Our first week was all about moving from restless hurrying to clearing space for hope and anticipation. Our second week was all about moving from envy and consumerism into joy. In both weeks, we started with one of the major pain points for this time of year, and built a path from that pain point into one of the corresponding themes of Advent. So to start this third week and our exploration of love, we want to first ask the question: What is the opposite of love?
Many people would say “hate.” But there is a kind of momentum with hatred that actually has a lot in common with love. The man who would become the Apostle Paul had a profound hatred for Christianity; then, after an encounter with the risen Christ, that same zealous hatred was transferred into zealous love for the faith he used to fight so hard against. Love and hate are both passionate in their intentions, and they both vigorously pursue their goals.
In this way, love and hate are closer to each other on the spectrum. So what’s at the other end of the spectrum? We would argue that it’s indifference. While love and hate both have a kind of passionate energy, the one who is indifferent has lost his or her motivation to pursue anything at all—or else, they never had the motivation in the first place.
Many people are frustrated by the indifference they see in their families, maybe particularly around the “true meaning of Christmas.” There are many reasons our loved ones might feel indifferent, but the solution always starts out the same way: if we want to help someone care about something, first, we have to care about it. If we want someone else to value something, then we have to value it. This is just as true for pursuing Jesus during the holiday season as it is for anything else. We can’t lead someone somewhere we aren’t going ourselves, and as human beings, we only value what has been modeled to us as valuable.
Love requires vulnerability. Expressing love requires investing in something or someone outside ourselves—and opens us up to the possibility that our affections will not be returned or our energy not repaid. Because human beings are imperfect, and sometimes cruel, love is always a little bit of a gamble, and the indifferent person has usually gotten tired of gambling. So instead, they decide to conserve their resources—specifically, their time, energy, and emotion. They are tired of putting themselves out there and experiencing pain, so they default into a kind of self-preservation.
Self-preservation is just as much the opposite of love as indifference. The person committed to self-preservation has often been hurt by reaching out or trying to form attachments to others. They come to the conclusion that others aren’t going to help “preserve” them, so they decide to preserve themselves.
But instead of being self-preserving, Jesus was utterly self-sacrificial—because He knew instead that God would preserve him. Philippians 2:8-9 says, “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name.” Jesus tells us that the same pattern holds true for our lives as well. As he puts it in Matthew 16:25, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
What does it mean to lose our lives for Christ, in love, and then to find it? We’ll be exploring that question this week.
Sometime today, or as soon as you’re able, ask your family one of these questions:
- What do you think is the opposite of love?
- What does it mean to live self-sacrificially?
- Why do you think people act in self-preservation?