“Love came down at Christmas” wrote the 19th century poet Christina Rossetti. In this second week of Advent as we light the candle of love, our thoughts naturally turn to the soft and warm aspects of Christmas. Norman Vincent Peale wrote, “Christmas waves a magic wand over this world and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”
But December 25th in the Middle East looks anything but soft, warm and beautiful. Parents in Lebanon refugee camps hope that “Santa” brings mats so their children won’t sleep on hard ground in winter’s bitter cold. There is nothing magical about Christmas Day if you have mere tablespoons of rice to feed your family the holiday dinner.
As we light this candle of love, we dare not neglect the question, “What does love—Jesus’ love—look like?” Maybe instead of—or in addition to—reading from Isaiah and the Gospels, we should Google “modern Christian martyrs” or “who’s hungry this Christmas?” or “refugees in Syria.” Before shopping for toys or sweaters or books, we buy baby chicks for women in Zimbabwe who want to start their own businesses. We take our children to serve meals at homeless shelters. We give ourselves the gift of learning more about the horrors of female circumcision in Africa and the Middle East so our hearts break and our wallets open.
The kind of Christmas love that came down that first Christmas doesn’t put a damper on joy, doesn’t deprive the little ones of electric trains or pretty dolls, doesn’t cancel concerts and plays. Real Christmas love takes all that and transforms it into a celebration of Jesus’ love from the moment of his birth in a manger, among the cattle. He came in the midst of the muck and asks us to go there too. His love came down that Christmas.