“Beloved let us love one another because love is from God.” (1 John 4.7)
The film ‘Love Actually’ weaves in and out of eight stories that chart the highs and lows of romantic love. The characters fall in and out of love, sometimes with the right person, sometimes with the wrong; some have affairs; and some mourn the death of the beloved. The movie captures reality: love begins and ends; everyone flirts a lot; everyone flirts with love.
But what is love for Christians?
A large part of love for us is the same as in the movie. Love, at its best, describes the bonds of affection that tie together friends and family, and impel most people to seek a lover who will reflect back to themselves the joy of commitment, trust, and union. As one character in ‘Love Actually’ puts it – the Prime Minister, played by Hugh Grant – “General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaking suspicion... love actually is all around.”
Love describes the emotional and willed bonds that exist between us. It is sometimes a feeling and sometimes a choice. But sometimes love can be an improper feeling or a poor choice. In ‘Love Actually’, Harry, played by Alan Rickman, is married to Karen, played by Emma Thompson. Yet, in spite of their continuing affection and stable family, Harry finds himself drawn into an improper liaison with his young secretary Mia. Harry’s wife, Karen, realizes what must have happened when she does not receive the Christmas gift she had found and expected was for her. She retreats quietly upstairs and weeps silently. Harry’s improper love has a disturbing effect, even if it is quiet. We are left to wonder what will happen to him and his wife.
Tonight’s reading from the First Letter of John presents to us a cosmic vision of what love actually is – love is “from God,” it is “born of God,” and it is “God” himself. Love does not merely describe God but it delivers to us the identity of God – self-giving, in relationship, bound by affection to us. God is the perfect Love, the right choice, the eternal commitment to our well-being and perfection.
And God, as Love, is our challenge – how then will we love? John is clear, “if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us” (v. 12). “No-one has ever seen God,” John says, but “God abides [in us]” when we love others, ourselves, and Him. When we love, we cannot fear others, or ourselves, or God – “perfect love casts out fear” (v. 18). John warns us that “those who say ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters are liars” (v. 20). Our love, then, must be like God’s love – constant, fearless, and committed. And we must beware of false loves – of money, or country, or lust, or prestige or we will damage one another and the world, just as Harry hurts Karen so badly.
But we must avoid gloominess too about ourselves and the world. As the Prime Minister says in ‘Love Actually’, ““General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that.” Love those you consider your enemy. Love the Taliban. Love the immigrant. Love the poor and needy. Love the non-believer. Love those of other faiths. Love the gay and the straight. Love your neighbour. Love yourselves. For “the commandment we have from [Jesus] is this: those who love God must also love their brothers and sisters” (v. 21). In the widest sense, our brothers and sisters are those whom God has made – everyone!
Such love will shine so brightly that the world will know the joy of God living in us. Your love can transform the world with the grace of God. This love will never be easy, and you may be crucified at times for it, but that is sometimes the path of God. Yet through it you will show that you ‘know and believe the love that God has for us’ (v. 16). Amen.