Proclaiming God's love this Christmas

December 14, 2009

Love one another as I have loved you. John 15:10

"Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas": take your pick. For years now the armies of inclusion have battled the troops of tradition. No year passes without a breathlessly televised crèche controversy or a school pageant showdown.

Naturally, I've always been a "Merry Christmas" man myself. But this year I think it's time to step up the game.

"God loves us" captures Christmas for me. It packs a wallop. And it's even four letters shorter than "Merry Christmas."

God's love in the gift of Christ says it all. It inspires us, surrounds us, sustains us. It consoles our pain and crowns our joy.

As John Paul II preached in Central Park: We must go to this Child, this Man, this Son of God, at whatever inconvenience, at whatever risk to ourselves because to know and love him will truly change our lives.

The Christmas story is our portal to the love of God made flesh in the life of Christ. As Luke tells us so beautifully, the shepherds were the first to have their lives changed by the loving presence of God gloriously proclaimed across the skies and focused on the child in the manger.

In Matthew, it is only a few dozen paragraphs from the departure of the Magi to the Sermon on the Mount -- the timeless blueprint of God's grand design for us -- Christ's valentine to all who would live in his love.

Don't let the sugar-coated Christmas songs confuse you. God's love for you is not sentimental mush. It is the strongest power in the universe. Before Christmas 1943 pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from a Nazi prison to his parents. He had been safe in a New York professorship, but returned to Germany as "an agent of grace" to stand against demonic evil. Beaten but not broken, he savored Christmas as never before. He wrote that Christmas would be observed in his prison with more meaning than in places where all that survives of the nativity is a hollow "Merry Christmas."

Seen through prison bars, Christmas came into sharp focus for Bonhoeffer. Christ's birth in a stable, his love of the despised, his acceptance of suffering and loneliness, all made much more sense from prison. For the prisoner, he said, Christmas is the glad tidings of freedom and redemption. It clearly says whatever your condition in this blink of eternity, God loves you; he longs for you; he will gather you home in glory.

In its essence God's love makes us seek what is good. It makes us reach out to each other. It makes us help each other, particularly the most helpless and abandoned. Every expression of genuine human love is a reflection of the love that God showers on us. This Christmas let's embrace and celebrate this powerful, powerful force. Let's live it, share it and proclaim it with the joy of rediscovery.

"God loves us."

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