If there is any topic that is pervasive in our popular culture it is most certainly love. From the television shows and movies we watch, to the books we read, and definitely the music we listen to, love is huge industry in and of itself. According to Glamour Magazine the romance publishing industry is a $1 Billion industry. According to Allied Market Research, the Online Dating Industry was worth $6.69 Billion in 2018 and is projected to reach $9 Billion by 2025.
Where does this desire for love come from? Why have we been obsessed with love for as long as anyone can remember? It isn’t a modern thing. The ancient Greeks had 8 different words for love. So what is it that drives this seemingly innate desire to love and be loved?
Read – 1 John 4:7-19
The most beautiful thing about scripture to me is that it is a love story. From beginning to end it is the story of God’s love for his creation and particularly the people that he created. We are told in the very first chapter of Genesis that “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
So when John writes in his first epistle that “God is love” it means there is a piece of that love inside of each of us. Over and over in the Bible God shows his love by repeatedly pursuing his people. It is the kind of thing that has been written about and celebrated by authors, filmmakers, and musicians for centuries. We all long to be loved by someone in that way.
In the modern oratorio “Saviour: The Story of God’s Passion for His People” there is a duet sung by Wintley Phipps and Larnelle Harris called, “My Heart Belongs to You” which captures the essence of God’s love so perfectly. The song is a duet between God and Adam in the Garden of Eden.
In the song there is this moment which is just so beautiful. God and Adam sing at the same time different words. God Sings: “The Message of our song will always be true, Mi Corazon” While Adam sings: “I long to say those words, the words that are true, Someone to hear” And as they each finish those sentences they sing together: “My heart belongs to you.”
That is the love that we celebrate this Christmas season. A God that despite all things pledges from the very beginning that his heart belongs to us. It is a love story that has been retold millions of times in various ways. A longing for the type of love that survives all odds, all obstacles, and all manner of unfaithfulness.
There have been small evidences of this type of love in my own life. As my grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease progressed we had to move him and my grandmother into an assisted living facility. Their room looked more like an apartment with a living room, kitchen and a couple of small bedrooms. They used one of the rooms as a small study for my Grandfather.
On a visit not long after they moved in, my mom was standing in the living room and heard Grandpa talking to himself in the study. She walked over and there he was with a small notebook. He had pictures of all of us and our names and how we were related to each other in the book.
He wasn’t talking to himself that afternoon. He was studying. He knew that his disease was progressing and he didn’t want to forget us. He would look at a picture and say: “Austin. Son of Brian and Clella. Brother of Clayton. Married to Courtney. Lives in Atlanta.” The simple facts of who I am were in and of themselves in that moment a reflection of his immense love for his family.
His disease progressed. A man who was so full of life. A man who whistled his way to happiness as a little boy. Would now sit in his chair and seem devoid of any life at all. I picked up my older cousin in Nashville and we drove to Jackson, TN to visit him and my grandmother in October of 2016. The man who reveled in learning all about our lives and delighted in nothing other than our being there was quiet and had little to say or ask.
For the first time in our entire lives my cousin and I had to keep the conversation going. We ate lunch with them in their little cafeteria and returned with them to their room. We were about to leave when my grandfather said, “Can I pray for you?”
We said yes and a switch flipped in his head. For the next 2 minutes Dr. Roger Lewis Abington was back. He preached a sermon in those two minutes offering us blessings over our lives and our families. His diligent study of scripture and daily prayer were evident in his fleeting moments of clarity. So, too, were his study of who we were as people.
The words “Austin, son of Brian and Clella. Brother of Clayton. Married to Courtney. Lives in Atlanta” were transformed in those 2 minutes. His heart belonged to God and as a result his heart belonged to me.
Several years before his decline my mom was doing research for her own doctoral dissertation and exchanged letters with her Dad, my grandfather. Courtney and I were engaged to be married and Courtney had not been able to spend much time with my extended family as they lived hours and hours away. At one point in the letter my grandfather talked about love and what it means to love someone.
He talked about Courtney and how he and my Grandmother were so happy for us and were glad she would be joining our family. And they were. The very first Christmas that Courtney joined us they made sure she had a gift during our family gift exchange, they spent a significant amount of time learning all they could about her and did everything they could make her feel loved and accepted.
At my Grandmother’s funeral they wheeled my Grandfather into the church in his wheelchair. The Alzheimer’s disease had almost completely erased every possible part of the man he was. His suit was ill fitting, he was mostly lifeless in his chair. But when the hymns were sung he was there again, faintly by now, but so engrained were the songs of his faith that he still didn’t need a hymnal to sing along softly.
There was a reception after the ceremony and at the end it was time for him to return to the assisted living facility where by now he required care 24/7. I ran after his wheelchair knowing somehow that this would be the last time I would see him. I leaned down and kissed him on his head and told him how much I loved him.
He looked up at me and said, “It was good to see you…friend.”
“Austin. Son of Brian and Clella. Brother of Clayton. Married to Courtney. Lives in Atlanta.”
He was trying so hard to know me in that moment. That ellipses cannot convey the sheer love I felt in that moment. He was searching and searching and searching as hard as he could. You could tell that he knew deep inside who I was and yet could not make the name cross over his lips.
In that letter to my mother he told her something that so perfectly defines the love that we celebrate this Advent season. The love that is responsible for the Hope, Peace, and Joy that preceded this week. It is the very embodiment of the imperative repeated so often to Love others. I imagine that these are the very words of Jesus as he tries to explain how to love others.
“We love Austin so much and we don’t know Courtney well yet, but we love her already,” my Grandfather wrote, “Because he does.”
Sing – O Come All Ye Faithful
Almighty God, grant us in equal measure; Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Hope in a Savior, Peace in our world, Joy in our hearts, and Love for our fellow man. In the name of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate this Advent season, Amen.