If there’s one thing that everyone seems to agree about, it’s that ethics are rooted in love.
At a party this weekend at my parents’ house, I had a chance to talk with a man who is a self-described “seeker.” He loves to study religions, all religions. He loves Eastern and Western. He has seen that people in any tradition (and with no religious tradition) can be “good.”
We all know how to love, right?
Well, yes and no.
Love is a malleable category. To take one less-than-serious example, we used to joke in my college fellowship group that we were doing something “in Christian love,” when we were being a jerk about something. The truth behind the joke was that all too often we used “Christian love” as a thin veneer for not loving our neighbor as ourself.
Back to reality: our definitions of love are given their substance by the stories in which they are embedded. Family histories create tremendously powerful understandings of what love looks like–for both good and ill.
And, as Christians, we confess a story about Jesus that gives specific shape to the command to love one another.
Advent, and its remembrance of “love,” provides a black-and-white picture of what will come in full color on Good Friday.
Love in the Christian story is laying down our own life so that another might live. It is setting aside our own glory so that it might accrue to another.
“Remember the Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul admonishes, “that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor so that you, through his poverty, might become rich.”
To love as a Christian depends on two things.
One, it depends on the confidence that if we lay down our life, God is able to give it back again. The call to Christian love only makes sense in a story that resolves in resurrection. Otherwise, it is mere martyrdom.
Two, it depends on an unshakable conviction that the economy of the kingdom of God is an economy of abundance. It is an economy that brings forth riches out of poverty.
Of course, this is just another way of saying we believe in the God who gives life from the dead. But it’s a life from the dead, a something from nothing, that impinges also on the present. See, it’s not merely that our riches make other people rich, or Jesus’ riches that make us rich. On the contrary, it is through Jesus’ poverty that we are made rich, partakers of God’s heavenly inheritance.
Christian love is Advent love because it is Good Friday love. It is love that moves the story of God to its successful climax.
It is the story of the self-giving God who becomes the self-giving Christ so that all those who are Christs might live and reign with him forever.