For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son…
Have you ever wondered why most of us love the Christmas season as children, but find it more difficult when we “grow up”? The child’s hope and imagination seem powerless against the cynicism and boredom of adulthood. How many of us have thought, “Christmas used to be so meaningful and magical, but I know too much about my family or this world to get back to that place”? Knowing what we know about ourselves and this world, can we still love Christmas?
Why do most of us love the thought of caring for hard people and places in our world…but struggle to sustain that passion when we actually go? Our heart for the orphan in Africa or the slave in India burns until we get our hands dirty. We run toward a dying world, but when we see the devastation first hand, we often want to run away. Knowing what we know about the realities of injustice and the challenges of change, can we still love people when it’s hard?
Why do most of us want deep relationships…but have trouble building and maintaining them? Can we know the depths of someone’s heart and still love them? Can we let someone know and love us?
In his book Visions of Vocation, Steven Garber writes, “To know the world and still love it? There is not a more difficult task that human beings face.” If you think about the scenarios above, Garber’s analysis fits. We love Christmas with a child-like naiveté, but the more we know about ourselves, our families and this world, the more difficult that love becomes. We love the mission of God, but the more we know about the obstacles, the more we struggle to love. We love relationships from a distance, but knowing and being known makes real intimacy a terrifying proposition. To know anything and still love it is incredibly hard.
So we’re stuck. I think that if you love me, there’s no way that you could know me. And if you know me, there’s no way that you could love me. So if the Bible claims that God loves us, He must not really know us, right? The Lord doesn’t know what it’s like to live in this world. To be human. To know and still love in the midst of this mess. If not for Christmas, that might be a fair accusation. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son.” The Gift of all gifts was God giving us Himself. Christmas means that God has come…to know and love us, to be known and loved by us. Christmas means that God’s love is more than an idea or an emotion. God refused to love us from a distance. The Triune God loved us so much that the Father sent the Son to embody that love on earth. So we can never accuse God of not knowing what it’s like to be human. Christmas means that God Himself has addressed the challenge of knowing and still loving.
Steven Garber asks, “How do we see what is awful and still engage, still enter in? How can we have our eyes open to reality and understand that we are more implicated, for love’s sake, for what we see?” The answer, quite simply, starts with the Incarnation. The Lord saw what was awful in us and in the world and still engaged. What the Lord knew perfectly from heaven, He came to know experientially on earth. Jesus had His eyes open to reality and was willing to get involved, for love’s sake, to right the wrongs in the world that He made, the world that we broke. When Jesus saw us—with all our injustice, alienation, sin, and death—He did not run away. No, He ran toward us, and one day He walked toward the cross to die in our place.
If the whole story does not shock or amaze us, we’ve missed it. Jesus knows perfectly and loves perfectly. He knows you perfectly and loves you perfectly. I can’t tell you why Jesus, knowing all that He knows, still loves us. All I can do is point you to the cross, the greatest demonstration of that love. Jesus left His home to come and die in order to bring us home to God. Christmas means that God wants to know us and love us as His friends and family.
If we have been known and loved like that, it changes us. We can face the challenges of the Christmas season in our culture and still engage. We can go into our neighborhoods, this city, and the world and not shrink back from what we see. We can learn to be in relationships that reflect the reality of the gospel in our lives. Why? Because the Lord Jesus Christ knows us and still loves us. He doesn’t turn away from what He knows. For love’s sake, He enters into the great work of redeeming us. And as His people, we have the privilege of being involved in that ongoing work of redemption. The baby in the manger reminds us that God knows the world and still loves it. How might your life share that good news with the world this Christmas?