The Nativity Scene: Limitless Love
This past Christmas season, I saw all kinds of different nativity scenes: life-sized, undersized, vibrant, unadorned, stilted, encased in glass and many others (the Hollcraft family got their act together and finally purchased a simple version of the nativity scene to highlight the front yard). Whatever shape, form, or material they appeared in, the figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph were like a magnet for me. Whenever and wherever I saw a nativity scene, I was inspired to reflect into the virtues of the Incarnation with greater frequency than ever before. While there are many virtues that are linked to the Incarnation, I could not get past the one virtue that binds every other virtue, love--the great act of love that snuck behind enemy lines to bring profound light into profound darkness.
My meditations before the nativity scenes were guided by the singular truth that love is the ultimate truth. Why? Because God is Love. God is not like love, or another kind of love, His very essence is love. There is nothing in God that is absent of love.
So how might we better understand God who is love? God’s love is limitless. In the gospel of John, we read that Christ does not portion out His love, His Spirit (cf. Jn 3:34). His love is boundless, literally speaking--infinite. As Father Dave Pivonka, T.O.R., popular author and speaker once observed, everything about our material world is limited, rationed out. Maybe this is why God’s love is so foreign to us; maybe this is why we are so drawn to the nativity scene (or at least why I am). We are very good at measuring things out, giving a little here and a little there, but always keeping enough for ourselves. While being frugal is not a bad thing, we have to be mindful that God calls us to imitate His limitless love. The logic of Christian love holds nothing back, it gives everything---it is unconditional. In other words, Christian love does not condition itself to anything, not even another person’s weaknesses or failures. Certainly, we desire others to love us in spite of our own weaknesses. God calls us to the heroic love that has us loving (and forgiving) the very person that is probably last on our Christmas gift list (see blog titled: “Enough is never enough until…” for further reflection into this topic).
That being said, if love is the ultimate truth, what role does truth play in love? Here, let us turn to the wisdom of Benedict XVI. While reflecting into the dangers of love devoid of truth, the now retired pontiff had this to say:
"[We] need to link charity with truth not only in the sequence, pointed out by Saint Paul, of veritas in caritate (Eph 4:15), but also in the inverse and complementary sequence of caritas in veritate. Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the “economy” of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practiced in the light of truth. In this way, not only do we do a service to charity enlightened by truth, but we also help give credibility to truth, demonstrating its persuasive and authenticating power in the practical setting of social living" (Charity in Truth, 2).
So our limitless love is always “to be understood, confirmed and practiced in the light of truth.” Christ is the full revelation of love, but also “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). Truth can be discerned (reasoned) and should always be “sought, found, and expressed within the ‘economy’ of charity.'” We are wired for truth and truth will set us free, especially if our actions reflect the truth of Christ, Who is love incarnate.
The nativity scene is an acute visual reminder that God entered into our temporal history two thousand years ago; an acute visual reminder that God is real. However, for some, it seems, God’s existence is a stumbling block and therefore the Christmas season is a time that should not have religion in it. Unfortunately, they make attempts to have the term Christmas removed from our collective cultural conscience. But there is a thing about truth, it won’t go away. For both believers and unbelievers alike, Christmas has a mysterious aura about it, whether it is embraced or shunned, the deep reality it points to gently presses itself upon us. Jesus was real, is real, and will never stop being real. We need to open ourselves, allow ourselves to embrace the ultimate truth of God’s limitless love. I, for one, was inspired by the many and varied nativity scenes this past Christmas season. Now, inspiration needs to turn into integration. Pray for me as I will pray for you!.