Courage to Love

It’s easier to hate than to love, so they say.  Love takes hard work.  Though I’m not so sure about this for some people put a lot of effort into their hate and some are lazy in Love.  It takes great courage to love. For as we hear from St. Paul, Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Well that’s nice.  Good for love.  Where does it leave us? For often we’re given a vision of Love which is more like the following:

Cruel, intolerant, indignant, restless, hasty, demanding, impetuous, merciless, fearful, and Love, we hear keeps a long and very detailed record of wrong-doing.  Not quite the image of Love in St. Paul’s letter, more likely to be found on some TV show or other – sadly too numerous to mention.

‘Love is a verb’ say messers Mooney and Wroe in ‘Lifelines’ and as every grammar teacher is wont to say that’s a ‘doing word’.

‘The most excellent way’ begins with the one writing. Reminding readers that if one doesn’t act out of love then one is but a clanging cymbal or a sounding brass (if you read the authorised version) which immediately reminds me of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Gareth crying out ‘Good Point’. Then there is the description of the Love Agape, the love of god, where ours might fail god’s does not. 

So here is an exercise in doing Agape Love with the most excellent way.  

Remove the word love and insert the name of the person with whom you’ve just argued or whoever has just been on the other end of the telephone when complaining to the government, bank, or whichever institution it might be this time.  Chances are that the person, yes, we often forget, the voices on the other end of the line are not synonymous with the company and its poorly constructed telephone system, policies or government department seemingly intent on mystifying us as to the correct way to go about whatever it is we are desperately trying to do, but a person, just like us and most probably having as awful a day as well.  So before firing off the email repeat the passage with the recipients name. Inserted instead of ‘Love’. There is one more step though.  Before doing all that, and this is the hardest of all, believe me I’ve tried it, insert your own name instead of the word love, for unless we are able to first love ourselves we will not be able to love others as God has intended…

Ordinary – extraordinary

Before indulging in the Johannine wedding feast we ought to set this story in its January context, why it is told during epiphany.  We begin to celebrate the Epiphany on 6th January, a festival which arose in the second century, largely in response to Greek and Hellenic festivals noting the position of the star Sirius, the many purification rites and rituals around washing; and the birth of Dionysus, the Wine God.  Against that background in Christianity the stories were brought together celebrating the star leading the magi to the child Jesus with their gifts. – the baptism of Jesus and the wedding at Cana.  Birth, Baptism, Marriage.  Hatches, Matches and of course you know the third in the rhyming triplet – Despatches – look forward then if you will to next week – not quite, but as they say – our death is in our life.  Epiphany does begin to tell the whole story the revelation of who Jesus was in these few short weeks culminating at the Presentation of Christ – Candlemass the celebration of the light. So back to the wedding – what does it tell us about this Jesus we are supposed to be discovering.  There is something almost unique about this story and something quite ordinary – yet extraordinary too.  The unique first – More wine? Is there really a pressing need for this.. ah yes, more wine, sorry – my mistake!  Beyond saving the bride and groom of the humiliation that they had not provided enough wine for the party, no one is dying, no one is ill or paralysed or blind.  There was no pain or suffering. No one is in need of emancipation.  No one is told to go and sin no more.  It seems that it was an act simply for the joy of the party.  Perhaps why Jesus suggests to his mother – …”what concern is that to you and to me?”  But perhaps saving the Bride and Groom from the humiliation of appearing inhospitable was enough which leads us on to the ordinary.  For you might not notice, but despite what John tells us at the end of the passage we have just read, there is no great reveal of what Jesus has done, our text tells us plainly that only the servants knew where the good wine had come from.  There is no great prayer of transformation by Jesus, no ceremony, nothing which anyone might suspect was out of the ordinary until the steward tastes the wine and takes it to the groom to ask why he saved the best till last.  The extraordinary ordinary act, quietly with no fuss and pretence Jesus transforms what might have been a humiliating end to the wedding feast.  The small miracle of joy, the little things unannounced and unexpected which transform the situation.  That’s miracle enough for me.  We could do with a few of those.  In fact there’s no reason why each of us couldn’t be part of one, quietly providing an unexpected gift where it is needed.  Offering words of encouragement, comfort and support.  Sending a message to those having a hard time.  The transformation our small actions have may not be seen immediately, nor will everyone know who has been responsible, but that’s the point.  Jesus doesn’t want or expect recognition and actively avoids it.  Yet for the bride and groom instead of what could have been seen as a lack of hospitality they receive the credit.  Instead perhaps of a celebration remembered for the lack of drinks it is remembered for the ordinary yet extraordinary.  What might that look like for us? A tin for the food bank collection.  A welcome to the stranger.  A kind word on the street.  Even a gift as simple as a smile.  Don’t pass those moments when we have the opportunity to do the smallest ordinary things which for others become the extraordinary.

Shadows in the stars

I won’t claim to be able to explain that beautiful, mystical reading we hear from the gospel of John at Midnight Mass except to say that if we listen closely to the lyrical tones of that haunting poetry attempting to describe one of the most perplexing moments of this earth’s history we might just catch a glimpse of the shadows in the stars.  Those moments of pure beauty when all is reconciled and made well again.  Yes they are rare, but at Christmas, the impossible comes to birth.  It is the most wonderful time of the year.  A little snow falling and you could almost imagine anything being possible.  With good cheer good will and a little Christmas magic, you could perhaps forget the woes of the world outside of our doors for a day.  With softened lighting, images and decorations in red green and gold offering that romantic, perhaps nostalgic feeling when families are reunited and honest conversations are had around the Christmas tree.  When there is a moment of change and redemption a recognition of past mistakes and pledging to try better in the future, we might just return to the whole that we once were.  The essence of Christmas is the possibility of healing.  Not just of an individual, whilst I’ll not bet on the healing of our nation, let alone the world over the turkey and stuffing this year perhaps I should have more faith in those shadows in the stars and make my wish for bigger things.  A little reconciliation and forgiveness goes a long way and we can identify with those moments of healing and change, we all need a bit of it happening to us as well. Perhaps it’s possible too that for a couple of hours out of the whole year we are the people we always hoped we would be. And if we’re looking for a symbol of this heavenly blessing then let it be the crib here laid with cloths writ with hopes and dreams for this earth expectant of the child to come, the one of whom the stars foretold, the one on whom our salvation rests. Or let it be perhaps these transparent gift boxes suspended here containing gifts given not of gold or frankincense or myrrh, but of life.  Or perhaps let it simply be the notion that there once was a whole and perfect world and that each of the moments we spend in healing or reconciliation brings us that little bit closer to that which we once were.  As we ponder on these things this most wonderful night we ought to prepare for moments of unexpected beauty not because there is magic in the stars, but because we believe we can bring them about.  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.


With acknowledgements to James Agee’s Poem ‘Sure on this shining night’ set to music by Morten Lauridsen.  And to Mark Kermode’s ‘Secrets of Christmas Cinema’.  And to ‘Cloth for the Cradle’ from the Iona Community book store.