I wonder how many of you were interested in the poll for the best ever Christmas movie (won by the 1946 film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’); well in 5th place was that 2003 rom-com ’Love Actually’. Even though I watched a few films over the Christmas period I didn’t see it listed on TV this year!! We did watch ‘Notting Hill’ again but I digress. It may seem odd to be harking back to December but, as has been said before, Christmas builds up for months prior to the day, then disappears almost entirely 2 days after, yet we are still in the ‘Christmas’ period until Candlemas - 2nd Feb. Shops and supermarkets keep us looking forward to the next big event/s (with Easter eggs already on display); and tucked away among the cards we glimpse images of hearts and flowers as Valentine’s Day looms large on the horizon. Yes, it’s time to start planning the perfect surprise for that special person in your life…. only we are in lock down again! Anyway, it got me thinking about Valentine; who was he, and why do we associate him with love – and a love that is sometimes shrouded in secrecy?
Well, it appears there were 3 potential candidates for the honour and it wasn’t until the 3rd century that St. Valentine’s Day was declared in memory of a priest of Rome who was martyred. Legend suggests it all stems back to the time of Emperor Claudius, during the period when Christians were being persecuted, and who made a decree forbidding soldiers to marry – his logic being that married men would not fight so well if they were thinking about their wives! Valentine felt this was unjust so he defied the emperor and conducted marriages for young couples in secret. Eventually he was found out, imprisoned and sentenced to death. Legend also says that during his imprisonment he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, and before his execution he wrote her a letter signed “From Your Valentine”. Probably, though, the most plausible story surrounding St Valentine is one not focused on eros (passionate love) but on agape (love of God): he was martyred for refusing to renounce his religion.
We certainly are living in somewhat dark days, both metaphorically and physically; and love can sometimes seem to be in short supply as we find ourselves limited to what we can do and those who we cannot meet. It was into such times of turmoil that God’s amazing love was revealed in human form in the birth of Jesus, and 40 days later when the baby Jesus was presented in the temple that Simeon declared that “his eyes had seen God’s salvation, a light to enlighten all people.” Then, as now, people felt lost and lonely with no-one to help them; and Jesus still comes with a message of help and comfort, a guiding light to all in darkness. Thankfully, that message is still heard today and is responded to through acts of kindness and concern. As we anticipate Valentine’s Day and continue our Thursday evening applause for heroes, we are reminded that ‘God’s Love, actually, is all around.’