Editor’s note: This column first ran on Dec. 28, 2012.
By now, some of you have already gotten the Christmas paraphernalia packed up and put away. The hoopla is over until next year, thus it may seem strange to read another Christmas-oriented column at this late date.
Traditionally, however, Christmas continues in the church until Epiphany on Jan. 6, when the arrival of the three wise men is celebrated.
So bear with me. According to my calendar, we’re not even halfway through Christmas yet, and there is more good stuff to explore.
Christmas, ultimately, is a love story.
The familiar words of John 3:16 may bring to mind football fans mugging for the camera more than Christmas for some. But the manger in Bethlehem is where Jesus’ mission of bringing God’s love to the world begins.
Or as Christina Rosetti put it in her beautiful poem, “Love came down at Christmas – Love all lovely, love divine – Love was born at Christmas – Star and angels gave the sign.”
We know how this story begins. (Of course, Christianity teaches that we know how the story ends, too, with love and redemption triumphing over all.)
To me, though, the interesting question for us to ponder is, “What shall we do about love in the meantime?”
Whether or not you believe that love is a gift from the divine acting within us, love is a deeply human reality that we all experience. Love is. But as I frequently counsel couples preparing for marriage, love is much more than a feeling.
Love, true love, is all about action.
Love is to be shared, not hoarded. Love is meant to multiply and expand as it spreads through a community like the ripples on a pond after a pebble gets dropped in the middle.
In wedding ceremonies these days, we don’t ask, “Do you love your intended?” Instead, the liturgy asks, “Will you love one another?” It’s a question of intent that applies equally well for relationships beyond the intimate connection of marital partners.
Will you love your family – nuclear and extended? Will you love your neighbors – known and unknown?
Will you love not only humanity, but all of God’s beloved, which includes the full extent of all creation? Will you dedicate yourself to engaging in acts of love?
Love by paying attention to the needs of others, opening your heart to care for the hurting, acting with compassion to offer healing and hope, and by working to change systems of injustice and oppression so that others might not suffer similarly in the future.
Love like this is all-encompassing, life-transforming stuff.
The traditions of gift-giving and community service that many engage in at Christmas time are basically opportunities to dip our toes into a pool that could (should) consumes our lives.
Well, that’s the goal, anyway.
Sure, this sounds highly idealistic and perhaps completely unrealistic.
But it is this very self-giving, unbounded outpouring of love that Jesus came to offer us, demonstrating that such a life of love is not only possible, but necessary.
To love deeply and fully, to love all – painful though this may be at times – this is the true mission of Christmas.
Our challenge is to live out this love not just during the holidays, but all year long.
May your sharing of love bless your life and all those around you. Shalom!
The Rev. Margaret Gillikin was the pastor of First United Methodist Church.