“Because of this, the love of God is a reality among us: God sent His only Son into the world so that we could find true life through Him. This is the embodiment of true love: not that we have loved God first, but that He loved us and sent His unique Son on a special mission to become an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:9-10 The Voice
As I said in the last post, the Christian Calendar tells us that it is Advent – an intentional, spiritual journey of preparation for the celebration of Christmas. We’re lighting candles with specific themes that, I trust, will help us truly make room for Jesus by December 25. We would all say that Christmas is about Jesus, right? Yet most of the commercial world would say that Christmas is about gifts. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus is God’s gift to humanity and therefore, the best gift anyone could receive. But our primary image of a ‘happy Christmas’ isn’t a baby in a manger, it’s a tree with lots of gifts underneath. There’s nothing wrong with giving gifts during the holiday; it’s a sign of love between people. But it can easily become the focal point of the entire season. Christmas may not ultimately be about gift-giving, but our actions often tell a different story.
I used to get caught up in the holiday gift-giving. Growing up, I would be secretly sad on Christmas because I didn’t get all the gifts (or the one specific gift) I wanted. Soon the focus became buying gifts for as many people as possible; which led to disappointment because of limited funds. My late 20s brought a feeling of annoyance because of expectations to get gifts for every family member, distant relative, church friend, neighborhood dog, and random person who dropped by at a party. And now I just hate every store during the holiday season for all the reasons you can imagine.
Why all of the emotions? Because for most of us, giving gifts is a sign of love. If I don’t get a gift, there exists a small question of people’s love for me. If I don’t get everyone in my life a gift, I fear they will question my love for them. Since we were toddlers, we experienced our parents love for us through the number of presents under the tree. Every single modern Christmas movie includes some kind of gift-giving as a sign of affection, reconciliation or personal transformation. We even donate gifts to organizations to make sure that the least among us gets something for Christmas. Our society has essentially said ‘this is Christmas love: giving and receiving gifts. Then we light the Candle of Love.
The Advent Candle of Love reminds us that all of our everyday conceptions of love are, at best, half right. Advent points us to the story of how love came into the world and why He’s the greatest love that anyone has ever known. We think we know what love is, but Advent says ‘this is Love – that God sent Jesus’. The lit Candle of Love should cause some discomfort, make us laugh nervously at our crazy anxiety around giving and receiving gifts, and make us look at wrapping paper and bows like a cheap substitute for the real thing. We can still give gifts, as I will, this holiday season. But let’s allow the Candle of Love to challenge how much energy and stress we put into it. Advent invites us to see that Love is a person; His name is Jesus and He has come to us.
May the love of God revealed to the world in Jesus bring much needed light and clarity to each of us as we continue on this Advent Journey. God is with us!