Can Christmas change the world? Only insofar as we allow ourselves to be drawn into its story and be so transformed by it that we live it out. That story is love, and love can always change the world.
Throughout Advent, our church has offered a midweek evening discussion on a four-part series based on a movement called the Advent Conspiracy. According to the book of the same title, it “shows you how to substitute compassion for consumption by practicing four simple but powerful countercultural concepts: worship fully, spend less, give more, love all.” Unpacking those tenets each week, we ascertained how worshiping God fully nurtures a faithful rejection of rampant consumerism, consequently providing us with financial and spiritual capital to give more in a relational sense to all, giving witness to the unconditional love of God. But mastering concepts is not the aim of the Advent Conspiracy movement, nor was it the primary outcome of our weekly discussions of it. Ultimately, we were reminded of the power of the Christmas story—“the Word became fleshed and lived among us” (John 1:14)—and of our need to be immersed in that story so deeply that we exemplify it in tangible acts of love.
For Martin Luther King, Jr., this tangible love is bread. In his book, Strength to Love, Dr. King writes, “There is the deep longing for the bread of love. Everybody wishes to love and to be loved. He who feels that he is not loved feels that he does not count.” Perhaps when we pray that God would “give us this day our daily bread,” what our soul is crying out for is a tangible offering of love to remind us of our belonging, and to validate our unique, essential existence in this world. “For God so loved the world” sounds to me like God’s heart breaks at the thought of any one of us being made to feel that we have no part in it.
In our final discussion in the four-part series last night, we talked about the church, and what it would look like for our church to “love all.” Someone shared how thankful they are for having found our community of faith in recent years, and that they wished their adult children would find a place like Friends, because “that’s what they want the church to be so badly.” They had come to Christian houses of worship seeking the bread of love only to find the church lacking in that essential offering. Now they feel that they have no place in the church, no place in Christianity; and their parent was lamenting their children’s disappointment. “I just want them to believe that that church is a place of love, and that they do belong, and that places like this exist…” The group assured them, “Your kids are on their own faith journey. It is not your responsibility to convince them of what the church can be; it is your calling to be the church. All you have to do is keep on loving, keep on living out the story that ‘God so loved the world.’”
The Word became flesh and lived among us. Love became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood (as Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message). That’s the story. It’s not a fable for us to read once a year from an outside perspective. It’s a truth for us to be so drawn into that we can’t help but to exemplify it by loving one another and this whole world that God so loves as we love ourselves.
We might have our hangups about the Christmas story. Learning more about the historicity of Jesus’ birth can make it problematic for the questioning mind that no longer “speaks, thinks, or reasons like a child” (1 Corinthians 13:11) to believe every detail about Matthew and Luke’s accounts of a baby born to a virgin on December 25th. Regardless of our particular belief, the faith we share in the mystery and wonder of the story remains true: that we follow an incarnate Lord and Savior, and that we give witness to Jesus Christ as the embodiment of God’s love for all and for all time. As the authors of Advent Conspiracy sum up, “We have been given this lavish gift of life with God, and now we are called to enter this broken world and love differently. When we do, Christmas can still change the world.”
And if you still have a tough time getting into the story of Christmas, think about it this way: Just remember those times when someone showed you the bread of love. Give thanks. Then, share that bread with someone else. Who knows? By doing that—by being that for someone in need—you could change the world.