As a non-Christian I rarely quote the bible (unless I'm arguing with someone who selectively quotes it to attack minority groups). However there are some great messages in there regardless, and I think this may as well be my Christmas message as it is my favourite passage from the bible and one I think about often:
1 Corinthians 13:
4: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5: It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6: Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7: It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
The Greek version from which the English is translated has "αγαπη" (pron. agape). This is unconditional, selfless love (not necessarily romantic or sexual, and can include platonic love). More information about words translated into English as 'love' from the ancient Greek can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_words_for_love
I've been lucky enough (open enough?) to experience this love. It is the true love of wanting the best for someone, regardless of whether that involves you or not. The love of caring deeply and selflessly and intrinsically about someone. It is a gentle, energising, invigorating feeling. A feeling that feels true and right and fills you with light. There is a fullness, a contentment in it. It is the way I (generally) feel about my friends, my family, my cats.
I am definitely not perfect. I need to spend more time caring for and about the people I love. I think of them but I need to act on it, with generosity and communication and emotion. Sometimes (not often) I get jealous, and it means I need to step back and reflect and become a bigger and better person.
Importantly it is not jealous or possessive and it does not boast. Love is not about your Facebook statuses or photo albums. It is not about isolating the people you love from the outside world to "protect" them. It is not about getting angry because they spend time with others. It is not about being the centre of their universe.
It is not about YOU. It is about THEM. (or in my case, it is not about me). It is about wanting the best for them, whether you are in the picture or not. Sometimes it is about loving them enough to let them go their own way. It is about supporting them. It is about freedom, not imprisonment.
Love is NOT an uncontrollable tide of seething emotion. People are usually not rational as such but we do have the ability to moderate our emotions and behaviour and to strive to be better people. When we are drawn to the dark, to being egotistical or difficult or angry or jealous, we need to step back and evaluate and try and deal with those things rather than making excuses for them.
We must try our best not to be abusive or obsessive. These things are the enemy of love. Our love must be unconditional, not based on rules or bargains or pacts.
The idea of gift-giving and wish-giving at Christmas-time is not about getting an XBox. It is a reminder not just to be generous and good at Christmas but to be generous, kind and compassionate at all times. Love is not Christmas or Valentine's Day or Mother's Day or Father's Day or birthdays or anniversaries only. It is all days.
Be good to each other this Xmas. Spend time in good company and full of αγαπη. And carry it forth into the New Year.