Love has a name. For most of us when we think of being loved, unconditionally cared for, listened to, touched, respected, healed, loved we see a person with a name. And maybe even a specific event with that person. For me I had quit high school, was facing another surgery, and was dangerously depressed. On Friday night saying I came home and found my mom sitting on the couch watching television. Like a child I laid my head on her lap, my long hair draping down her leg. She never said a word but simply ran her fingers through my hair as the television blinked banally. Our fiercest fights had been over my long hair. Not that night. And for years now when I ask what love is my mom’s name defines it. What is love? Love has a name.
Whose name is it for you?
The Many Names of Love
Of course there have been other names that define love for me. The Redheaded-Wildflower tenderly proclaiming to love me in sickness and health and then thirty-six years later living those vows as I ungratefully suffered a heart attack right in front of her. Then my children and grandchildren rallied and gathered in the recovery room, faces painted with tears of pain and hope. I have been loved well, deserve it or not.
Notice the times love takes on a name are not sugar-donut, puffy-cloud kinds of days. These times love dons a name are gritty and real. Heavy. We can taste and smell them. They send shivers up our spines. Love with a name stands tallest in our suffering.
Love Is Not a Dictionary Definition
Yet when we talk of love we define it with abstractions. We preachers are especially afflicted with this disease. How many sermons have you heard where the preacher intones, “Webster defines love as ‘an intense feeling of deep affection’”? Or spare me the “Transcendent agapé love is the highest form of love.’”
These dictionary definitions of love may be true but are so abstract they leave us yawning and yearning for down-to-earth real life examples. As the band Foreigner sang, I Want to Know What Love Is. They pine about needing to feel love, to be shown love. We all sing that song.
Love is a Person
We’ve all heard it said that love is more than a feeling, beyond a sentiment but an action. As true as that may be, love is more than even an action. Love is a person. This is what Advent is all about. The first century humans were not waiting for the advent, the coming of an abstract idea of love. They were waiting for the Messiah, a person whose name they did not yet know. The interesting thing is most of them were not waiting for a person named love. They were waiting for a political or military or religious leader to overthrow Rome and/or the oppressive Jewish priesthood.
Even Mary’s prayer we call The Magnificat carries these political hopes:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.
(Lk 1: 46-55)
I have bolded the power driven hope and italicized the love driven hope. Which one defines your relationship with God? Power or love?
Love Has a Name: Jesus
Few expected Jesus to accomplish this showing of strength and casting down of injustice through the Name of Love. Yet, that is exactly what he accomplished. He touched lepers, cuddled children, treated women with dignity and respect, and nary once wielded an implement of power such as a scorching social media rant or even a sword.
The apostle called “the one Jesus loved” wrote, “God is love.” Notice scripture never says God is power or justice. These are the two characteristics of God we see our Christian political movements rally around and divide over. But these and all other characteristics of God flow from this one core truth: God is love!
Because John was loved he discerned the true nature of God and gave up the power dreams of transformation and wrote the most powerful letters on love ever written. He also became known for his love for others. John did not define love abstractly but became defined by love concretely.
The same truth is available to us. Because we are loved, we can love. As you ask the question: what is love?, think of the person Jesus who has been with you, touched you, spoken to you, loved you. Of course, as with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we may not have recognized Jesus as he was loving us in this way. Never-the-less the One named Love has walked beside each of us as we’ve plodded down the road.
The Advent of Love
Those waiting for the advent of Jesus’ first coming did not think Love as a person with a Name would be the answer to their prayers. Too often we share this trait with them. We take the pictures of Jesus coming on a white horse from Revelation as a war-like, retributive God. But that would be an entirely different Jesus who came the first time. We are making the same mistake as the first century waiters did. Could it be instead these are pictures of the power of love rather than war? I believe so.
As we wait for the advent of the second coming of Jesus, notice how Jesus’ love has transformed you and our world, through love. This Advent name some of those times. Thank God for them.
What is love? Love is a name: Immanuel, God with us.
From now through Christmas I will be writing on Words of Advent. The four words are the ones we traditionally pair with the lighting of Advent Candles: Love, Peace, Joy, and Hope. Those will be the words at the core of my Sunday Psalms and mid-week blog. I hope they make this season holy and meaningful. See below for why my blogs have not been on time. Here are two previous blogs in the Words of Advent series: Words Wield the Power to Create and Destroy our Lives and Advent Psalm: A Song of True Love
Personal note. Thank you for your prayers and notes of comfort and concern. I hope you know I am not posting about COVID for sympathy but rather just connecting. My writing schedule has been thrown off and I don’t want you to think it’s because I’m not thinking of you and praying for you. As a matter of fact, this journey with COVID has developed a deeper connection with those of you who have also had health problems.
Anyway, I’m still afflicted with COVID but I’m doing more. I worked Sunday morning at church, went to staff meeting on Tuesday, and have seen a couple of clients this week. That has sapped my energy but not ruined me. I’m having more good days. Keep praying for healing in my lungs and for strength and wisdom. And pray for The Redheaded-Wildflower. As a person of love, she has been carrying a heavier load this whole time. Thanks for your love and care.