Love is such a common word we often fail to understand its implications. We could be talking about marriage. We could be talking about ice cream. Or a puppy.
Or maybe not a puppy. Katie has already warned me not to get her a puppy for Christmas. Ever. Love is as varied as the objects of our affections. It’s a word so used and abused we need a context to make sense of it.
Either that or a candle.
The fourth candle of advent, of course, is the candle of love. Which follows, as it should, the candles of hope, peace and joy. I think we get the order wrong, sometimes. We sometimes think love comes first.
But our experience, even in courtship, follows this process. Even for the kid waiting for a puppy. We long for love before it comes. That’s hope. We begin to have confidence it will come. That’s peace. The closer it gets the happier we become. Joy. And in these all we choose to love.
That’s our perspective, and the experience of all the elect. Salvation comes as a growing certainty in God’s purpose. As we learn to trust him, loving him is our only appropriate response.
Christ’s love doesn’t work that way. He just starts with love. In fact, throughout eternity, we are told, “his delights were with the children of men (Proverbs 8:31).” Or as Spurgeon put it:
As the breastplate containing the names of the tribes of Israel was the most brilliant ornament worn by the high priest, so the names of Christ’s elect were his most precious jewels, and glittered on his heart. We may often forget to meditate upon the perfections of our Lord, but he never ceases to remember us.
This is the comfort of the fourth candle, deep in the gloom of our longing. He set his love on us. And then he proved it. In advent we wait for his appearing, yes. But we also rest in his provision. The incarnation demonstrates his love. The atonement seals it.
This is not the love of which we often speak, but the love for which our souls seek—and all the other verities of the season spring from this: hope in God, peace with God, the joy of God’s presence in our lives.
In advent, symbolically we wait. But it is not merely symbolic:
Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope.
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning.
And as we light the fourth candle, waiting still, the morning we celebrate draws near:
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.
(Isaiah 9:2 ESV)
Yes, the light has shined.
And we call it love.