Who would not love thee, loving us so dearly?
The beautiful line from the beloved great Christmas Processional, Adeste fideles, is made elegant by a play on the word “dearly.” “So dearly” can mean “with such intense affection,” or “at such great expense to himself.” As we contemplate the miracle of the manger, we see that both meanings apply. The threefold God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost truly loved us with an everlasting love, having loved us In Christ before all worlds, loving us with a love that sin does not cancel, death does not terminate, and hell itself cannot overwhelm. But this unspeakable love was manifested at incredible pain and expense to the Divine Lover. From the wonderful night when there was “no room in the inn,” though a humble and uncomfortable life in which the Son of Man had no place to lay His head, to the agony and bloody sweat of Gethsemane, to the pain of the cross itself, truly He loved us both intensely and expensively.
But sadly, this line is a rhetorical question which provokes more than one answer. The desired answer is that this amazing love manifested in the manger and the cross arouses our love in return. Simple logic seems to decree that great love of God calls forth an equally great love on the part of the beloved. But sadly, there were and still are many who do not love the manger child. Who would not love him? Herod would not, nor Pontius Pilate nor Judas Iscariot. They were perfectly capable of answering Divine love with cruelty and hate. Nor the reveling multitudes who use His birthday only as a time for extravagance and self-indulgence. They, like Herod and Pilate, would not love Him because of their own depraved nature. As St John tells us, “He came unto His own, but his own received Him not.” We wish we could say that God’s dear love for us constrains us to love Him proportionately in return. But honesty compels us to confess that the lovelessness of Herod, Pilate and Judas was only our ingratitude writ large. If only Abelard were right, when he wrote,
“Our sins, not thine, thou bearest, Lord, Make us thy sorrow feel,
Till through our pity and our shame, Love answers love’s appeal.”
Yes, He truly bore our sins, since He had no sins of His own. But love’s appeal was answered only with rejection, slaps, mockery and spitting. Surely there is nothing in the universe so defiant of simple logic, so irrational, so criminally insane, as not loving Jesus.
St John, the apostle who wrote most deeply about the Divine Love, spoke more wisely than our beloved Christmas carol, or than Abelard, when he wrote, “We love Him because He first loved us.” This love, vastly earlier, deeper and more enduring, is perfectly encapsulated in the tiny babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a feeding-trough. Because he loved us so much we are bound to love Him and to love one another. LKW
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