Note: This entry comes from an Advent reflection I wrote for a friend’s church in Florida. It is for the lighting of the candle representing Love.
Love is not really a difficult thing to think about this time of year for most of us, is it? Most of us are preparing to spend time with friends and relatives, people we generally feel comfortable with and who are accepting of us. We are bombarded with warm and fuzzy images from Hallmark and sentimental songs about snuggling in the snow (a pretty good trick in Florida). People talk about this period before Christmas as a season of love, and we find ourselves reaching into our pockets at the sound of Salvation Army bells.
But the Christian conception of love is not all hugs and good cheer. For us love is more than just emotional, it is active and tactile. Because it is, by definition, the giving of one’s self for the benefit of others, it is often painful and always fraught with risk. What if we are surrounded this season not just by friends but enemies as well? What if we find ourselves amidst those who do not accept us, who cannot or will not love us back? Christians know the tough answer: love anyway.
This is the lesson of the stories that surround the birth of Jesus. Mary’s love for God has resulted in the strange and difficult gift of a virgin pregnancy. Joseph’s love for Mary has resulted in the dilemma of accepting her in this most questionable of circumstances. The wise men’s loving devotion to the foretold King is rewarded with a death plot from a jealous rival named Herod. It seems like everyone who loves gets into some sort of trouble. Is anyone who loves safe?
Let’s not forget about God. His love has gotten him into more trouble than anyone. His passion for Israel has led him to make promises to them that will cost him dearly. They are about to get a sign from him that they weren’t even asking for: the birth of God himself among them. Jesus’ nickname is Immanuel, a Hebrew way of saying “God is with us”. He is with us even in a manger. Even in a ministry marked by rejection. Even on a cross. His love has brought him down. Down to us. We have found that this act of God in love for Israel was also a sign of his love for the whole world. He came down to raise up us all.
So, saints, let us love not only the Hallmark way but the Christ way. Let us act boldly and at great risk to give ourselves in loving service to one another. Let us be inconvenienced, like Mary and her husband, so that others may be loved as extravagantly as we have been.