Of the Father’s Love Begotten
A familiar theme in theological writing about love is the contrast between selfless love (agape) and selfish love (eros). Who is to flourish in love’s happening? But does not friendship blur that distinction? What do we mean when we sing “What a friend we have in Jesus? Advent. —the coming of God in human flesh, the coming of God into human hearts and Christ’s second coming—roots in and reveals God’s love. That love cannot be limited to a manger in Bethlehem for scripture calls us to claim the whole Jesus: his birth, yes; but surely also his teaching, his healing, his cross and his resurrection.
The Word that became flesh in Jesus was the Word that was “in the beginning” (John 1:1). That’s God-talk for John’s first verse continues “. . . and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Whoever in the Johannine community wrote the first epistle of John deepens the linkage between God-talk and love-talk. Love is not one of many adjectives describing God. Twice he says plainly “God is love” (I John 4:1,16b). Whatever adjectives we will use to characterize God must somehow be reconciled with love. What kind of power works with love as the criterion? Does love’s sorrow over evil’s consequences lead us to understanding God’s wrath?
God the Creator is “still working” (John 5:17). God is at work as each moment comes to be. To claim God’s love at Advent is to let the child born in a manger connect us with the whole, turbulent and aching earth. There is indeed great suffering and pain that comes with creation, just as the self-replicating coronavirus is a natural happening. But through it all Christians will still sing of the beauty of the earth. The psalmist gives us the pitch well, praising the One “who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever” (Ps.136:6). There’s a calling here. Out of John’s gospel rises a Trinity of love and Jesus speaks of how he and the Father are “in” each other (John 17:21). Made in that image, are we not called to recognize our connectedness with all of God’s creation? We are told to “love our neighbor as our self” (Mark 12:31). As disciples, do we not hear a call to love precisely our enemies (Matt. 5:44)? Where will this kind of loving end? Well, a man born in Bethlehem has a ringing assurance for us: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).