I woke up this morning thinking about Saint Nicholas and Santa and Jesus and how the apparent dichotomy of Christmas all fits together. It was to be a day of cookie making and merriment and enjoying the littles under my wing. I was excited to teach the children about this beautiful man – Saint Nicholas – and how the church right around the world was honoring him today. He was a man of means who gave generously and anonymously to those in need. Out of his life and ministry grew legend and folklore which has morphed and changed through time and cultures, but always, always he’s represented giving and generosity and charity – values originating from the very heart of God.
And then I learned the news of Nelson Mandela’s passing – the father of a nation, a leader of leaders, a hero across borders and boundaries of race, class, politics, and religion. He, too, was a man that inspired millions to live in a different way. He was giving—always giving—hope, inspiration, grace, forgiveness. An ambassador of love – first to a nation in crisis, and then to the whole world perched in waiting, longing for change.
These men – one a priest, one a prisoner and a president – had influence immeasurable among a broken world in need of hope and healing, kindness and love.
I often feel inadequate in knowing how to help my children understand and know the importance of those who have gone before us, paving the way for us to love better, and today was no different as my good intentions gave way to a morning filled with noise and bickering and begging and general life-with-littles chaos. I grappled with tiredness, grumpiness, and feeling resentful, while also feeling the heart tug of remembrance for these great men, a sadness for the loss of one of our generation’s truest heroes, and a stirring in my heart to meditate on Love in its purest form.
It felt like such an ordinary day… and yet an important day, entirely unordinary (or perhaps even extraordinary?).
I have no profound revelation, no tidy conclusions about how to mark this day in a way fitting to how Mandela (or Saint Nicholas) has marked us and changed history. But remembering their lives spurs me to meditate on this passage of love, which rings truer in my heart than anything else in this hour:
The Way of Love (from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians)
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
Dear friends – you and I? We’re bankrupt without love. May we be inspired by these great men (and so many others) to let Love lead us and shape us and grow us toward one another. And may we also pursue lives where we spare no effort to love one another well, give generously, and do our small part to make the world a better place.