This is the season of love incarnate. Well, actually, every season in the Christian church is about love incarnate in some form, but Christmas is where we are right now. Stay tuned for other theological musings about incarnate love for other seasons.
Can you imagine the surprise, when the prophets and sages and faithful men and women pondered and hypothesized and prayed about how the incarnate God of love would appear, to discover a baby. A little baby, born in a barn. We may get all cute about a barn at Christmas, but if you've ever spent time in one, it stinks. Cow poo stinks. Sheep wool stinks. Dirty hay, piles of stuff that doesn't lend itself to being scraped off the bottom of your shoe easily, and animals chewing cud and regurgitating. And having been around babies, they don't always smell like a rose, either.
The p.r. people were thinking, "Why not a palace throne room? Even the portico of a nice house? But a barn?"
Oh yes, a barn. Among the least of these. We perhaps should have taken the hint at God's incarnation that love almost always looks a bit unusual and unexpected. Holy love, the pure, honest kind that lifts us up and salves our wounds, is rarely decorated with lace and trimmings. In fact, in my experience, when someone wraps up their proclamations of love with lace and sayings that fell out of a Hallmark card, it's more about appearances than love.
Love incarnate in our lives is also a bit unusual and unexpected. Love's incarnate acts are subtle and imperceptible, even. The funny card in the mail. The moment in the crazy day or week or month where you hear, "Oh, let me take care of this." The quiet morning before an insanely busy day. The memory of a loved one that flashes across our hearts and causes us to smile or laugh. The acts that respond to needs in a good and helpful and healthy way. I have a great pair of Italian leather shoes with the downside of having some coated shoestrings that always, always come untied when I wear them. While walking with one of my friends who loves me, I had to stop for the hundredth time to tie my shoes. Until he knelt beside me and double-knotted my shoes. They are still tied, those knots of love.
Love is patient, love is kind. It looks out for the needs of others without thinking about how others will be beholden to them, without keeping others on some proverbial string. Love blooms where it's planted - barn, homeless shelter, or on the front porch rocking chairs with a glass of bourbon and silly stories. Love doesn't tell you constantly how life without that type of love will be bad, but stands fearlessly and courageously with you (and will also tell you it's okay to be scared). Love laughs at inappropriate moments, cries the ugly cry, and ties uncomplicated knots that rarely come undone.
Love came down at Christmas, just to remind us what it really looks like.