Advent 3: Season of Love

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

As young adults, my sisters and I hosted our first Christmas party with our church family. We sent the invites, cleaned the house, and baked cookies late into the afternoon. Pleased with our attempts at domesticity, we looked for some of my mom’s platters buried deep in her cupboard. As we pulled out the 1970s ruby glass platter, I noticed just a slight trace of dust, likely due to lack of use. Exhausted (and maybe a little lazy), I ignored the dust, and quickly placed the cookies on the dusty platter. The party was a success, despite dusty platters.

At Christmas, my husband is one of the jolliest souls I know. He loves old Christmas movies, especially “White Christmas”, collects vintage Christmas books, and listens to Bing Crosby. But when the song “Christmas Shoes” comes across the airwaves, my husband gets a little Grinchy. The song records the plight of a young child trying to buy a pair of shoes for his sick mother. It pulls on the heartstrings by expressing that the shoes will help her look beautiful if she meets Jesus, tonight. Please do not think my husband is heartless. He has teared up over the course of fifty viewings of George Bailey’s basket of donations during “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Unlike the Grinch, his heart is the right size. He just doesn’t appreciate contrived emotionalism.

The Christmas season invites differing opinions about music, movies, traditions, and foods. There are those who love Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” while others hate it. Most Americans seem to despise fruitcake, but across the pond, the love of fruitcake is alive and well. The Elf on the Shelf tradition elicits various responses, from those who chronicle the Elf’s antics on Instagram to those who wouldn’t chase the dog running away with the Elf in his mouth. We throw the words love and hate around casually, like the strands of tinsel that float around your house for months after Christmas.

This week in Advent, I am focusing on love. Even in researching Advent, I found some traditions disagree where to place love: either in the third or last week. Wherever you place it, John 3:16 clearly explains that Jesus came because “God so loved the world”. This love is not fickle like our love for fruitcake. It doesn’t compare to our love for our spouses, because sometimes that love is a choice, not a Hallmark moment. Pet owners declare undying love for their pets and may go to great lengths to care for them, but this love doesn’t measure up to God’s love. The closest human relationship we have with this kind of love is how a parent loves their child. But the Bible records that even though we provide amazing gifts for our children, especially under a Christmas tree, these gifts don’t compare to the gifts from God.

As a child, my son, Ethan, loved Christmas as much as his father. He was the first to turn on the lights on the tree, couldn’t wait to indulge in Peanut Butter balls, and had his favorite songs on repeat during the holidays. Even his sense of gratitude matched his love for Christmas. After opening each gift, he would bellow, “Thank you, mom and dad” followed up with a big hug.

As I unwrap the gift of Jesus, I want to express my gratitude as well. Jesus chose humility by being born in a stable full of animals, even though He was the King of everything. He endured a life of hardship and poverty when He had access to all the riches of the earth. And finally, He suffered unbelievable pain to bring me hope, peace, and joy, all for the sake of His love for me.

And who am I to be worthy of such a gift? Elyse M. Fitzpatrick, as quoted by Ann Voskamp in “The Greatest Gift”, helped me answer this question. She said, “I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared to believe, but more loved and welcomed than I ever dared hope.” This quote has resonated with me as I examine where I fall short. I am a sinner, and no matter how I try to paint things, I have lied, judged, been harsh, and refused to do the things I know to do. And if I say I have no sin, I “deceive myself and the truth is not in me.” Like cookies on dusty platters, I may look good to others and even to myself, but Jesus looks underneath and knows who I really am.

Yet, despite this understanding of my sinful heart, Jesus loves me unconditionally. He doesn’t love me based on what I do, how I perform, or even how others perceive me. He loves me and welcomes me into His family as His adopted daughter. It is a relationship full of privilege and blessings. I have the hope of eternal life because His love covers a multitude of sins. I can move towards wholeness where sin had left me broken. And it’s His love that transforms my brokenness into the beautiful story I live today.

Yet, while I bask in His love, I can’t keep it all in my own heart. This love needs to be shared not just with my family and friends, but with the marginalized in my community. When I read the Christmas story, I marvel at the birth of the Messiah. Angels revealed His birth to shepherds. Simeon and Anna recognized Him as the Messiah in the temple. Wealthy wise men searched for the newborn king and presented Him with presents. Meanwhile, the so-called royalty of Jerusalem, baffled by the wise men’s inquiries, attempted to use them to destroy this new king. Poor farmhands, senior citizens, and foreigners got a glimpse of the baby who would change the world. From the time of His birth, Jesus cared about all people with an overwhelmingly abundant love. With such a great gift given to me, how can I help but share it with others?