Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love Divine, Love was born at Christmas, Star and Angels gave the sign.
Thus begins the 1885 poem written by Christina Rossetti that was set to music to become the Christmas carol we know as Love Came Down at Christmas.
The words of the poem remind me of the words of the familiar passage of scripture that ring even more poetically–“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
The power of John’s words can almost be lost because we are so familiar with them. His words are like the Christmas story itself in that regard. We (as followers of Jesus Christ) are so familiar with the story that we often fail to sense its power, but we must never lose the power of love that came down at Christmas.
A Mother’s Love
There was a lot of love around the manger on that night so long ago. Who can look at a manger scene without thinking of Mary’s love for her child? There is nothing like a mother’s love, even if you are the mother of God. I am reminded of the words of Mark Lowery’s incredible song Mary Did You Know? Lowery paints a vivid picture of the relationship between Mary and the baby Jesus:
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am…
There is some biblical evidence to suggest, perhaps, Mary did, in fact, know. Even if she did, it couldn’t change the deep connection and affection she had for her newborn. That is a manner of love we see at the manger, and it is a good and fulfilling and meaningful love, but it is not the love that came down at Christmas.
A Husband’s Love
We also can’t look at the manger without noting the love of Joseph. I can’t honestly say how Joseph felt about his little man lying in the manger, but I’m pretty certain I can know how he felt about Mary. Here she is having gotten pregnant, Lord only knows how, yet here is Joseph with her at the birth of this child.
Yes, I know, there were angels who visited him to assure him of God’s direction and leadership, but still, ya’ gotta’ think, “What’s up with that?” But, Joseph loves Mary, and because he loves Mary, he is there. We see the love of a husband for his wife, and it is a great and honoring love, but it is not the love that came down at Christmas.
We have to go deeper and further back in history to capture the love that came down at Christmas. Back in the earliest recorded history, we find that God has a story of love for us. In Genesis, we read a story about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God has spent his time doing nothing but preparing a place for humanity to dwell. He’s created the earth, the sun, the moon, the animals and a place to live. He’s done this all for the sake of one man and one woman—Adam and Eve.
Picture this… a lush green landscape filled with every kind of fruit tree. Ripe harvests of fresh fruits and vegetables are ready on the vine, in the trees and on the ground. Colorful flowers fill the area with roses, tulips and other assorted colors and smells. And, a beautiful river flowing right through the center of it all. In a word, paradise.
Adam and Eve were greeted with the immediate presence of God in their midst. They talked directly with God every day (just like you and I have a conversation). They knew God in a way we can only imagine. With all these beautiful surroundings, they were given only one command to follow; do not eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve broke the rule, and thereby set all humankind on a path of sin and with that, separation from God. God loved His creation and created a world for humankind to inhabit. He was unable to let man condemn himself because of His love for us.
God, in his infinite love, set a new path. Too often, the church has not done a great job communicating the Gospel. We’ve made God sound like one whose wrath needed to be pacified, who must be persuaded to forgive. We have, too often, painted a picture of God as angry and unforgiving, and that Jesus did something to change God’s mind toward us.
Jesus, in Johns’ Gospel, utters these most familiar words to a Pharisee named Nicodemus to let him know that nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus says it was God who started it all. God sent His Son into the world. God gave us this wonderful gift at Christmas, and it was all because of His love.
Love. God’s love. It’s easy to confuse our idea of love with God’s. Love, the commitment, not the emotion is what is symbolized in the love that came down at Christmas, and love is the supreme quality of God. Listen to this same Apostle in 1 John 4: 8 – 10:
8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
God was not acting to satisfy some desire for power or obedience, but because He loves. Jesus tells Nicodemus that God was moving in love to bring eternal life to a wayward, foolish, blundering, sin-sick world. This is the love that came down at Christmas, and we know that God’s love is real, for we have seen it in Jesus. Yes, that’s the love in the manger. The commitment of love, lived out in the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ.
Love With Skin On
Jesus came to put skin on love, to show us the depth of God’s love. We can talk about it, but until we see it, our lives will remain unchanged. The love that came down at Christmas is sacrificial, and it is sacramental. It was this Apostle John, too, who records the time Jesus told his disciples:
This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:12-13 (NLT)
Then, Jesus called us friend.
God has given us a living picture of His love in the sacrament we call Holy Communion. We receive a regular reminder that the love embodied in Christ and acknowledged in the manger is a commitment, not an emotion.
Ernest Gordon tells the story in his book Miracle on the River Kwai of the Scottish soldiers during World War II, forced by their Japanese captors to labor on a jungle railroad, had degenerated to barbarous behavior, but one afternoon something happened. A shovel was missing. The Japanese officer in charge became enraged, and demanded that the missing shovel be produced, or else.
When nobody in the squadron budged, the officer got his gun and threatened to kill them all on the spot. It was obvious the officer meant what he had said. Then, finally, one man stepped forward. The officer put away his gun, picked up a shovel, and beat the man to death. When it was over, the survivors picked up the bloody corpse and carried it with them to the second tool check. This time, no shovel was missing. There had been a miscount at the first checkpoint.
The word spread like wildfire through the whole camp. An innocent man had been willing to die to save the others! The incident had a profound effect. The men began to treat each other like brothers. When the victorious Allies swept in, the survivors, human skeletons, lined up in front of their captors, and instead of attacking their captors, they protected them and insisted: “no more hatred. No more killing. Now what we need is forgiveness.” The sacrifice of this one man changed the hearts of those around him. He faced the punishment to save the others.
God willing, we will never be faced with a situation as grim as the one described by Gordon, but we can still impact those around us by living as sacrificially. As long as we remember the love that came down at Christmas, we can show we are Christ’s disciples by our love.
Until next time, keep looking up…
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