Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Second Week of Advent: Love

The second candle of Advent is lit, and this one should represent something very dear to the heart, and that is LOVE. We may think we know how to love children and that whatever we do, it's okay so long as it doesn't hurt anyone, but what is true love other than God's love? It is said that God does not love, He is Love itself. When we love anyone, even imperfectly, we are already experiencing God to an extent (1st John 4:7), whether we recognize it as such or not, but we have all kinds of definitions of love that get in the way and create dishonest ideas of love that often involve ourselves and our own needs first and foremost. God's Love is the purest and truest form of love, and that is complete and total sacrifice of the self for others. What we really love we give our all to, and not just a part of ourselves. We may think we "love" children by lusting after them, and indeed, society thinks the same way about adults lusting after other adults, but there is no such thing as a purely-sexual love. On the other hand, love itself can exist perfectly fine without eros, and can be even more fulfilling. We just have to ask ourselves, how does God love children? and then do likewise. 

There is much we could say about love in the gospel since it nearly pours forth from every page, but in today's gospel, we are reminded in a roundabout way of the true form of love that is not simply about saying "I'm a childlover," or "I'm a Christian," but about living truly for another. As Christ says, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). What are His commandments? Above all, "love God, and love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-40; Luke 10:27; Mark 12:30-31). You cannot love your neighbor without love of God, because when you love God, you know what God loves and you want to abide by it, knowing that God loves it most when you show love others as He loves them. John the Baptist reminds us here that in order to love God, you should be doing good works as evidence of your love. We are not defined by what we are or what we think we are, we are defined by what we DO, and if we are not actually showing God's love to children (directly or indirectly though charity), then we have no right to think of ourselves as "child-lovers." As a prophet, he gives a grave warning that those who don't turn and embrace God's charitable love now will soon find themselves without it, and will be unable to save themselves from the lack of love they had stored up in their soul:
"When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,  but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” MT 3:1-12
Even the kingdom of Israel wasn't spared from their due justice, much less will any of us be who don't turn and become like little children. At that point, Israel had been brought to its knees time and time again due to unrepentant attachments to sin, and the once-great Davidic kingdom had been reduced to occupation and desecration with Jews turning against each other. The tree that had once stood so tall as a light to the Earth (the city of Jerusalem) had been effectively "chopped down," as John says here. Indeed, every tree that does not produce good fruit is going to be chopped down in like manner. This is not because God is "wrathful," but because God can't help that which is unrepentant, which is what the teachers of the law were in their hearts. John even insults the Jewish leaders here as being a "brood of vipers," for they spread a kind of spiritual poison like a snake, despite being honorable in the eyes of everyone. John implores them not to simply be men-pleasers and come out to be baptized by him just to look good in front of the others, but to actually bear fruit worthy of the redemption that they were claiming to be seeking. 

How does a childlover "bear fruit worthy of repentance?" One of the greatest of the prophets offers the first glimpses of the coming Hope that will be the hope of both Israel and anyone else who has also been "chopped down" by their own sin and desire: 
"On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD... Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them." IS 11:1-10
When Isiah says the "stump of Jesse," he is literally talking about the family of Jesse, who was the father of King David, of whose lineage the prophesy said the Messiah would be born from (like a small shoot from the stump) to restore the Davidic kingdom. He is prophesying about the future Messiah who would come to lead men by the gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord). He says that the divine teaching power of this future Messiah was going to have the effect of literally transforming the nature of the man who humbly received it from being like a "wild beast" to being one of humility, meekness, and loving generosity. For the childlover, Isaiah is essentially saying that the word of the Messiah to come (who we know now to be Christ Jesus), if accepted, is going to transform you from a self-focused "sexual deviant" (as the world sees you, and perhaps how even you see you) into a human being of overflowing love and generosity for children and a selflessness which is more befitting of the term "boylove" or "girllove." You'll become like a little child yourself in fact, and that little child in you, though meek and mild, will be able to tame all those wild, poisonous, and deadly beasts that once controlled you back when you lived impulsively on your sexual whims. Then you'll know what real love is. 

Once more Isaiah emphasizes just how much the word of the coming Messiah will change those who hear it and take heed. The dominion of selfish desire, which so often speaks to us as the antithesis of love, will be so transformed that it can no longer harm you anymore, he says. God's people shall be so delivered once again not only from evil and sin, but also from the fear of evil and sin, that they will be like the child playing with the deadly snake and not being harmed by it or even frightened: 
"The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den." IS 11:8
Let's also remember the words of the Lord: "Unless you turn and become as little children, you shall in no-wise enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 18:3). What kind of love does a child love with? That is the kind of love you ought to love with. We all have to struggle with sin, but with Christ, we become truly a new creation and in Him and we are no longer harmed by that "serpent of old" (Revelation 20:2) and instead allow the "offspring of the woman" (Jesus Christ, son of the Blessed Virgin Mary) to "crush" the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15). We become capable of loving as He loved us on the cross. Otherwise, we are incapable of loving as God Loves. Both the Lord Jesus Christ and John the Baptist insist that we must "turn" and bear the fruits of charity in our lives, or else we can't say we have any real love in us. 

Thus we will see a return of the Davidic faith, which David so profoundly described in his beautiful Psalm 23: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me" (Psalm 23:4). Just as David didn't fear evil because of the Lord, neither will those who take heed of the teachings of the coming Messiah, according to Isaiah. He even describes what this new-Davidic "rod" will be in the new Messiah: "He will strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth and the breath of his lips shall slay the wicked" (Isaiah 11:4). Truly, Christ by His words and "breath" (which is also translated often as "spirit") did more to slay the wicked than anything else save for his sacrifice on the cross, and so truly Christ's "rod" and "staff" (His love and His spiritual graces) ought to be our greatest consolation and comfort, just as they were for David, and that is how the Kingdom of God (the "New Jerusalem" (Revelation 21:2) is built. It is built on God's love. 

In this season of Advent as we prepare for the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, our King, we should prepare a way for the Charity of God to enter our hearts so that we can love children as He loves children. First of all we have to realize and remember each and every day and whenever we are tempted that, as John the Baptist also said, "I must decrease, and He must increase."

May the Love of Christ increase in you. Grace and peace be to you. 

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