love the unlovely
by Linda Rex
This Sunday is the last day of Advent, and the topic for the day is Love. What crossed my mind this morning was that one of the most difficult things God asks us as humans to do is to love the unlovely.
At one point in our team meeting Wednesday, we were looking at the sermon Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives. It seems that Jesus gave a lot of “impossible” imperatives, including praying for and doing good to those who use and abuse us. We all know how impossible this is for us as humans—we have enough of a challenge just loving those who love us back.
And we agreed that that was Jesus’ point. We can’t just naturally love the unlovely. It’s not in our nature to do it. Apart from the grace and power of God, we will not and cannot do this impossible task he is asking of us.
Anyone who lives in a painful and difficult marriage can attest to the fact that it is very difficult, if not humanly impossible, to love someone who is critical, selfish and even downright abusive all the time. It is very hard to love someone who dumps a truckload of emotional baggage all over you whenever they get the chance. Loving the unlovely is not a job for sissies, that’s for sure.
But that doesn’t make it any less a requirement for us as human beings to love one another. God’s two great commandments include loving God with all we are, and loving our neighbor as our self. Loving our neighbor and loving God, Jesus said, is the fulfillment of the law.
So why would God ask us to do something we cannot of ourselves do? Could it be that God never meant for us to try? For in the scriptures we see that God, from before time, always meant to send his Son, to stand in for us, to take our place. God always meant for us to love him and love others, within the context of a relationship—the eternal relationship he had and has even now with his Son.
Here at Christmastime, we celebrate the coming of the Word of God into human flesh—the Father’s Son given as a gift for all humanity. This gift is so precious, because in Jesus, God gives himself. God gives us his love—through a Son who lived died and rose again—and through the Spirit Jesus sent from the Father to transform human hearts by faith.
It is by the love of God within through Jesus and in the Holy Spirit that we are able to love God and love one another the way we ought to. It is as we live in loving relationship with God and each other that we are able to be the people God asks us to be. It is not something we have to try and figure and work out on our own by following a lot of lists of do’s and don’t’s. They come in handy as guideposts, but they do not transform human hearts. Only the Holy Spirit does that. He is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts.
Finding the will and power to love the unlovely comes only from God. It is God’s gift to be able to love both with grace and with truth. There are times love has to be tough and times when it needs to be gentle. It is the Holy Spirit who guides us in discerning what is needed and empowers us to do it in a timely way. And it is God through Christ and in the Spirit who gives us grace when we fail to love as we ought to love—something that will happen, since we are still very human and very faulty.
We need to see our loving of God and of others as a participation in Christ’s loving his Father and loving of others in the Spirit. It’s not something we do on our own. We were never meant to.
So this Christmas season, as we find ourselves in situations in which we are with people who are difficult to be with, or around people who are very unpleasant to be around, let’s remember that we are called to love the unlovely in the midst of a relationship with God who through Jesus and in the Spirit loves the unlovely in our place. We just get to join in with what he’s already doing. We can be alert to the possibilities of doing the impossible, because we are in Christ and he is in us through the Spirit.
Dear God, thank you for never asking us to do anything you are not already doing yourself, and for never asking us to do it on our own. Thank you for the most precious gift you have ever given—the gift of yourself—in your Son Jesus, and in the gift you sent through him, the Holy Spirit. Thank you for not only giving us forgiveness, but for giving us all new life and the ability, through Jesus and in the Spirit, to love the unlovely people you place in our lives. Amen.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16
“…the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:5