The second week of Advent is the week that we focus on Love. When I was in seminary, my final assignment in Introduction to Theology was to write a paper. Here are the instructions we were given: “Write an 8-10 page paper about the Doctrine of Love.” That was it. No particular argument we were supposed to make. No specific readings to compare and contrast. No historical analysis that we needed to support. It was completely open-ended. I think about that paper quite a bit. I remember how stressful it was to sit down to write without parameters. Write about love. The only way I could wrap my brain around it was to think about different ways we experience and show love. I used quotes from songs, books and movies to separate each section. As I sat to write this different type of open-ended assignment, I thought about that paper and decided to use songs as a framework for love. There is a playlist at the bottom of this post, but I wanted to share why I chose some of them as well.
The first song I thought of was “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley. The first verse is:
Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down;
fix in us thy humble dwelling;
all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation;
enter every trembling heart.
It begins by immediately saying that Jesus is love come to earth and goes on to call him “pure, unbounded love.” That phrase is what sticks with me most. What does “unbounded love” look like? And is it possible for us to show that same kind of love to our neighbors? Because I think this hymn is a great reminder of God’s love, a different version also is the last song on the playlist.
The next song is “Many Ways to Say I Love You,” written by Fred Rogers. Yes, that Fred Rogers. He sang this song on his show many times over the years, and it has also been sung on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. It is followed by “Little Things With Great Love,” sung by Audrey Assad. Both of these songs remind us that while love can be a grand gesture—like God sending Jesus to us—love can also look like singing a song to someone or holding someone’s hand when they are scared.
“Wedding Song (There Is Love)” has been one of my favorites for a very long time (and it’s one of the songs I quoted in that final paper). “For whenever two of more of you are gathered in his name, there is love.” What a reminder that God works through small groups as well as large groups. Any time we are together in the name of God, love is present.
“I Come With Love,” written and performed Harry Connick, Jr., is from one of his Christmas albums. In it, he tells the story of Jesus and reminds us that Jesus came to us with love.
“Perhaps Love,” written and performed by John Denver, has made its way onto many of my playlists over the years. Each time, it’s for a different reason, which seems very fitting for this song. This time, it’s on the list because of the many ways he describes love. For example:
Love to some is like a cloud, to some as strong as steel
For some a way of living, for some a way to feel.
And some say love is holding on and some say letting go
And some say love is everything, and some say they don’t know.
The imagery varies from gentle to strong to sadness to longing to memory. It covers so many different ways love can look and feel. I appreciate the reminder that love is not one size fits all. It doesn’t work that way for people, and it certainly doesn’t work that way for God.
The next song, U2’s “Window in the Skies” is one I associate with Easter. It talks about an empty tomb and repeats “Can’t you see what love has done?” There is action associated with love. Love has done something and will continue to do things.
The Highwomen released “Crowded Table” last fall. Right after its release, it was shared all over social media. The message of a crowded table resonates with people. I think we all just want to feel what they sing about: “a place by the fire for everyone” and “everyone belongs.” They also remind us:
If we want a garden,
We’re gonna have to sow the seed.
Plant a little happiness
Let the roots run deep.
If it’s love that we give,
Then it’s love that we reap.
I grew up with A Christmas Together, an album with John Denver and The Muppets from their TV Christmas special. It wasn’t Christmas in our house without this record, later cassette, later CD. My favorite songs on the album have changed over the years, and “The Christmas Wish” is currently in my top two. When Kermit sings “I don’t know if you believe in Christmas, or if you have presents underneath a Christmas tree, but if you believe in love that will be more than enough for you to come and celebrate with me,” it hits me right in the heart. That is what I believe God wants us to be like. To be so generous in our celebrations and our joy that we share it with anyone. I also appreciate that Kermit sings that believing in love is enough. That’s the starting point for so many people. We love because God first loved us (John 4:19). Love is where we start. Love is where we grow. Love is our ultimate goal. How wonderful that love is big enough for all of us and for all these different expressions!