Advent is a season of remembrance, and few things fuel us more than to remember, “For God loved the world in this way . . . ” (John 3:16, CSB), for this love comforts the brokenhearted. But, do we understand the meaning and depth of love?
I was reminded of this love recently when my family experienced an expected, yet painful, loss. My grandfather passed away after many years battling health complications. Yes, we knew it was a matter of time, but losing a loved one is a serious and bitter matter. It’s a raw reminder of the brokenness of life on earth.
Even during the Christmas season—a time to celebrate love, joy, and peace—we continue to find ourselves calling to God from the depth of our sorrows. Maybe it’s not the loss of life that haunts you, but continual torture from past mistakes. Perhaps a dysfunctional family, broken relationships, or financial burdens weigh you down. In a world like this, where do we go? Our longing is to look to the future with hope, but the heart must first grieve and be comforted by truth.
What is Love?
During Christmas we buy gifts to remind others of how much we care for them. Stores are filled with cards meant to “share the love” with others. Magazines, TV shows, the news—all of these mediums insist we must “love each other” in this season. But why should we love others? And furthermore, are we using the same meaning of the word “love”? The sad reality is that our eagerness to love is compromised by a misunderstanding and generalizations of what love truly is.
So what is love, really? The Christian faith has language for this: “God is love” (1 John 4:16 CSB). This love is shown to us in what He has done in Christ. But our society is so foreign to its inner condition that the work of Christ is no longer a matter of wonder. For this reason, 4th century Christian Athanasius explained in his writing “On the Incarnation“ that to understand the wonderful news of Christmas, “it is necessary . . . to speak of the origin of human beings, in order that you might know that our own cause was the occasion of his descent and that our own transgressions evoked the Word’s love for human beings.”
In Genesis 1 and 2 we read about God’s beautiful creation, including Adam and Eve who were given everything they could ever need in the garden and walked side by side with God. But in Genesis 3, everything changed. Adam and Eve did not count the cost and sold themselves to a lie that was not worth the price. God loved them, but they chose to disobey. Since then, all their children sin, fall short of the glory of God, and, despite their best efforts to blame someone else, they are condemned.
Throughout the ages, the people of God have cried out for deliverance, but if we don’t understand the significance of this plea in light of our human condition, the coming of Christ may not be marvelous in our sight. Whether as exiles, enslaved, or oppressed at the hands of foreign rulers, God’s people have suffered the price of their rebellion and disobedience. And even with the sacrifices ordained by God, they could not fully atone for their transgressions. But God stepped into our world and made a way: “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16, CSB).
As the Nicene Creed has declared for generations, “for our salvation, he came down and was incarnate.” The giver of life comes and dwells with us and reveals God’s plan to save the world. It’s as Richard Sibbes once said: “Grace has not a body to appear visibly. But Christ appeared; and when he appeared it was as if grace and love had been incarnate, and took a body. So that grace and mercy most of all shines in the incarnation of Christ.”
This is the true display of love. The only-begotten Son of God came down from heaven to “lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, CSB). By showing the greatest love that there is, it was necessary He suffer to the point of death in human flesh.
Therefore, let us rehearse and listen to the old story again and anew, so our hearts will be pointed to the faithfulness of a loving God who did a great thing for us. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Love has come; let every heart prepare him room.