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Meditation at the Sant'Egidio evening prayer in Santa Maria in Trastevere

Meditation by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, at the Sant’Egidio evening prayer in Santa Maria in Trastevere on 14 December 2015.

16 December 2015

Rome, Italy, 14 December, 2015

Reading from 1 John 4:7-12

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

It is always an inspiration to visit you and to pray with you in the fellowship of the St Egidio movement. In your many creative ways you show that the love of God can be transformed into practical initiatives that can support those who in dramatic ways live with the reality of humanity today, including the reality of human failures and sin. Today I have had the opportunity to see how you affirm the dignity of those who are refugees or migrants living here in Rome.

In this season of Advent, we are again reminded why we have the season of Advent and why we celebrate the coming of the Son of God as a human being among us. It is to celebrate what the world needs now, which is the same as before: Love. In the text from the first letter of John, we are given two reasons why Jesus Christ has come, in two consecutive verses: To address human sin - by giving his life as an atonement for sin. And also: to give, to transform life. The first reason echoes a very strong motif in our Christian tradition as Catholics and Protestants: Jesus Christ has come to save us from our sins. There is no reason to believe there is any less need to emphasize this at Christmas 2015. The sins of humanity are as real as ever before, and we know all too well that so many people suffer as the result of human sins and evil every day.

Still, I have become more aware of the other reason for the coming of Christ, as often emphasized in the Orthodox Churches: Jesus Christ has come to transform our lives so that we can live the life God has created us to live… to live the life of love, of using our potential for the transformation towards the common good.

Last week I addressed the COP 21 climate talks in Paris on behalf of faith-based organizations. For two minutes, at the end of the so called High Level Dialogue, I was asked to give a last input before the final round of negotiations. What could be said to the negotiators out of the context of faith? There were many reasons to emphasize the human failures, the sin, that has lead to the situation in which we find ourselves, facing climate changes and unbearable injustices as to the peoples who suffer the most from them. This is definitely true, and nobody denied it in the debates in Paris.

I decided to speak about hope, hope, and only hope. I decided to emphasize the other dimension of Advent. There is also a truth in the potential of human beings to do what is right, to do that which improves the lives and perspectives of others. There is a right to hope, a right to which all people are entitled, particularly the most vulnerable. We as human beings can pledge ourselves by our acts towards transformation. We may see that there are even signs of hope for transformation towards a decarbonized world.

We can strengthen faith in God's transforming power by focusing on hope. We can strengthen the world’s willingness to change by showing that change is possible. Human lives and perspectives on the world can be transformed.

Jesus came to address our failures and to address our potentials. Both are realities, and both are needed. What unites these perspectives? Love. The love of God. The love of God that we receive as mercy, the love of God we can transfer to actions of transformation, to signs of mercy. As you do every day, in your work and in your prayer.

How can we do this? By means of love. Because God is love. Amen.

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General secretary
World Council of Churches