Toorak Uniting Church

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We Love and Change because we are Loved

Christmas 1
Colossians 3: 12 – 17
Rev. Dr Christopher Page
30 December 2012

 Contemplation in Blue  Ann Powell
"Contemplation in Blue" – Ann Powell

One day to go and another year will pass us by. One more day and a new year will be born. One more day and all that has made 2012 difficult, painful, joyous or fulfilling, will be relegated to our memories….. Well, not quite. The calendar which plays such an important role in our lives is our own construction. Twelve months of the year? Wouldn’t it make life a little simpler if there were ten months in a year? Why on earth do we have some months with thirty days and others with thirty-one? (Not to mention February.) Of course there are historical, religious, cultural and astronomical reasons for our measurement of time with the calendar. Most will know that we live under the Gregorian calendar. The source of wisdom in the information age, Wikipedia, tells us that

The Gregorian calendar, also called the Western calendar and the Christian calendar, is internationally the most widely accepted civil calendar. It was introduced by Pope Gregory Thirteenth, after whom the calendar was named, by a decree signed in 1582…The Gregorian calendar was adopted initially by the Catholic countries of Europe, with other countries adopting it over the following centuries.

The motivation for the Gregorian reform was that the Julian calendar (established in Roman times) assumes that the time between vernal equinoxes is 365.25 days, when in fact it is presently almost 11 minutes shorter. The discrepancy results in a drift of about three days every 400 years. At the time of Gregory's reform there had already been a drift of 10 days since Roman times, resulting in the spring equinox falling on 11 March instead of the ecclesiastically fixed date of 21 March, and moving steadily earlier in the Julian calendar. Because the spring equinox was tied to the celebration of Easter, the Roman Catholic Church considered this steady movement in the date of the equinox undesirable.

One thing we like in calendars is that they are predictable. Measuring time needs consensus, otherwise we’d never get together at the right time or in the right place. But there is also another benefit to the calendar, and that is that it’s not static. While it is true that the seasons are cyclical and that we return to spring, summer, autumn and winter each year, nevertheless each new year is different. We are older, perhaps wiser; we have seen birth and new life emerging around us in the year that has passed. Our children are older and they move into new experiences of life and living. We see grandchildren being born, even cities being built, and we are aware that we live in a dynamic universe which is expanding and growing not just at its edges but even in our own lives. And so the message of this life-giving pulsating universe is to love all that is new around you, all that is being born within you and all that is present beyond you.

Embracing Change
I hope most of us have given up the New Year’s resolution list. Let’s be honest: it doesn’t work. If anything, resolutions just set us up for failure. Instead, I love the approach by the Jesuit priest and psychotherapist Fr Anthony De Mello. He took this counter-intuitive approach to change:

Don’t change. Change is impossible, and even if it were possible, it is undesirable. Stay as you are. Love yourself as you are. And change, if it is at all possible, will take place by itself when and if it wants. Leave yourselves alone. The only growth-promoting change is that which comes from self-acceptance.

That’s a strange notion, to love yourself as you are. Most of the information that floods into our minds, in this age, gives us the opposite message. "You’re not that lovable really…. Look at how you acted in 2012. Some of the things you said. So now make a promise that in 2013 you will change and become a better person, the person you wish you were and you wish you had always been. Then you will be lovable because you will be just perfect…."

Friends, I have lived many years of my life trying to find that perfect person I should be. He must be somewhere inside. And yet the more I search the more he eludes me.

Did you note in the quote from Anthony De Mello that he acknowledged that there is change within all of us, but the only growth-promoting change is that which comes from self-acceptance.

We Love and Change because we are Loved.
We see a reflection of this in this morning’s reading from the letter to the Colossians. This early Christian writing attempts to promote a vision of a new community that is energized by an experience of love and acceptance. The author encourages the community to act out of their encounter with a God who loves them.

Now one of the problems we have is we tend to read these passages almost as if they are a judgement on us.

As God's chosen ones both holy and beloved, remember to always clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

But then comes what I think is the heart of these virtues.

Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, just forgive them; just as God has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

It is probably the word "must" that cramps the recognition that loving ourselves; loving those around us; and loving even our enemies comes from the act of being loved. And let me say, that isn’t just some esoteric notion of being loved by a being we call God. As the celebration of Christmas has reminded us, we are loved by God when we are loved and accepted by another person; a friend, a spouse, a child… fill in the blank. Anne and I saw the film Les Miserables on Friday night. A beautiful film, well acted by Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman. But perhaps for me the most powerful moment comes in the lines sung by Fantine, Valjean And Eponine:

Take my hand
And lead me to salvation
Take my love
For love is everlasting
And remember
The truth that once was spoken:
To love another person is to see the face of God.

On a similar line, it was Mother Theresa who said:

"Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and his hand in every happening: this is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor."

The changes we seek in ourselves emerge from the wellspring of knowing that we are loved, accepted and forgiven. It is not willpower that takes us forward into the new world of 2013, but an awareness and a willingness, as the author of the letter to the church at Colossia writes, that you are:

…wrapped in love, which brings everything together into complete harmony. Be thankful and let the peace of Christ rule your hearts, because you were called to be one body.

Love what is New and Coming into your Life.
So do you have any predictions for 2013? I suppose there are all the usual ones of political change; flood, fire and famine; impending economic collapse; and celebrity marriages and divorces. Of course we don’t know what the future holds for us or our fellow earthlings, other than a bit of hindsight projected into the future. But there is some wisdom that we can carry with us into the New Year. Of course it is not the Gregorian calendar that produces the wisdom we need to live by. It is in fact the presence of the spirit of life, love, hope and peace. As we open ourselves to that source of new life, we have the courage and the resilience to embrace and love all that is new around us. But again as Anthony de Mello says:

"Happiness is not something you acquire; love is not something you produce; love is not something you have; love is something that has you."

Yes, there are changes that will happen in our lives in 2013. There are changes we would like to see in our own lives, but most important for us is to contemplate the love that is hidden within us and to allow that love to do its good work within us. Love is not something you produce, it is something that produces you!

© Rev. Dr Christopher Page, 2012

Comments or suggestions on this page appreciated by email, Thanks.