Sun, Dec 01, 2019

Festive feelings?


It’s only a little over three weeks to go!

The shopping centres have already started to become frantic…

with people rushing all over the place buying a great assortment of gifts––

large and small…

expensive and inexpensive.

Sometimes they’re selected with great care, and thought, and precision…

and sometimes they’re selected seemingly with little care or thought––

simply because people feel that they have to;

because they have to get something for their sleazy, lecherous boss;

because they have to get something for that annoying old relative whom they only see once a year––

old Uncle Arthur––

who never fails to make some bigoted, offensive comment…

before spilling things all over the table cloth…

and spending the rest of the afternoon, snoring in the corner;

because they have to get something for old Aunty Gertrude…

who always complains about the food––

which is never as good as what she used to prepare.

We have become accustomed to buying presents for people whom we don’t really know…

and don’t really like;

then sitting down to large family gatherings…

where latent animosities and hostilities frequently bubble to the surface.

Indeed, despite the hype and mythology…

Christmas is actually the worst time of year for domestic violence.



Why do we do it?

Why do we go through all of this year after year?

Is it because we feel that we have to;


cast adrift from its religious moorings–– 

Christmas has become the de-facto celebration of “family”…

somewhat akin to “Thanksgiving” for the Americans?

Is it simply a time to get together with loved ones––

even though, sometimes, “love” can seem a long way away?

And, let’s be honest, although we talk a lot about “love”–– 

especially at this time of year––

it’s a concept with which we struggle…

because we think that “love” has to do with being “nice”;

that love is pretending that you’re thrilled by another useless gift… 

when etiquette won’t let you say what you really think;

that love is pretending that you’re one big happy family…

even when you’re not;

that love is feigning to feel something that you don’t.

And, therein, lies the problem.

We have turned love into an emotion.

“Love” is what I feel for another person––

in the same way that I might feel anger…

or frustration…

or compassion.

It’s something that comes and goes––

something that wanes over time.

And, when we have had to put up with Gertrude’s whinges…

and Arthur’s offensive comments…

or we have had to listen to Cecil tell the same story for the twentieth time…

while all of the children are screaming––

it’s hard to keep up the pretences;

it’s hard to be nice;

it’s hard to feel this thing that we call “love”.

Indeed, it’s hard to feel “love”––

it’s hard to enjoy Christmas––

when you’re tired or stressed…

worried or sad…

angry or in pain.


In this morning’s reading, from Paul’s letter to the Romans…

he encourages his readers to love.

Indeed, he enjoins them to “love your neighbour as yourself”.

We may not appreciate the significance of that.

But, in so doing, Paul was directly addressing a major issue for the church at Rome––

because it was a very divided church.

There were some significant ethnic tensions––

between those who came from a Hebrew background…

and those who didn’t.

There were also tensions created by social differences.

There were well-to-do people.

There were working-class folk––

some of whom would have been indebted to the well-to-do…

and who allowed the well-to-do to boss them around and to call the shots.

There were also slaves and freed slaves…

who were even more indebted…

and often treated as less than human.

So, when Paul speaks here––

in this context–– 

about love…

he’s talking about something quite radical.

He’s not talking about love as an emotion.

Nor is he talking about love as some abstract concept.

Rather, for Paul, love is primarily an action…

a way of being…

a way of living.

Love is embodied.

Love is lived out.

In particular, love is about how we treat others.

That’s the point of the particular commandments and injunctions that he cites.

Love is about choosing to act towards another person in a particular way:

seeking what is good and right;

seeking what is in their best interest––

no matter what we might feel about them.

But, in the context of the Roman church––

in the context of their culture––

when Paul exhorted them to love one another…

he was actually challenging them to transcend their social boundaries…

and their cultural differences.

Because, within their culture, love was––


how one treated one’s kin.

And that involved inclusion and mutuality…

hospitality and generosity…

forbearance and commitment.

Paul wanted masters to treat their slaves––

not just as people in the fullest sense––

but as family.

Paul wanted members of each rival ethnic group––

and each rival faction––

to treat each other as if they were kin.

More than that, when Paul speaks here of love being the fulfilment of the Law…

what he’s really saying is that that sort of love––

lived out in practical terms…

in treating others as family––

is our appropriate response to the mercy and love of God;

because that’s how the Hebrew people understood the Law.

Even more than that, though…

Paul places love in a cosmic perspective.

He exhorts them to put aside all that is not love––

all that is unworthy…

all that is life-denying…

all that does not seek the best for others…

all that is not inclusive, generous, and helpful––

he exhorts them to put that aside in the light of ultimate reality;

in the light of the future consummation of all things;

in the light of God’s intended goal for creation.

In other words, Paul exhorts us to love because love reflects… 

and represents… 

and realises…

the very values of the Kingdom of God.

Here, we are being challenged to live according to the end that we expect or hope for.

Here, we are being challenged to live as if the Kingdom of God were a present reality.


Behind all of the tinsel and trees…

the family gatherings and feasting…

and the gift-giving…

Christmas is about love.

But it’s about that sort of love:

a love that takes a risk;

a love that risks being vulnerable…

and dares to treat others––

especially those from whom we are estranged…

those who are ‘other’––

as if they were loved;

a love that dares to act out of a desire to see others grow;

a love that dares to live as if the promised reign of God were already realised.

And none of that is dependent upon how we feel.

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