A reflection for the fourth week of Advent: Love
‘There’s a power in love. There’s a certain sense in which when you are loved, and you know it, when someone cares for you, and you know it, when you love and you show it – it actually feels right,’ as Bishop Michael Curry put it at the wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle.
Psychotherapist Judith Blackstone writes, ‘The ability to love goes beyond having an emotional response to or understanding another person. It requires a capacity for contact, and this contact does not necessarily have to be physical. It can include how you speak to them, the emotions you display to them, and the awareness you have about them. It’s about being in tune with another person.’
We may experience, give and receive such love in many different ways. From the Greek, the Bible indicates four different types of love:
- Eros: sensual or romantic love.
- Storge: family love, the affectionate bond that develops naturally between parents and children, and brothers and sisters.
- Phileo: love for and from fellow humans: care, respect and compassion for other people.
- Agape: divine love that comes from God. Agape love is perfect, unconditional, sacrificial, and pure.
Expressions of love based on eros are often felt most strongly within loving, sexual relationships, and it’s important to remember this is not experienced by everybody. Arguably, the vast majority of people will both give and receive love which stems from storge and phileo, although they are not without complications at times either.
What’s happened in the last week that showed you you are loved by other people?
Agape. The love that comes from God. This is the God who loved Mary and Joseph. This is the God who loved King Herod. This is the God who loves you.
God’s love for us is agape love. Love that is perfect, unconditional, sacrificial, and pure.
‘Where you see love, you know the presence of love,’ writes Jane Williams. ‘Out of love, God the Son comes to die, so that we can be drawn back into the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In God, then, love is not an abstract quality, but one we experience very directly as activity. God acts lovingly towards us, and that is how we know that he is indeed love. In God, being and doing are not separate – he is love and acts lovingly.’
So, how do we know we are loved by God?
Of course, the familiar words trip off the tongue: ‘God is love’… ‘God so loved the world…’ ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God’. There are so many affirmations of the truth: and what reassuring and comforting words they are.
It can often be easier to acknowledge God’s love for us when life is going well. Times when his love for us is tangibly demonstrated through answers to prayer, unexpected blessings, love from others – again, so many ways: and how reassuring and comforting they are too.
We can see God’s love for us in all the ordinary things of life. A sunset, children playing, older people laughing, a dog running in to the sea. A text, email or phone call. A card, a present. Those times when God says: ‘Look. That’s for you.’ Those moments of joy. Times when we are hopeful. Moments when the peace of God passes all understanding.
In the reality of our lives, how do we know we are loved by God, truly know, deep down inside, when life is tough and horrible?
Ah, if only there was a simple answer… and maybe accepting there isn’t is helpful in itself.
Michael’s Curry’s words are as true of the love people have for each other as they are about the love God has for each of us:
‘When you are loved, and you know it, when someone cares for you, and you know it, when you love and you show it – it actually feels right.’
What’s happened in the last week that showed you you are loved by God?
What’s happening on Christmas Day that will do the same?
May I wish you a Christmas which brings you hope, joy, peace and the knowledge of God’s love.