But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia* and Seba in exchange for you.
4 Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
5 Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up’,
and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.’
8 Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes,
who are deaf, yet have ears!
9 Let all the nations gather together,
and let the peoples assemble.
Who among them declared this,
and foretold to us the former things?
Let them bring their witnesses to justify them,
and let them hear and say, ‘It is true.’
10 You are my witnesses, says the Lord,
and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me.
11 I, I am the Lord,
and besides me there is no saviour.
12 I declared and saved and proclaimed,
when there was no strange god among you;
and you are my witnesses, says the Lord.
13 I am God, and also henceforth I am He;
there is no one who can deliver from my hand;
I work and who can hinder it? -- Isaiah 43:1-13
The baby was hardly laid in his manger when the stores were already putting up "50% OFF ALL CHRISTMAS ITEMS" and shoveling red boxes of candy, hearts, plump cherubs and the like onto the recently vacated shelves. It wasn't even Christmas Day yet, but joy and reverence had to make way for the sensuous (not to mention erotic) and romantic gifts for Valentine's Day. By the time December 26th rolled around, the stores were announcing romance in the air, fragrances to make her swoon and diamonds for a truly spectacular gift.
We love love. Well, a lot of us do. There's something about love and being in love that makes everything better, even when the world is turning to lumps that dung beetles push around. The assurance that we are loved by someone helps make life richer and fuller, even if it is only for a few minutes. The snow may still be on the ground, but love and spring are in the air and all seems like budding branches and chirping birds.
We love love songs. Dancing with a beloved to a tune that emphasizes romance makes time almost stand still. It seems to have been that way for millennia. It's been said that the world changed to a more modern point of view when troubadours stopped writing love songs to the Blessed Virgin and started writing them for the fair ladies at court. They still write love songs to the Virgin, but the concept of courtly love has rather disappeared in favor of gratification and, sometimes, exploitation, neither of which is what we'd call "love."
Isaiah seems to have captured a love song straight from God. It is as song about what God has done for God's own people, not just the ones in Israel but from the far corners of the earth. God has ransomed them and redeemed them, God loves them and no one can change that. God doesn't need red hearts and boxes of chocolates, not when God has given us glorious sunsets, ocean waves, verdant forests, colorful canyons, fluffy kittens breaching whales, and all the wonderful and marvelous things of this world created for us to enjoy.
Sometimes it is hard to remember that the God we read about in the Hebrew Bible, the God who wasn't afraid to wipe out almost an entire world, leaving only a boatload of survivors, or who slaughtered the first-born of Egypt, whether animal or human, is the same God who loves us enough to forgive us before we ask and to want a relationship with us even if we aren't aware of it. "...[Y]ou are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you." I wonder why we so seldom hear that verse. Maybe if we heard or read it more, it would sink in and, if it sunk in, perhaps it would give us the confidence and inspiration to practice loving God's other children, no matter who or where they are.
A baby in a manger is a far greater sign of love than a bunch of chubby cherubs with bows and arrows, yet we rush past the one to get to the others. Even in churches who celebrate Christmas for the full twelve days of the season are often short-changed by culture that demands that Christmas carols stop by Christmas Day's end if not sooner. We speak and hear of love throughout the year, but sometimes it's a shallow kind of love, a self-gratifying kind that serves our purpose but can leave our partner somewhat out in the cold. That baby in the manger was an incarnation of pure love, a love that didn't come with silver spoons and expensive cribs and carriages, and didn't come to palatial homes in gated communities. The baby came to ordinary people in a less than optimal situation, but who drew angels, shepherds and even magi to his side.
The power of love is a strong magnet, and nothing draws people like someone who loves. Look at Mother Teresa. She often had doubts about her faith but she continued to love and that love drew both the sick and the healthy to her. Pope Francis is another of those, as is +Desmond Tutu. Children know who loves them and who doesn't; remember the children around Jesus when the disciples tried to shoo them away? They felt the love and it drew them in. It's no different for adults either.
There's a month to go before Valentine's Day is replaced by Easter bunnies, more kinds of chocolate and baskets of goodies. What if, in that month, we practice a different kind of love than one that is dependent on fancy cards, roses, and frilly lingerie. What if we find someone that really needs to feel loved and offer them some of the love we have stored up and have been afraid to give away. A cup of coffee, a sandwich, a bottle of water, an inexpensive blanket -- all those can be signs of love. Call a friend we haven't talked to in a while, send a note thanking an old schoolteacher, priest or mentor who has helped us along the way but who we never really thanked. It doesn't require a life-long commitment, just a few words or a gesture or two, but it can make someone's day.
The best way to get love is to give it away. Jesus is a great example of that. Skip the cherubs -- go straight to God who loves us all 24/7/365 and even 366.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, January 17, 2015.