This is the second installment in Advent All Around, a Think Christian series that sees reflections of Advent in the culture at large. Our first piece in the series, on Gabrielle Giffords and hope, can be found here.
We light the second, purple Advent candle today to remember Mary and Joseph, and especially to remember the attribute of love.
“Love is patient,” the familiar list begins in I Corinthians 13, and I wonder: if our culture were to begin its list about love, what word it would settle on?
How about “fickle?" Love is fickle; it’s unpredictable. It comes and goes. You fall out of it as unpredictably as you fall into it. It’s been a tough year for celebrity couples, from Ashton and Demi to J Lo and Marc to Arnold and Maria. And that’s not even mentioning 85-year-old Hugh Hefner being jilted by a 25-year-old woman or a certain infamous 72-day marriage. It’s been a tough year for celebrity couples, but every year is a tough year for celebrity couples. One only needs to watch an episode of "The Bachelor"or "The Bachelorette"to know that love, like any emotion, comes and goes.
Something is wrong here. Yes, there is an emotional side to love, but isn’t there also a side that’s about commitment and will, a side that endures despite our volatile feelings? If we lift our heads above popular culture and look at Joseph and Mary instead, we find examples of this other side of love. How much commitment and will did it take for Joseph to marry his pregnant fiance, knowing full well he was not the baby’s father? Of course, we tell ourselves, it was easy for Joseph after he was visited by an angel. Really? Put yourself in his place for a moment and think about saying this to your family and friends: “I dreamed an angel told me my fiance was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and that the baby was going to save the world from its sins.” Would that be easy? Joseph loved Mary. He demonstrated this first when he was unwilling to expose her to "public disgrace” and secondly by marrying her. Both times he put her needs ahead of his. Love, as Eugene Peterson translates I Corinthians 13:5, isn’t “me first.”
While feelings come and go, a commitment to love patiently endures, which is countercultural in our society. Consider Mary “pondering” what was said about Jesus. You don’t ponder in a hurry. I suppose a woman could be impatient about her pregnancy and the subsequent birth and development of her child, but there isn’t much point to it. This will take time. In the same way, Advent is about taking the time to ponder and wait. We wait for the child to be born and grow up. But how can we wait without patience? And how can we be patient without love?
An e-mail circulating the Internet these days is full of quotes from kids about what love is. I usually look on e-mails like this with contempt, and at first glance this didn’t seem any different. Just as I was clicking “delete” I saw this line: “Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.” I don’t care if the writer wasn’t really “Tommy - age 6” but “Milton - age 62.” Whoever wrote it nailed it.
We light the second purple candle of Advent today to remember Mary and Joseph, and especially to remember the attribute of love. The light grows as the candle of love flickers next to the candle of hope. Hope and love are starting to push away the darkness of December. As you look at the light, remember the pregnant woman and her faithful husband, slowly traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Remember them and remember what love looks like - patient, self-less, enduring love.
(Illustration by Schuyler Roozeboom.)