Almost Christmas. The language of love, nothing personal
MANILA (24 December) - It's almost 12 midnight, almost Christmas. Having been putting some order to the disorder in my little room at home, some books and publications have come up from some forgotten years. While I was partaking of the delicious Christmas Eve molo prepared by my daughters Jinny, Daphne, and Neenah, I noticed this booklet and opened it at random. "What's Missing?" is the title of a daily devotional entry in The Upper Room issue of September-October 2008, published by New Day Publishers (Quezon City). This entry is for Sunday, 14 September 2008. Heidi A Tierney said, "I did everything I was asked to do." Teach Sunday school and vacation Bible school. Participate in Bible studies. Lead church fellowship. Be a member of the leadership team. Heidi was an excellent member of the church.
One day, someone asked her, "Why do you do all this for the church?" Heidi's reply was: "Because I love you guys!" The response to her response was, "That's a wonderful sentiment, but it's not quite the right reason to be serving the church."
Heidi then said to herself:
I didn't understand. Why was loving my friends not quite right? What was missing? God was missing. I did not have a personal relationship with God. So in Bible studies, in worship, in prayer, in ministry, and in relationships with others, I began to seek God.
Now my relationship with God is at the center of my life. God feeds my soul and sustains my life. God is my strength when I am weak, my comfort when I am afraid, my companion when I am lonely, my confidant when I am angry, my biggest fan, my best friend.
Not so fast, my friend.
But first, I must point out that I'm Roman Catholic, and The Upper Room is not intended for Catholics - Didache is, by Shepherd's Voice Publications (Quezon City) - but as a writer, I have found that I gain more insights if my readings are eclectic. So here I am, a Roman Catholic, being confronted by the classic Protestant line about having "a personal relationship with God." Today, being charismatic themselves, some Roman Catholics may mouth those exact words, but not in the fervor that the Protestants say them - and you cannot say that Roman Catholics are not Christians!
In the first place, the question was not very smart: "Why do you do all this for the church?" The question contained the answer itself. Heidi was doing it all for the church, that should have been enough.
In any case, Heidi did answer, and when she said, "Because I love you guys!" the better response would have been, "Why do you serve those whom you love?" followed by the question, "Do you serve those whom you do not love?"
Why couldn't Heidi herself see that while she served those whom she loved, the personal relationship with God wasn't missing at all - that's exactly where the personal relationship was with God! With people. When you serve your neighbor, you serve God. Nothing personal.
And yet, serving those whom you love is only, let me say, 10% of the essence of Christmas, of Christian love. The greater 90% is serving those whom you hate! If you cannot do that, your relationship with God is only 10%. It matters little how many Bible versions you read - I read 5, how many Bible studies you undergo, how many worship services you attend to, how many prayers you religiously send God in earnest, how many ministries you serve in, and how many relationships you have with others whom you love.
I know. To serve those whom you hate is your greatest hate, but it's all very simple: You cannot serve God and Demon, both at the same time. You cannot serve God and discriminate at the same time. Jesus himself told the multitude; those who have ears, listen! (Matthew 5: 46-48, The NRSV, Catholic Edition):
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
That's the point: To be perfect. To be Christian is to be perfect, 100%. You serve your church 100%, and yet you serve your spouse only 10%, because of your 90% hate. You cannot find a personal loving relationship with God, on one hand, in having a personal relationship with members of your church because of your love and, on the other, in not having a personal relationship with your spouse or daughter or son or distant relative or officemate because of your hate.
While you seek God in your Bible studies, in worship, in prayer, in ministry, and in relationship with others whom you love, all the more you must seek God among those whom you do not love. When you find Him there, you will find the greatest God of all. The Greatest Creative Force. May the Force be with you!
God did not become a baby and wasn't born on Christmas Day seeking a personal relationship with only those who loved Him. He did not come giving love. He came seeking love from those who hated God by hating their fellowmen, those who sinned against God by sinning against people. That is the essence of Christmas.
Your relationship with God should be the center of your life, yes. But you cannot love God without loving your fellowmen, especially those whom you hate. "I love humanity," Linus of Peanuts says. "It's people I can't stand!" How can you go on with your life at peace when hate feeds your soul and takes hold of your body? How can God be your strength when you cannot see God in the weak? How can God be your comfort when you cannot comfort the nearest one who is lonely? How can God be your confidant when you're angry? How can God be your biggest fan when you ignore the biggest number of His creatures? How can God be your best friend when you cannot begin to be a friend to those who are not your friends, whom God loves as His friends?
Almost Christmas is not Christmas. Christmas Day and any day, you must speak the language of love, or at least not speak at all.