L is for love. Here are my favourite lines of scripture on the subject, from Eugene Peterson’s contemporary paraphrase, The Message:
“My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know God if you don’t love….No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and God’s love becomes complete in us—perfect love!” (1 John 4:7-12, excerpts)
I love the line that says “no one has seen God, ever”. It is reassuring to those of us who are still searching, and a corrective note for those who claim to have it all sorted.
When I was a teenager, I had a friend named Dan, who tried vigorously to “save me”. In his way of thinking, this meant I had to say that I believed certain things about Jesus, repeat a simple prayer, and then my eternal soul would be assured of a place in heaven. If I sound a bit cynical about this, it is because I am.
Members of my family had been raised on this kind of “Old Time Religion”, and I’d heard it all before. Maybe because I heard it as a young child, the frightening images of eternal hell-fire and sulfurous damnation actually got to me. Dan would preach this vile stuff, warning that if Jesus came back this afternoon my name would not be on the roll to be called up yonder. (The pictures he painted would make it hard to fall asleep at night.)
Sometimes I went to church with Dan. He would pull up to my house in his little yellow Volkswagen beetle- an original, not one of the neo-retro versions we see today. I knew as soon as I got in the car he would start in with his monologue. Dan liked to talk about two things: the valiant Russian soldiers who fought against the German army in world war two, and the horrors of what would happen if I didn’t get saved. (I realized later that Dan fought his own military campaign, for his idea of Jesus.)
One bright Sunday morning Dan and I went to worship at an evangelical church. I’d suggested this church because a young woman I knew attended there, and she had a friendly smile. She wasn’t there that Sunday- at least I didn’t see her. But God was there. There was a feeling in that place. I had been in churches before that seemed to be places of reverence- in the sense that people became quiet when they walked in- a kind of holy hush. This sanctuary seemed different. I felt an aliveness in the room, that did not seem to have much to do with the worshippers, or the music, or even the preacher (who in tone, and content, sounded very much like Dan.)
For a few minutes in that place I experienced a sense of God’s presence. It was reassuring, like a kind person’s smile, or a hug from a toddler. This presence seemed to communicate, “I know you. You’re going to be okay- don’t worry about what they’re saying. You are loved.”
It did not happen that day, but there came a time, a few months later, when I had a conversion experience, and made a conscious decision to follow the way of Jesus. I don’t know if I got saved, but I know that I am loved by God. And so are you.
The Advent Alphabet is a ministry offering of Rev. Darrow Woods, of Trinity United Church in Oakville, Ontario. Please feel free to share this, like this on Facebook, and pass it on to your friends.