This Sunday we light the fourth candle on our Advent wreath – the candle of Love. However, the word ‘love’ means so many different things that we need to define it more clearly in the light of our bible readings. I grew up with the Beatles popular hit, ‘All you need is love’ that focuses on romantic love, and yes I can certainly agree that romantic love, the deep affection and care of a partner in life, is very special, just as the response of affection and care can be a great gift we offer again and again. But there’s not a lot of substance to the Beatles song. It doesn’t really say anything about the nature of love.

By contrast, this morning in my devotions I reached out for the hymn book and opened it at random to find a hymn to sing and the page fell open at ‘My song is love unknown.’ One of my favourite hymns. It speaks about love as selfless care given to us and to all who feel unloved, so that they may find themselves loved, even cherished.

My song is love unknown
my Saviour’s love to me
Love to the loveless shown
that they might lovely be
O who am I – that for my sake
my Lord should take frail flesh and die.

Christmas is a short season where we celebrate God’s love for this world; not just for those who are kind and thoughtful and considerate of others, but also for those who are awkward socially, for those who have been abused, for those who struggle with mental illness or depression, for those we find hard to love. God’s purpose – captured well in this hymn – is so that they might “lovely be”. God’s coming in Jesus is about personal transformation, but also about the renewal of society, and even the healing of the earth. It is such an amazing, even staggering vision for wholeness, that the Biblical writers speak of God’s purpose to create a new heaven and a new earth where everyone lives in harmony and peace.

This is a vision so bold and powerful that it is best heard as a vibrant song of joy, which is just what Mary does for us when she sings:

My soul sings the Lord’s greatness
my spirit rejoices in my Saviour – God,
for He cares about the lowliness of His slave-girl,
and so from now, people of every age will call my happy.
The Mighty One has done great things for me, and His name is holy . . .

Here Mary speaks about how God chooses to work through a young woman to bring about God’s purpose. As such it speaks to us about how God also chooses to work through each and every one of us; that God needs us as partners in his purpose to be the hands and feet, the voices and people of good news to be God’s ambassadors and vehicles of God’s grace. For the song of Mary goes on to speak about filling the hungry, raising up the humble, releasing those bound in some way so that they might know themselves as valued, treasured and love.

Yes, Christmas is nearly upon us, and yet each and every day we are called to be agents of God’s reconciling love so that they might lovely be. I hope you all enjoy a very happy Christmas, sharing the love God so freely offers to us.