Today, December 6th, is the feast-day of Saint Nicholas. Our Santa Claus was a real person—a Christian bishop who lived from 270 to 343 A.D. Saint Nicholas is a good example of love of God and neighbor in action. He lived at a turbulent time in history.
Bishop Nicholas was imprisoned during one of the many persecutions of Christians. Throughout his tribulations, he remained a kind and gentle man, a faithful Christian, and a saintly bishop. It is truly appropriate that we today associate him with the giving of gifts.
Last Sunday, we lit the candle on our Advent wreath that represents Hope. This week’s second candle stands for “Love.”
People may think love is an emotion. “I love you.” “I am in love with him/with her.” An emotion is something inside us.
But I want to say that love is always an action.
If I tell myself that I love someone, but I never tell that person or show my love for them in any way, then what good is it?
And love always starts with God. The First Letter of John, chapter four, spells it out:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God;
everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
…and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
…We love [God] because [God] first loved us.
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.
…those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
As John put it so well, we love God because we realize that God loves us, and our knowledge of God’s love allows us to love ourselves and others. And we cannot say we love God and hate even one neighbor, not even the most hateful, evil person we know. We have to love them because God loves them.
And it is never enough to tell ourselves, “I love everybody,” if that is not clearly demonstrated by our words and deeds.
One of the actions of love is care and concern for others, especially those in need. Remember the Gospel lesson we heard two weeks ago, on the Feast of Christ the King: Jesus praised those who help their neighbors who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in prison, and otherwise in need. And he brought the message home, saying, “whatever you do to the least of these, you are doing to me.”
Notice the action words: do, doing. Jesus didn’t say “whatever you think or feel for the least of these,” he said, “whatever you do.”
And let’s be clear—we are not commanded to love only those who deserve our love. If—as I know we do—we expect God to love us unconditionally, in spite of all our flaws and failures, then we have no choice but to love each other in the same way.
This is the Gospel. This is the whole message of Jesus. This is the Way of Love that must be our life’s goal and measure.
So let us carry the light of God’s love, like this candle, out into a world suffering in darkness and sin, and let us shine our light of love on all those around us.