“Love sought is good, but given unsought better.” – Olivia, Act 3, Scene 1, Twelfth Night
That line is from Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, otherwise known as Epiphany. You might have been forced to read it usually as a sophomore. The play has two themes that play on Epiphany. The first is wisdom and foolishness, or what is wise and what is foolish. The second – like most of Shakespeare’s comedies – is about the true nature of love. Olivia thinks she is being wise playing a “courtly love” game which ends with her foolishness of falling in love with a woman dressed as a man. And it is all played as a farce. Shakespeare’s comedies have all kinds of troubles today.
I guess I blame Reformed Protestantism. If you followed Calvin or Zwingli, they more or less ditched the church year. Every Sunday was the Lord’s Day. Elevating any day as a Holy Day was Judaizing (using Paul’s term from Galatians.) And while they have a point, every Sunday is a little Easter, life is not quite that flat. Romans 14: 5-6 should have solved that. But the United States was largely a Reformed Protestant project, so we get Christmas Day and grudgingly Easter (although that is disappearing into Spring Breaks not always around Holy Week), but we’ve lost the seasons.
The season of Christmas is twelve days, Dec 25th – Jan 5th. The carol The Twelve Days of Christmas is an echo of that. It might also be a Roman Catholic crypto-polemic against the Reformed erasing. And the entire 12 days were often something of boozy hazy time ending with a big party on Twelfth Night when gifts were exchanged. After all, it was the coming of the Magi that brought the gifts. Hispanic Cultures still maintain a bit of this as Tres Reyes. The Protestant Work ethic couldn’t imagine 12 boozy days, so we pack up the tree the day after.
But that’s enough dissembling, or maybe I’m just in a Christmas Season mood and can’t think straight. Olivia’s middle of the play statement captures something about the Christ child and the love of God. It is good that we love God. For God has sought our love. But the better is that he has loved us unsought. When we were lost in darkness, God sent His light. Whether that light is the fuller light of prophetic revelation, like “out of Egypt I have called my son” which ties the entire story of Israel to this Israel reduced to one, or a light given in a star to a bunch of foolish astrologers, God sought us out wise and foolish, while were all in the dark. He gave us His love unsought. When we were still sinners, Christ loved us.
The church built in a season, and then a fuller Epiphany season, to absorb the immensity of that truth. She can proclaim the reality in an hour. Your head can hear the message. But the heart doesn’t always work on the same timetable. And lots of wisdom and foolishness happens as love moves from head to heart.