[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jonathan Slywka is a prairie boy at heart, but longs for hills on which to climb. He loves snow, and gingerbread, but mostly his wife Sarah, and he is astounded by the incarnation.]
Love is quite possibly one of the most overused and misused terms in our vocabulary.
We will commonly say “I love snow” or “I love gingerbread”, and while it is always understood what is being said, we rarely pause to consider that perhaps “love” isn’t the most appropriate term. Or, we turn on the radio and hear any number of “love songs”, which really means songs describing a feeling of intense physical attraction that could and probably will (in the case of most of the people singing them) be directed at somebody else very shortly. Clearly, “love” in these terms is shallow, fleeting, and not all that meaningful.
And then we turn around and say something like, “God is love”.
This is, of course, a perfectly appropriate thing to say. In fact, the very words can be found in 1 John 4:8 of the Bible. But, a problem arises when we begin to wonder what God has to do with any of our shallow, fleeting, and meaningless ideas of love? Even at its very best – as the bond that unites two people in marriage, or the selfless concern that causes people to sacrifice their time or money to help others – our human idea of love cannot begin to describe what God is really like; we could never comprehend Him simply by projecting our human conceptions upwards. Rather, we must wait for God to reveal what love truly is.
And He has.
I find it absolutely astounding that our God has condescended to know us, and to make Himself known to us. This is, of course, what we celebrate at Christmas: that God Himself, the Creator of heaven and earth, took on flesh and dwelt among us. He is Immanuel, God with us, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. And in doing so – in being born, in dying, and in rising again to glorious life – Jesus has shown us what love truly is: it is what unites Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together as our triune God; it is what caused Him to create us in His image; and, when we had forsaken that image, it is what drove Him to sacrifice Himself on our behalf, that we too might be raised to glorious life in Him. “For God so loved the world…”
Thanks be to God! We can now see clearly what love is. This love has nothing to do with our own affections or even our sincere desire to do good; it has everything to do with whom God has revealed Himself to be. He is our Creator, our Redeemer, and the one who continues to re-create us in the image of our risen and glorified Lord Jesus, that we might reflect the love of God back to Him and onto our fellow humankind.
“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)