Dear friends, Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. … God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.1
More than anything, Christmas is an amazing love story. It is a universal story for all people of all time. American psychiatrist, William Glasser, suggests that our human need for love and belonging is one of the deepest of all needs and underlies our well-being as individuals, families, and society.2 Our need to love and to be loved transcends all the differences of race, culture, generation, ideology, and religion. From the beginning of our lives we are dependent on the love of other people, and the quality of their love for us significantly shapes our emotional, social, and even physical health.
During my early years working with delinquent youths I noticed a clear link between their behavior and the “state of love” in the families or homes they came from. Kids growing up in homes characterized by conflict, or where parental love was either manipulative or capricious, inevitably “acted out” their insecurity and hunger for love in attention getting behavior or escapism. I very quickly realized that the key to helping these kids did not simply lie in discipline and reward or other behavior modification strategies, but in a meaningful, dependable, and safe personal relationship with someone who would love them unconditionally.
To be loved unconditionally is probably the most powerful thing in our personal experience. For when someone’s love for us neither fades nor falters as a function of our own mood swings and delinquencies, or our attitudes and inclinations, we are inevitably drawn and compelled to respond to them.
The Christmas story is about that kind of love – God who unconditionally loves humanity without consideration for our checkered history of self-indulgence, delinquency, rebellion, and escapism – giving himself without reservation to the human family by becoming the “Son of Man.” Nothing is spared as God comes – unconditionally loving us in spite of and in the midst of our delinquent and disfigured human appetites to love and to be loved. God knows how much we as humans are forever acting out – looking for love in all the wrong places and escaping into indulgences of the mind and body that dull our deepest need. And still he loves us totally.
This Advent I find myself being drawn into, completely won over once again, by the amazing story of God’s unconditional love for me; a compelling and open story of Jesus, friend of sinners, a vulnerable baby in a shepherd’s crib – “The Son of Man” – one of us!
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.3
Ron W. Nikkel is the president and CEO of Prison Fellowship International (PFI). For more information, visit the PFI website.