I have not even begun to love the world as the Father loves the world: a love that loves all that Love has made before we loved him.
While we were strangers and wandering after false gods, Christ lays his life down for the life of the world because the Father loves us from before he made the stars.
I have not even begun to love as Love loves.
This conviction settled on me this evening, listening to Pearl Jam’s “Sirens” in a 4x4 with my kids, Eddie Vedder’s not-entirely-hopeless lament accompanying our trek across melting snow.
There are many things in this world that bring delight, affection, awe and joy: the laughter of children, a sun that crowns tree tops with gold or the sky with flame, a well-played violin or banjo, the fragrance of honeysuckle vine on the night air, the feel of clay underfoot, the texture and taste of an orange, the sacred geometry of a snowflake, the company of friends.
But love, love that triumphs over evil and death, is something far stronger than mere affection, delight or veneration; it is harder; it demands we love what is not lovely, gracious, or exquisite.
This Love sheds its life blood, empties its soul life, for what is distasteful, resentful, impure, boastful, jealous, arrogant, murderous, envious, and sure of its rightness. Loves gives itself for what is not love.
When the body of Christ comes to love the world as the Father and Son love the world—a love that loves the world just as the world *is* in all its ugly indifference, terror, doubt, cynicism, rebellion, hatred, confusion, abuse, denial, blood thirst, and accusation—for love’s sake alone, redemption draws near to all.
If you listen to and observe the body of Christ, you might be pardoned for thinking that the primary mission of the church was the proper identification, classification, and condemnation of the world’s sins; we are cold scientists for it; when, instead, the church’s sole purpose is to proclaim God’s radical pardon, in which is found real, permanent forgiveness: the highest form of love known to man.
If I overhear the irreverent words of those who despise Christ, or observe those whose actions betray their ignorance of God’s love, starting with observing my own; when I discern the mystery of the image of God in every single man and woman—whatever their state of mind or reputation of life or disposition toward God and others—and find myself inexplicably drawn out of myself and moved with compassion for them, just as they are in the moment of their worst or best selves—like I felt connected to Eddie Vedder’s lament tonight, wherever he is—I am beginning to experience the deep love of the triune God for the world.
I get glimpses of this love in myself from time to time, this unfathomable agape, and pray it overwhelms my pride, ignorance, accusation and fear—that it overpowers my divided heart—so I might always demonstrate the power of this divine community’s holy love.
Jesus, who is the divine community of wisdom and love made flesh, demonstrates the authenticity of his words by radical, self-denying acts of pure charity.
Jesus is the highest revelation of divine love but he is also—we often neglect this—human love made perfect. He invites us, as his human brothers and sisters, to participate by grace in the perfections of his unique brand of love.
Indeed, Jesus commands us to love one another as he loves us: by the measure of God’s love and of human love in Jesus Christ. Loving others as we love ourselves is one level of commanded love but now there is a new and greater command: love others as Christ loves us. This requires the Spirit.
His followers somehow want our words to ring true in the absence of an active love that puts our everything, our life’s blood, on the line for the sake of all.
Since the foundation of the world rests on the sacrifice of Christ, his voluntary offer
ing of his entire self, there is no way after Christ to establish credibility apart from love.
Many years ago, after leading a Christmas Eve service like this one, the minister and writer, Frederick Buechner, had just settled into bed after working late into the night with his bride getting everything in place for Christmas: lights, ornaments, stockings, once-hidden presents set under the tree. The children tucked in. It was then, under his cozy blanket, that he remembered his neighbor’s sheep. He’d asked Frederick to feed them while he was away and, in the press of all the matters that make up a clergyman’s life, he’d forgotten, as I often forget, an important detail. Unfed sheep. Frederick tells us what happened next:
So down the hill I go through knee-deep snow. I get two bales of hay from the barn and carry them out to the shed. There’s a forty-watt bulb hanging by its cord from the low roof, and I light it. The sheep huddle in a corner watching as I snap the baling twine, shake the squares of hay apart and start scattering it. Then they come bumbling and shoving to get at it … puffs of their breath showing in the air. I reach to turn off the bulb and leave when suddenly I realize where I am. The winter darkness. The glimmer of light. The smell of the hay and the sound of the animals eating. Where I am is the manger.
I almost missed it…missed where I was standing. I whose business it is above everything else to have an eye for such things is all but blind in that eye. I who on my best days believe that everything that is most precious anywhere comes from that manger might easily have gone home to bed never knowing that I had just been in the manger. The world is the manger.
My world is the manger. Your world is the manger. We’re all in the manger where Christ is laid.
The Word become flesh and made his home among us, and Mary laid him in a manger, laid him in the heart of the world, for us and for our salvation.
"Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed," as some unholy ‘doctors’ do. The everlasting made fragile. Incarnation. The scene is not tame like a Hallmark card. It is not beautiful. As with all non-anesthetized childbearing, agonized labor led to his birth. Even as celestial choirs serenade the shepherds with Gloria, there’s an angelic battle in the heavens (Revelation 12), eternity enters time, a tearing occurs in the fabric of reality.
"We can only cover our eyes and shudder before it, kneel before this: ‘God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God…who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven.’"
He came down. He moved into our neighborhood. Not until then—not until it occurs to us that only Love could do something so self-emptying and impoverishing—do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the Resurrection and the Life that Mary now holds in her arms.
He who cannot be contained was contained in her teenage womb. The immense omnipotence of the Creator made as vulnerable as a baby, flailing his arms against the cold and the dark. The one who made all things now utterly dependent on Mary and Joseph for food, shelter, warmth, and life. Laid in a feed trough. Laid amid animal breath and straw and shit. Laid in our midst, for us and for our salvation.