Advent Reflection: Romans 12:9-21
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Amy and I sat in our car last night on a Point Loma street known for its Christmas lights and decorations listening on the radio to the prayer service held at the high school in Newtown. Windows down, one ear to clergy from every faith share their wisdom and the other ear to the laughter of children looking at lights and taking pictures with their parents. It was a perfect contrast—rejoicing and weeping at the same time.
This weekend’s tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut and Sandy Hook Elementary school left twenty six- and seven-year-olds, six staff and one gunman dead. As the story was told it rocked the nation and the world with fear, anger, sadness; hugs, comfort, compassion. What a crazy backdrop to Christmas, when love, joy, peace and hope is shared from pulpits and peace on earth sung in carols and hung from light posts. We are looking for happy distractions and not expecting horror and mass murder.
The President of the United States of America spoke best last night when he spoke from the heart as a father and fellow citizen grieving with the parents, giving hope, reading scripture about our hope in “these light and momentary troubles.” He asked if we as a nation are doing enough to secure the safety of our children. We need each other. These are our children.
If we believe that love abounds at Christmas, that the story of Christmas is about the love of God sent in the baby born in Bethlehem, then what is our Christmas-love-response to our children? To others who are grieving at Christmas? To those confused by the violence and wonder where is God now? Someone said to me yesterday after church, “People struggle to find faith in God in a tragedy like this; I have trouble finding faith in humanity.”
That’s why Jesus and most of the New Testament made love the aim of followers of Jesus: love for each other and love for the world based on God’s love for us and God’s love for the world. It’s the kind of love Jesus taught and modeled to sinner and religious alike.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
A new commandment I give you, love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
The apostle Paul gives a descriptor of love that kicks off his paragraph teaching on love to the Christians in Rome: sincere. The word in Greek literally means “not-hypocritical” from the theater where hypocrite is mask. We expect actors to wear different masks on stage: one time the villain, another time the hero. We sometimes expect actors to really be their parts and we are disappointed when the film star’s real life doesn’t match the honesty, beauty, eloquence, or commitment of their role.
Does what we do connect to who we really are? Are we one person here and another person there? Are we sincere in our love? Do we have the real desire to spend the time, without distractions Can we enter into relationships with our children and each other, enemies and friends without a mask or posture or calculation, but with the love of God poured into our hearts now poured out of our hearts? This is the picture, the challenging and life-giving picture that Paul talks about:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21)
Which word or phrase in this passage is challenging to you? Which is comforting to you?