My wife and I make a point most weekday mornings, before our children go to school, to have a Scripture reading and a devotional. We also work on memorizing poetry and passages from the Bible, and our latest passage is 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter of love. The final verse reads: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”
That verse has been bouncing around in my head the last few weeks as I’ve wondered what it means in the Christmas season. We of course, all of us, get caught up in the trappings of the season: the gifts, the parties, and understandably so.
It’s truly one of the best times of the year as we celebrate with friends and family. But often we forget what we’re celebrating and why. Sometimes we must step back and very intentionally focus on why the season of Christmas is truly amazing.
To understand the season, we must first understand who we are as human beings. Every soul has cravings and deep longings. We hope that there is more to this life than just our earthly material existence. Some of us may deny this, but it is nonetheless true for all.
Our hope is for meaning and belonging. We want to know that our life has a purpose and that we are more than the sum of our personal appetites. But in our finite humanness and weakness, sometimes we reach for what we think is easier to get and try to attach meaning to things with ephemeral sensations, which like the flowers of the field or the grass, wither and are gone.
And, in a world in which billions of people are colliding and tumbling along as this rock called Earth spins through space, each one of us longs to fill needs with more than we can satisfy ourselves: we want to know that we are somebody's and that somebody is ours.
We all, whether we will admit it or not, are really seeking to love and to be loved with a love that transcends the human plane of existence. Such a love banishes the feeling of being disconnected and insignificant because, in that love, we can know that out of all the billions of other people in this world someone has chosen to love just us and for a purpose greater than our own satisfaction.
This is our deepest hope: love that demonstrates purpose and meaning and belonging, founded on something greater than what any human can give. But how can even the love of another person, however deep and abiding, give lasting meaning when that very person is temporal too?
We try to make that love fulfill our deepest needs, and perhaps, when it fails, we turn to other things to fill the void: drugs, material things, the internet, maybe more relationships. But in the end we find out that we have been leaning against the sharp sticks that are shadows of reality: these only pierce our hearts, leaving an aching loneliness.
This is what leads us back to the reason we celebrate this season: the birth of Christ. That night the angels sang and the heavens rejoiced as the personification of Hope and Faith and Love stepped out of the boundless span of eternity and into the finite confines of time.
It says in Scripture that at just the right time, Christ was born and came to earth. If you believe that an infinite God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, it means He sent his Son who represents infinite love and hope into the world to give us a chance for real purpose, meaning, belonging, and ultimately, life.
This is that love that is beyond human ability and understanding; this is that love that fulfills that deepest, and often unacknowledged, hope in our hearts. To paraphrase Sartre, a finite point without an infinite point of reference is pointless and absurd. But everything changed with the birth, and then the resurrection, of Christ. We don’t have to manufacture meaning or purpose as His infinite love has done that for finite humanity.
That is truly the greatest gift we’ll ever be given. The miracle of it all is that we simply have to receive. That is the true wonder of Christmas.
So in this season of Christmas, remember that the great light of the world, which shown in the darkness then, still shines now, and because of His love for humankind, we can truly have purpose and meaning, not only in this life, but the next one as well.