Risk of Love

Posted by Nathan Betts, on December 22, 2016
Topic: A Slice of Infinity

I find myself struggling to get into the Christmas spirit this year. Personally, 2016 was a year of loss. My father died suddenly in July and I have been feeling his absence sharply ever since. He was my hero and my role model. He was the person in my life who encouraged me when I was feeling down or becoming negative. Whenever I expressed to him that I did not feel smart enough or skilled enough for a certain task, his voice came through the telephone, “Go for it!”

Then I think of the tension we feel in America with the election narrative and across the Atlantic regarding the Brexit vote. The crisis in Syria, reports of wars, and turmoil flood the news headlines. There is an unease and discomfort that we all feel. I find myself in a place where I truly want to celebrate Christmas, yet I find it hard. How does one celebrate the birth of Christ after a year like this?

The Ember (Italian Immigrant) 1926 Leon Underwood 1890-1975 Presented by Garth Underwood 2001 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T07695

Leon Underwood, The Ember (Italian Immigrant), oil on canvas, 1926.

I have been reading and re-reading the story of Mary and Joseph watching over their baby Jesus in the early days of his life and I am struck by the sheer risk of love it took to bring God’s son into this world. Shortly after Jesus is born, we read of Herod the Great’s atrocities, in which he killed all the male children two years old or under in the region of Bethlehem. This part of history is not often included in the Christmas plays we see at Christmastime; the details are too gruesome for us to handle. But when we read the Christmas story carefully, we rightly understand that the world into which Jesus was born was not safe.

He was born into a family in the lower-income bracket. My 21st century imagination wants to believe that Jesus was born in a safer age and into a type of family that would occupy Downton Abbey. But the context of Jesus’s birth situates him in a vastly different world. And if these facts were not already hard enough to digest, his parents fought to preserve his life from Herod’s violence before he had even turned two.

So although I come to the Scriptures almost looking for a silver-bullet type of solution to my sorrow and disorientation, it is the raw and robust love of Christ that captures me. Christ’s coming to earth is the greatest, most precarious love story ever told. Despite the all-pervading risk and danger, God still sent his son to us.

The human heart longs for love. We want to know that we are loved. The Canadian philosopher and founder of L’Arche, an organization which focuses on empowering those with disabilities, Jean Vanier once said, “The greatest thing to calm anguish is the knowledge that we are loved. Not for what we do or have done or for what we will do, but in ourselves.” Christ’s coming to earth tells us that we are indeed loved, not because of what we did, but because of the worth that he bestowed upon us. The words from the Christmas carol O Holy Night describe this reality well:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

The last time I saw my father was in April. I am thankful that I could spend time with him, telling stories, sharing laughter, and just being with him. When I left for the airport, I said goodbye to the family. My mom, dad, and two of my sisters were there. I remember hugging my dad goodbye with all the strength I could muster. My dad kissed me on the face and whispered into my ear many times the words “I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.”

The last memory of seeing my father is of him kissing me on my face and telling me repeatedly that he loved me. This loss will be something I will feel for the rest of my life, but the remembrance of his love accompanies his absence.

With every hardship in life and the disorientation many of us feel in our current cultural moment, it is Christ’s love that remains. Yes, there will be dark times in our lives, but I take great comfort in the fact that the light of Christ shines in dark places, and the darkness does not overcome it. That is the good news of the birth of Christ into this world, a God who chooses to step into even the darkest of places so he might come near.

 

Nathan Betts is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.