been so much chocolate around the office, complimentary glasses of prosecco at each of the Christmas meals I’ve attended, desserts that almost always include cream or ice-cream…and even the inconvenience of not being able to grab a sandwich when I’m in a rush. But then again, I really feel that those little sacrifices and minor inconveniences have actually been a really effective way to remind me again and again of the ‘reason for the season’ – and in all the frantic preparations and race to the finish line, maybe that’s what has been keeping me sane!
Praying for those specific themes I chose back at the beginning of the month has also made this season special. Most days, it’s meant praying for nameless people facing almost unimaginable difficulties. But sometimes, I’ve found myself praying much more intensively for individuals I know. It’s hard to explain, but being able to offer prayer in that way feels like such a privilege. In most of those situations, there is nothing ‘practical’ I can do to help that individual – but holding them before God (even when they have no idea they are being prayed for) is an expression of love.
The Way of Love
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
2 If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
8-10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be cancelled.
(1 Corinthians 13, The Message)
My mum’s favourite carol is ‘Love Came Down at Christmas’. The lyrics are from a poem by Christina Rossetti (and you can read them here if you don’t know them). I always think the line ‘Love was born at Christmas’ is an interesting one: obviously, love was known in the world before the birth of Jesus. But I think Rossetti is reminding us that whatever else might be going on in the story, the birth of Jesus was the greatest expression of God’s love. It moved things to a whole different level. A new relationship – because God was now ‘Emmanuel’…God with us.
The more I think about it, the more amazing it is. And Sarah Bessey’s thoughts on what it means for us today are well worth reading and thinking about some more:
And so we move on towards Christmas – all four candles lighting the way. In the other tradition I’ve mentioned, the fourth candle represents ‘all God’s people, in every place and time’. In other words, the candles show how the light has been spread: through the prophets of old bearing God’s message, to Mary bearing God’s son, to John the Baptist literally preparing the way – and now, through the church in its most inclusive sense: all God’s people, all who acknowledge God’s presence in their hearts and lives, all who are continuing to be a light in the darkness.