You can show it. You can lose it. You can sing about it. You can cry about it. You can hide it. You can run from it. You can try to take it. You can make it. You can even fake it. It will pursue you. It will fool you. It will betray you. It will hurt you. It will make your world go around. It will fill your heart. It will make your day. It will change your life.
Paul McCartney sings that it is all we need. Paul Anka warned us not to gamble with it. Pope John Paul said it could never be defeated. And the Apostle Paul wrote of it as the greatest gift imaginable, destined to last forever. So I guess the Pauls have it: Love will win the day.
Love has been the inspiration for more songs and sonnets than you can shake a stick at. But, strangely enough, for all of its power, love is not always the first emotion we think of during the holidays. “Joy to the World,” “Peace on Earth,” “O Come all ye Faithful,” – the traditional phrases and tunes of the season have much to say about our feelings this time of year. But love, oddly, is missing.
Love is even missing when we exchange gifts. Sometimes we give a gift only with the hope of getting something in return. Or, like children, we become so fixated on receiving, that we give not even an inkling to the thought of giving to others (Come to think of it, Saint Valentine may have cornered the market on this love thing over Saint Nicholas; maybe that is why the theme is absent this time of year).
Yet, Christmas, if it is anything, is about love. The well-worn passage from the Gospel of John says it better than anyone else could: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” And returning to the Apostle Paul, when speaking of this wonderful gift of God, he burst forth with praise, “Thank God for His Son – a gift too wonderful for words!”
I remember when my baby boy was placed in my arms for the first time. It was an event that struck me speechless. This bundle of flesh and blood, carried by my wife for those long months, resistant to arrive, trapping her in the labor unit for days, was so helpless, ruddy, and wrinkly in my hands. But he was so beautiful, a gift too wonderful for words.
I wonder if that is how our heavenly Father felt as his Son struggled on that early Bethlehem morning to take his first breath. Expelled from the warmth and safety of Mary’s womb, into the cold, hard reality of creation – a gift of love to the world – was even God speechless?
As Mary gently stroked the face of deity, did the angels place their wings over their mouths in silence? When shepherds gathered to pay homage to their King, did the heavenly choir, forever singing praises to God, momentarily hold their breath? As Joseph scratched his head in bewilderment, did the cherubs do the same?
Even if the Father and all of heaven were speechless at that moment, Jesus was speaking loud and clear. In the cry of a newborn baby was God’s best and most articulate Word. He had love enough to enter creation, to communicate with it, to suffer because of it. The Creator of the Universe stepped across space and time to be with you.
God is not a dementia-struck, teetering old man wandering the hallways of heaven who has lost control of his capacities and his world. He is in that world, celebrating our victories, enduring our hardships, and bearing our hurts.
God may not always answer our questions or rescue us from trouble, but he always identifies with us, and can never abandon us. All the Pauls are right: This is a gift too wonderful for words.