The virtue that we explore on the fourth week of advent is Love. Probably the most direct and powerful statement on Love in the Bible comes to us in John 3:16: “For God so loved the World that he gave us his only begotten Son.” Like so many things that are biblical there are many deeper meanings to this act of Love which give us a clue into the deeper reality of the Love that God has for this world.
But to understand this love we have to start with my favorite question, why? Why would God send his son? Why when He has given every chance for His people to show their faith, God still stays with us and does not move on to some other planet or just abandon us as a lost cause? The clue can be seen in John 3, and the key is the verse I quoted above and that is Love.
The simple way to think of it is a comparison to a parent and a child. Having done enough family counseling over the years I have dealt with many families who were struggling with the reality that the parents did not really like their kids, yet it pained them because of their deep love for them. In most cases the dislike was temporary, having to do with choices or misunderstandings, but the root of what carried them through is that they never lost the passion and love they had for their children.
I think this is part of why much of the Bible is dedicated to telling a story about God not giving up, not abandoning His people. He does this because of the passionate Love that he has for us. But we are left with the question of whether or not we accept it. This can be the most painful part. I have seen what happens when love is rejected, it is a pain that goes deeper than anything physical.
Now many people might say that God does not feel or have human emotions. To that I call bunk! The Bible tells us that God is deeply emotional, you just need to read Genesis again and you won’t be able to miss the emotional and passionate nature of God. The problem is there are times we do not believe it or even fully understand it, but Love can be painful and scary, yet when it is pure you know it and that pure Love can be transformative.
It is hard for me to come to the fourth week of Advent and not think about when I was 16. That was the year I had my last two major operations on my esophagus to correct the dysfunctioning sphincter muscle (Achalasia) and now wildly deformed esophagus. I know I have told many parts of this story before, but in short the first operation was to remove the muscle and replace part of my esophagus with a piece of my small intestine and the second was to correct the complications that arose from a tiny hole that caused a world of problems. As you would think, it was one of those pivotal moments in my life. It was a time where I found faith, learned about grace, and began to understand pure love.
There was a real chance for a couple days that I could die, especially while they were trying to figure out what was going wrong. For the first time I recognized real fear in my parents and I saw that their fear went deeper than anything I had ever experienced and I knew they would do anything humanly possible to get me through the ordeal. I also understood that their pain was far worse than mine!
Now it is not to say that my parents love was always perfect, but I cannot help but think that is similar to the way God loves us. The answer to all of those why’s is that God loves us so much that he would do anything and everything to make sure that we experience all that life offers and know that even at the end, God loves us so much he will welcome us home.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen