I can understand why some people are atheists. First, there is the hurdle of believing that God actually exists in spite of naturalistic explanations that say otherwise. Second, is the hurdle of believing that God is good in spite of the fact that he allows terrible tragedies and awful evil to unfold. But third is the greatest hurdle of all: to believe that God loves us with infinite and unconditional love.
Love, you see, involves not only emotion but also action. So where is love when an earthquake causes a tsunami that kill hundreds of thousands of people? Where is love when measles infects thousands and kills dozens in the South Pacific? Where is love when mental illness steals a loved one’s mind?
The season of Christmas gives an incredible answer to the question “Where is love?” The impoverished couple huddled around a newborn infant in a cave in Bethlehem reminds us that Love is with us. The Good News proclaimed by angels to shepherds in a field is that Love came down to be with us, to live, love, laugh and suffer as we do. Then Love took our place and stood in the cross hairs of evil and hatred to absorb the worst of their wretched power so we would not need to. Love paid a terrible price to save us. In the end, it looked like Love had been destroyed and evil had won the day.
If this is how the story of Love ended, then we should throw our lot in with the atheists and abandon any pretense of faith.
But there is more to the story of Love. For the Love in that infant born in a humble Bethlehem manger was divine, perfect Love. It was Love sent from our Father in heaven to rescue us from sin and every evil by bringing us into the Father’s family as a beloved, forgiven child of God. Not even death could conquer God’s gift of Love to us. Though dead and buried in a borrowed tomb, on the third day, Love was raised to life, a new, greater and more glorious life than anyone had every experienced before. Because Love lives, we too will live. Since Love is with us, we will live through the challenges and tragedies of this world to rise anew in a greater and more glorious world where the Love of God envelopes, enlivens and sustains us. Then we will realize that God’s Love is ultimate reality. It always was and it always will be.
God’s Love has a name: Jesus, which means “God saves.” That God the Son would come down and be born in a manger as the Son of Mary to open a doorway for us to enjoy the Love that we humans inherently seek is hard for us to believe. That God the Son would sacrifice himself for humans who hate him is amazing. That the God-human Jesus would rise from dead to pour out his Love on us, both now and forever, seems beyond the realm of possibility. But it is true. Apply the same standards of investigation that historians use for other ancient events and you will find that there are very good reasons to believe in unbelievable Love.
Yet even for those of us who follow the Christ child there remains a fourth hurdle: to trust in God’s unbelievable Love. We don’t need to be carried away by the worries and anxieties of this life, even when we find ourselves in overwhelming challenges and tragedies, because we know that Love is with us. And that is what makes all the difference.
Dear Jesus, thank for being God’s great gift of Love for us! Help us to receive your Love, rest in it and reflect it into the lives of others. Amen.