Each Christmas we Christ-followers affirm to the world that in the birth, live, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ God expresses love in the highest, most complete form ever. Although not usually recited in Advent, the words of John 3:16 are surely appropriate here as well: “God so loved the world...” I like the words of the song sung by Michael W. Smith:
Love has come to walk among us
Christ the Lord is born this night.
Jesus, the God-person, demonstrates in practical, tangible ways what God's love looks like. God chooses to engage with the world. Jesus interacts with people, not shunning or rejecting them. He breaks down barriers, smashes cultural and religious taboos, all to demonstrate love. Jesus defines love for us.
But I'm not Jesus. I hope that ever so slowly I am being transformed into his image, but I'm not there yet. I don't love perfectly. I don't even love all that well. Years ago, when my then-fiancée and I were preparing for our wedding, we attended a series of pre-marital sessions based on a series called “Love is a decision.” Honestly, I don't remember a lot from the series, but I remember that basic point: Love is a choice. It's not primarily a feeling, though at times it is that. It's not primarily an emotion, though that may be involved as well. Love is a decision. It's a choice. Every day in every situation where I interact with others, be it in direct contact or virtually, I choose whether to act in love or not. Katie Axelson says it quite well when she writes “Love is a verb. It's how we respond both in favorable and unfavorable situations. It's a constant choice. A deciding moment.”
Faced with the brokenness of this world God could have chosen to scrap it all and start over again. God could have chosen to reboot the program, so to speak. But God, out of her very nature, chose to engage with this hurting world. God chose to enter into the brokenness, to take on our flesh, to encounter our pain, suffering, oppression, hurt and everything else in order to demonstrate love to us.
Love has come to walk among us.
Now that Jesus has returned to heaven until some point in the future, we have the choice whether to continue to live in that love or not. We first have the choice whether we will embrace the love offered to us by God. Then we face the decision to love one another. Sometimes that's easy to do. Some people are easy to love. Others, not so much. And some seem to be downright impossible. But Jesus didn't say we could love only those we like. He told us to love our enemies. He taught us to embrace those who were different from us. He showed us that love means breaking down barriers, surrendering power and privilege, affirming the dignity of those around us (as well as those who may be physically quite far away from us.)
God's love is an amazing, powerful thing. I cannot begin to say that I fully grasp or experience it, much less live in it day by day. But without that love, I cannot love my neighbor as God has shown me in Jesus. I don't have it in me. I can make a decent effort. I can demonstrate love, to a point. But without being renewed and filled with God's love, my tank will run empty in a very short time. At the same time, God's love isn't just something for me to fill up with and keep to myself. God invites me to be a conduit for his love to the rest of the world. We are the hands and feet of God, the expression of God's love to the world around us. To quote again from Katie Axelson, “When we call ourselves followers of Christ, His love should radiate from each one of us.”
Love is a decision. God chose to love the world. Will I choose to do the same?