John 1:29-34 (NRSV)
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
Ah, the second day of Lent. But, I suppose most of you know it as Valentine’s day.
Yes, the day in which we celebrate the feast day of Saint Valentine, a Roman priest who was martyred for not denouncing his faith, made famous for discretely officiating Christian marriages for people under persecution in the Roman empire. For these crimes he was beaten with clubs and beheaded.
But enough history–nobody really cares about that. What we do care about is the day that today is a day we celebrate an emotion–love. Specifically romantic love.
Most holidays are almost universally loved, but this one is a fairly divisive one. For those who are in romantic relationships, today is a day that we celebrate and appreciate the blessings that our loved ones have enriched our lives with. For those who aren’t in one, the perception is slightly different.
For every one person that loves the romantic meanings of Valentine’s day, there is another that quite frankly would rather every other moron in love would just go away and keep their lovey-dovey insanity to themselves.
I myself am lucky for once to be in a relationship, a wonderful one, one that has made a tremendous difference in my life, and one that I am incredibly grateful for. I love her deeply, and I am very blessed to be with her!
That said, I empathize with my brothers and sisters on the other side of the coin. Nothing makes you feel worse in this world than being guilted by society for not conforming to the expectations placed upon us to be in a relationship. It comes from our friends, families, churches, businesses, government, and worst of all, from commercials. The message we receive is loud and clear: something is wrong with you if you aren’t in a relationship.
The societal expectations are far from healthy. What’s worse, it’s been co-opted by Christians specifically as if romantic relationships were the only true way to live a happy life, when that is far from the truth. Sure, many are called to marriage, but a fair amount of people are not.
And that’s okay.
There is nothing wrong with being single. There’s nothing wrong with being in a relationship. In fact, if we listen to the apostle Paul, in his mind it’s preferable to be single, and marriage is only for those who can’t control themselves enough to stay that way! There is holiness in singlehood, because in many ways, it frees you. Singleness can free you to love others more, and that is a calling in and of itself.
A relationship is also a beautiful thing; it’s just a different kind of calling. Neither are better or worse; what matters is if there is goodness and joy to be found in it. For Christians, both ways of life can honor God.
Today though is a celebration of love, which I think is perhaps the highest ideal one can live up to, especially given the God that Christians worship is Love. This is what has been revealed to us time and time again, and I know for certain that is how I see God.
The scripture today depicts the baptism of Jesus, and important and beautiful reminder that everything has a beginning. Today is the first day after Ash Wednesday, and today we often think about beginnings, but as I mentioned yesterday in my sermon, the point of all of this season is repentance, to re-focus on God.
If God is love, then we need to refocus our attention on love itself.
More than just romantic love. Love for our families. Love for our neighbors. Love for our friends. Love for the stranger. Love for even our enemies. Love came down in Jesus Christ, and we celebrate the love that cannot be defeated; not by the Roman empire, not by death, not by loneliness, not by sin and woundedness. Love can never be defeated.
Whether you are single or in a relationship, remember that the God we worship and serve is Love. Therefore, love as God loves.