The candles of Advent have never been more relevant.
Week 1 — The Candle of Hope, for a world filled with loneliness, brokenness, bitterness, and burden.
Week 3 — this week — the Candle of Love, for a world skeptical of the power of love.
Who can fathom the profound love of God in sending His Son for us? “God so loved the world….” We might have opted to simply start over, but the Father orchestrated our redemption. Love drove Him to retrieve us. Love compelled Him to reach out to us. “How deep the Father’s love for us; how vast beyond all measure.”
Such love defies our imagination.
Who would create a god who loves enemies and dies for sinners (Romans 5:8-10)? Such love looks weak. It lacks the bold and aggressive touch that gods should have. Vanquish enemies; don’t love them. Eradicate all foes; don’t die for them.
Yet, this week of Advent calls us to the same.
“I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven…. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the people you despise do that much?” (Jesus, Matthew 5:44-46)
Preemptive strikes are a common strategy in sport and warfare. “Offense is the best defense.” “Hit them first; hit them hard.” “Don’t give them an inch.” “They deserve what’s coming to them.”
This Christmas we will love on family and friends, giving gifts, sharing meals, and spending time together. That’s not Christian; it’s human. The Candle of Love challenges us to consider something profoundly different, to reach out to those who hurt us or seek to hurt us.
Those folk might be in our churches, our workplaces, our schools, or (yes) in our families. Prickly, painful, spiteful, vengeful, hurtful, unkind, unfair, rude, harsh, and demanding. We all know people who act these ways towards us. We’ve acted that way towards God.
But the coming of the Baby rather than the arrival of the Warrior calls us to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), reconcilers (2 Corinthians 5:18), and forgivers (Ephesians 4:32).
The Candle of Love declares afresh the Gospel demand; that we open our arms to “the enemy.” Christmas is the less when we fail to reach out to the least in our circles.