I cannot remember a time when I did not know, understand, and embrace the sacrificial love, mercy, and grace of God, revealed in the gift of Jesus. I just wish I had recognized the true depth and weight of it all a long time ago.
I sing beloved Christmas carols without prompting, every word and note gradually etched into my memory by years of church services and hours of radio play. Everything from 45’s and LP’s to MP3’s and streaming services gave us unlimited access to the songs I grew to love. Sounds of the season.
Although comforting to hear in the background of life, however, the standards – Silent Night, Joy to the World, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, etc., etc., etc., – begin to sound stale. They remain in the shadows, with shallow influence or inspiration. How about you give me a beautiful new(er) Mary’s Song (see the First Monday Blessing) by Amy Grant, In the First Light, by Glad, You’re Here and Heaven Everywhere by Francesca Battistelli, or Christmas Must Be Tonight, by The Band (but I prefer Carolyn Arends’ version).
Then again, revisiting those oldies has brought new life to their words. Like the lyrics to O Holy Night – a renewed source of both encouragement and introspection. I can’t get past…
Truly He taught us to love one another;from O Holy Night, English lyrics by John Sullivan Dwight, music by Adolphe Adam
His law is love and His Gospel is Peace.
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother
and in His name, all oppression shall cease.
I wouldn’t dare guess how many times I either sang or heard those lines. But I am sure that, for the most part, they were simply the last verse of the last song of the service, or the token religious song on an otherwise cheery album. Ho hum.
In light of what the world witnesses everyday – and has endured for … well, forever – perhaps they are much more than just Verse 3.
I have found myself wrecked and in pieces many days, listening to the horrors of the world – not “over there” or “in other parts of the world” but right here in the city, state, and country where I live…
Where just down the street, a drug deal went bad in the parking lot and two men were shot over a handful of insignificance.
Where most reports of a shooting or assault are unnewsworthy.
Where men and women are killed by the ones they are encouraged to call for protection.
Where mamas pray their black- and brown-skinned sons make it home from the convenience store or library.
Where boys and girls are bought and sold,
and where children are turned away from their homes because of who they love.
My lovelies, we are sorely in need of reminding that Jesus came to teach us love.
That’s our job.
I could repeat what I’ve said over and over in this space about my Essentials (Jesus is the way, Love God, Love others).
I could re-list all of the ways in which we, as followers of Jesus, fail to live out the love Jesus commanded.
I could re-remind us that, while our commissioned work is to help others find the Kingdom, we do our best work when we lead with love, even loving those with whom we disagree.
But today I was reminded by these familiar words that one of the ways in which our love is displayed is by the intentional absence of oppression.
The chains of slaves will be broken and oppression will cease when we love like Jesus.
Put into more contemporary terms, I believe we are being challenged to break the cycle of how we have treated people different from us. I think we have not only the command but the authority to create communities that are inclusive.
And this isn’t easy. These words, attributed to several people, but quoted famously by Senate Chaplain Peter Marshal in 1947:
A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.
…which led me to these deep words written by Elie Wiesel
The opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference.
Love must be intentional. And when we love, only then can we make a difference in a world in which so many are oppressed – living in poverty, fear, shame, and chaos.
Many of us in the American Church love Jesus and take our marching orders to spread the good news seriously. We want desperately to win the world to Christ, accomplish all the good things, right wrongs, bring truth, establish justice.
And I believe we can, with God’s help, make an enormous difference. We can lift those in poverty, protect the fearful, encourage the shamed, and create peace in the middle of chaos.
But we cannot and will never do anything of lasting value without first loving. We cannot fully love while busy judging. We cannot fully love when maintaining our own comfort and well-being saps us of every bit of our time and energy. And we cannot fully love when our goal is to shoe-horn everyone else into our vision of Christianity.
Because when we are without love, we are indifferent. When indifferent, we cannot be intentional. And without intention, we cannot make a difference.
And so today, the second Monday of the season, I pray for you the blessing of intentional love.
And, until next week, I pray for you