A reading, from A. C. Grayling’s A HUMANIST BIBLE:
The words of love we spoke have stored themselves in our history to await in secret another time. One day they will fall, as seeds, with rain to earth, and grow green all over the world.
When I was in college, The Captain and Tennille were one of the hot signing duos of the day, and besides singing about Muskrat Love, a sing I never quite understood, they rhythmically belted out, “Love! Love will keep us together.” And while they were certainly not thinking about couple love and not the love of humans for other humans, the message still applies–and the beat’s still not too shabby either: “Love! Love will keep us together.” And so it will if it can; it would if it could.
Human love, however, is not a given in any circumstance. Someone or someones must be working to keep that love alive, and they must be working diligently, consistently–not always with heavy lifting or manual labor love that causes tremendous emotional exertion often with sweat; sometimes the dainty, but consistent effort of embroidery–tiny stitch by tiny stitch.
Divine love, unlike human love, is a given because divine love is precisely who or what God Godself is. Many of us, sadly, have been brought up in traditions in which we’ve been taught that God had to be manipulated in changing God’s mind about us and extending the divine love to us despite our gross unworthiness. I have believed that. I have taught that. I have preached that. I am filled with remorse for having passed along such demeaning, manipulative nonsense to well-intentioned hearers taking my views seriously and often adopting my beliefs as their own.
The biblical writers have no consistent position on to what degree God loves or can love humanity, but I think it’s safe to say that very few of them, though they may taut the notion of unconditional love are really able to embrace unconditional love and a viable concept. Could God really love us in our imperfections? Oh, yes. If God didn’t or couldn’t love imperfect people, God would have no one to love. Even our revered and highly esteemed political leaders in this country occasionally have one of their rare imperfections come to light.
Many of you are aware that the early church had no interest in the details of Jesus’ birth; they were caught up in who he was or had been as an adult, ultimately rubbed out by the Romans. The first recorded celebration of Christmas, the birth of Jesus, was in the year 336. Jesus was born in the year 6 BCE, and the Romans put him to death in the year CE 27 or so. It was some 310 years before the followers of Jesus became concerned enough about the details of his birth to make the commemoration a celebration. I don’t know when it became an annual celebration.
His birth began to be remembered when people got his message about God’s love for all people; then, followers went back and tried to piece things together to help them solve the puzzle. How did a carpenter’s kid, born in a barn know about the core truth of human experience: God’s unconditional love for all people? Bar none. That core message, the key message, more than anything else is why Jesus is remembered still today so, “Love! Love will keep us together.” Or stated in Christmas Carol Fashion:
Love will be our token
Love be yours, and love be mine
Love from God to all of us
Love for plea and gift a sign