It looks like Hallmark has finally been caught in the net of this age’s god. Twitter is steaming mad, flinging all their sugar cookies to the ground in a rage, that, after a group called One Million Moms protested, Hallmark actually pulled an ad featuring a lesbian wedding. It was deemed “too controversial,” which is a fascinating turn of events, because I’m pretty sure the whole thing is not that controversial anymore. Just as an aside—and because love is love, and love is all you need, and the season of holiday cheer is flourishing in my loving heart*—I did live blog my way through The Christmas Prince: A Royal Baby. It’s going to be my Christmas present to all of you. I have to apply some sprinkles and sparkles to it, though, so you’ll have to be patient.
In the meantime, Love is Love. That’s what everyone on Twitter is offering as the deep logic by which they know that Hallmark has done something very very wrong in canceling the ad. Love is Love, see, it just is. And also, Romance is Romance. Some people really did tweet that. Romance is Romance.
One might just as well say, and I suppose some have, Sex is Sex. What’s the problem. There is no problem. Except from the likes of you who choke on the bland uselessness of a slogan like Love is Love.
Instead of that, come to church with me to sit in the spare, bleak winter light and hear the disappointment and heartbreak of John the Baptist. He came on the scene last week, calling for you to turn around and go the other way, to repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. And everybody went out to hear him, rushing down the road to see what all the fuss was about, the dust of thousands of feet ascending up as a cloud. Now, a week later—but really many many months at least—Jesus has superseded him, has picked up John’s own words, so that none of them should fall to the ground—Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is here—and John is in prison.
I’m sure you remember how he got there. Herod Antipas, believing that love is love, took his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, back home after some family holiday or something. There they all were on the Mediterranean Sea or somewhere, eating olives and drinking wine, a gentle breeze billowing through the curtains, light dappling across the water. Herod and Herodias—I mean, it’s practically fate or something, they even share the same name—gazed into each other’s eyes over the head of Philip. They fell in love. Nothing could keep them apart. I mean, really, nothing could because Herod was some sort of pseudo king and could basically organize his sex-life the way he wanted to and nobody had the wherewithal to say anything about it.
Except for the freak John, fanatical John, bigoted John, not good at moderating his tone John. John who can’t mind his own business and see that Love is Love. He strides up and down the Jordan, denouncing “the relationship,” and a lot of people, probably even his own disciples, wonder how it was that he got so far off message. Why be so personal? Doesn’t everybody do wrong things? Sometimes? And nobody really cares what the Herods do in their own bedrooms.
Herodias can’t take the criticism. “I need to be affirmed,” she rages at her new “Love.” “I can’t live with this kind of negativity.” Herod turns away from his new jumbotron tv screen, Joel Osteen’s shiny teeth scattering light over his confused mind, and nods. She’s right. There’s no reason to stomach a madman’s outmoded feelings about virtue. He sends his people to scoop John up and fling him into prison. Sometimes, though, he goes down to hear what John has to say, whenever Herodias isn’t paying attention. It’s sort of strangely compelling. Though mostly it is so hard to understand what he’s even preaching about.In other words, Merry Christmas. How ‘bout a little culture war with your eggnog. Wrap some presents, turn on the Hallmark Channel, hit the button on Pandora, wrap up in your cozy blanket, it’s the merriest time of the year…as long as you don’t let Jesus in, nor any of his relatives.
John, discouraged, depressed, wondering if he is wrong about everything, sends his disciples to Jesus to find out what on earth has gone wrong. Just the way that I stare at my whole life, at the confusion and muddle of everything, the piles of emotional detritus in every corner, attempting to align what I wanted Jesus to give me with what he has actually given me, finding the two do not resemble each other at all, and retreating into my phone or somewhere. And Jesus, who holds the universe in the palm of his perfect hand, offers John—what? A personal letter? Some heartwarming feelings? The rejoinder that Love is Love? What?
It’ll disappoint you, too, when you see it. This is the thing that Jesus is always ready to offer, and the thing that none of us think will be helpful. He sends John some bible verses, or, maybe, the whole book of Isaiah. Or at least this bit:
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”
I mean, Love is actually Love. Not Love Actually (which, just to indulge in a little wrong think, is a terrible movie), but Love Divine All Love’s Excelling. Love is never telling a lie about what is good. Love is never taking the cheap way out. Love is being willing to die for the sake of another. Love is lifting up the lowly, the faint-hearted, the poor in spirit, the lost, the destitute, the one who is perishing and pointing each to the God who made them, who knows them, who has the authority to tell them who they are and what they should do wherever they are, in their bedrooms, in the corner of a cab, on the highways and byways of social media. Love is the God who doesn’t affirm you in your sin, who doesn’t send your gray hairs in sorrow to the grave without reaching out his hand to pull you up, who offers you a salvation that you couldn’t possibly win for yourself for the first and most sickening reason that you don’t even really want it and cannot admit that there is even a problem. Love is sending John into the basement of Herod and Herodias, his voice wafting up through the heating ducts, to be on the spot to tell them how they are sinning before they finally have enough and do him in. Love is walking the narrow way to the cross to die, nailed there by a world that desperately hates him and wants him to stop speaking.
Love is that voice crying out across two thousand years, the pages fluttering in the breeze wafting through the hundreds of thousands of little churches (and big ones) where it is heard read in spirit and in truth even this morning. God is Love, someone said in that very book, but it’s not you that gets to say what the love looks like or how it should go. Your love is not God.
John dies as a party joke. You and I stagger through our lives, trying to keep our heads on as long as we can. And because the Love of God is bigger and more perfect than we can know or understand, he comes right to us, to save us, to heal all our diseases, to open our blind eyes, to unstop our deaf ears, to let us out of the prison of sin and destruction, to tell us the truth about everything.
*That’s just a little joke. Don’t worry, I’m more scroogie than ever this morning.