I’ve known for a long time I have a quick mind and a slow heart, and sometimes it takes awhile for things to truly make it past my intellectual barriers and work themselves into my being. We all bear some scars and walls of human experience that can make love hard to feel honestly or even accept. And much of human history and imagination has been taken up in song, in word, in deed, in image with the vast and almost unanswerable question, “What is love?” The answers are myriad, but none are definitive and often do the opposite of what they had hoped to accomplish by leading us astray into fictions and false images of love.
So let’s talk honestly about the most unfathomable, overwhelming, mind-blowing example of love the world has ever and will ever see. I don’t get it myself most days. And yet here we are, on the cusp of Christmas, with that last flickering Advent candle lit and bearing the name of Love.
It’s a four letter word that makes me more uncomfortable at times than the worst swear word. And it’s weighty - only a fool would attempt to write a short blog post on the topic of love. And yet, here we are, holy fools together as we wait out the last week of Advent and attempt to make sense of these divine mysteries.
This is the most beautiful and unnerving Christmas mystery of all: Love Himself draws near.
If I take the God part out, it makes sense. Most days, I am happiest when sandwiched between a sleeping hubby and baby - near enough to hear them breathing softly as they dream, near enough to touch. I'm also excited to see my family over Christmas, and spend more time with my sister as she moves to Vancouver. I like being close to people I love. And the ache of being separated or far from your loved ones is a dreaded and universal human experience. Our longing for nearness is encoded in our vocabulary - to know someone, to love them, is to “be close” to them.
My toddler lives and breathes this idea of nearness - she doesn't want more toys or more distractions. She just desperately wants to be close to me all the time. To do things with me. To hold my attention. And her world implodes when I leave her company. As you can imagine this can be maddening and frustrating, but I am constantly reminding myself that she is expressing a pure and childlike form of love - the desire for closeness, the continued and enjoyed presence of the beloved.
Closeness isn't always comfortable. I long for moments alone these days with an engaging toddler underfoot. My marriage is another example to me of the kind of transformation of the heart that constant nearness brings. Closeness means I see clearly the flaws and wrinkles of my husband. I see how he lives, how he thinks, how he is in worst and best moments. I am there to witness all the quiet in-betweens and messy transitions and collisions of outside and inside worlds. And he sees me likewise. Being committed to nearness, in love, means that even though we have seen just about everything, we remain. We stay close. We signed up for a lifetime of being near and this company, this companionship challenges and transforms me at my very core.
It can be excruciating to have someone attempt to draw near to you when you have a guilty conscience or feel ashamed, unworthy of love, undeserved, undesirable.
And really, we can avoid the awkwardness of nearness these days. We have eliminated presence and attention as a common practice just like we've done away with having to wait for things. In this speedy era of constantly available Internet content, busy schedules, things to buy and tasks to complete, drawing near and staying truly present with others and with ourselves is difficult and unnecessary.
It's becoming socially acceptable or at least commonplace enough to be half present, with the other eye and thumb on our phones, our schedules, our pressing lists of what is to be done next. We don't even need to catch up in person with our friends anymore as we have ways to remotely track their life stories online. We are more likely to interrupt our conversation with a real living breathing person with a text or notification or email from someone who is not present.
Right in the midst of this distracting blizzard of technology, acquisition of stuff, anxiety and stress, holiday festivities and the whirlwind that Christmas and much of our everyday existence has become, Advent whisks us out of the party and into a quiet snowy street and asks us to take a moment. Love draws near. God himself is in our midst. Do we even notice? Do our hearts shiver with wonder? Will we finally pay attention?
If we have been journeying on this radical Advent road, shedding our distractions, clearing out space in the rooms of our hearts and struggling towards simplicity, we will be able to glimpse the incredible fact that God is drawing ever nearer to us. As we wait, and let go, as we become ever more open and honest about the content of our souls, as we pause and just breathe in a bit of that bracing truth, there is a place for Love to land.
God, Love Himself, like the father of the long lost son, is running headlong to meet us. He wants to be near us so much that he came to us in the most intimate and risky way possible. As one of us.
So as Christmas Day approaches, and all this uncomfortable Advent waiting comes to a close, our final challenge is to do even less. To stand still and pay attention. Put down the phone, turn off your Facebook notifications, postpone or just don't do that frantic evening of shopping and just be. Let Love draw near. Find that quiet corner, that open door into His presence, that shining star beckoning us into this life of Love.
“Sometimes we forget that Jesus is also waiting. That God is waiting, tenderly, for his beloved to return.” (Jean Vanier)