On the third day of Christmas,
the Lord God said to me,
“Love your neighbor.”
The phrase, “Love your neighbor,” may be one of the easiest to find in scripture (once in Leviticus, three times in Matthew, and one time each in Mark, Luke, Romans, Galatians, and James!) While the passage is easy to find, acting on it is difficult. Loving our neighbor is one of the hardest exercises God asks us to practice every day, all day. In the gospels, Jesus says loving God and our neighbor sums up every commandment, every law, and every instruction every given to us by the prophets.
Loving our neighbor is important—and next to loving God, it is the most important thing we can do. But I confess, it is much easier to love my fun, kind, foodie next-door neighbor than it is to love my cranky, picky, neighbor with questionable habits across the street. The part of loving someone that requires me to be patient is the thing I need particular help with. But I’m hopeful that I can be a vessel for God to show love to my neighbors—both the one I already like and the one I am (with God’s help!) learning to like. I pray for God’s strength in loving my neighbor each day: Guide me waking, O Lord, that I may be an instrument of your love in all that I say and do today.
Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. The passage describes what love is and isn’t. Paul lists all the qualities of God’s love he can imagine: Love is patient and kind, it protects, trusts, and hopes. And Paul also lists the things that love is not: It is not boastful, envious, or resentful. With this list, we are reminded that faith, hope, and love abide. These qualities stay with us, drawing us together to the feet of Jesus. Love is the greatest of all these things—it is the root, branches, and fruit of God’s plan for each of us. The real question for each of us is, “How can we love God and each other better?”
- How does your list of what love looks like compare with Paul’s?
- Who are our neighbors?
- When do we love our neighbor?
- How do we love our neighbor?
Serve: Is there someone who lives near you who might need help? How can you help or love them? Maybe you could haul their Christmas tree to the curb, move their trash cans back from the street, invite someone over for coffee or supper, or simply share a kind word with them the next time you see them outside.
Acknowledge: Did you receive a gift that needs to be returned? Stores are particularly busy with returns right now, so the sales staff may feel frazzled or overwhelmed. Loving our neighbor can be as simple as being patient and kind to the person processing your return. Look that person in the eye and thank him or her for helping you today.
Reach: Do you have a neighbor who you may struggle to love? Reflect and pray for guidance to love that neighbor as you love yourself until you can really say you love him or her. This may take a while, but God is hearing your prayer and working on both your heart and the heart of your neighbor.
Imagine: You are Paul writing 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. What does love look like to you? What does love not look like?
What songs remind us to love our neighbors? Sing along with this version of “The Gospel in One Word is Love.”
Sing along with the first three verses of our “12 Days of Christmas” song.
The Prayer of Saint Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
The Old and New Testaments are filled with passages about how and why to love our neighbors and even who our neighbors are. Read and reflect.
Old Testament Reading: Leviticus 19:18
What sentence would you add to Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians?