By Steven Norris

     There is no doubt about it: this is a season for love. Well, that is, if you believe all the made-for-television movies that have found their way into our living room over the past few weeks. It is certainly the season for sappy “love stories” that often bear little resemblance to real life.

     It has to be love that causes parents of newborn children drive overnight to spend Christmas with grandparents. It has to be love that sends parents out into the crazed crowds to find that one gift that little Johnny would “die without.”

     I want to be clear: I am not a Scrooge about the season. I love Christmas. I believe that it is, in fact, the season for love. Maybe the most well-known verse in all of holy scripture says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son.” The birth of Jesus is a celebration of love incarnate.

     Love, as it is described in the Bible, however, is not primarily an emotion. New Testament scholar, Scot McKnight, speaks of it this way: “Love must be defined by how God loves. From God’s behaviors we learn that love is a rugged commitment to be with someone as someone who is for that person’s good and to love them unto God’s formative purpose.”

     Therefore, we find it difficult when Jesus says something radical like, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”

     To love someone is to draw close and be attentive to their needs. It means more than just tolerating those we don’t particularly like (“enemy” is such a harsh word), but actually longing for and working towards their good. It means investing ourselves in helping others become who God wants them to be and has created them to be.

     McKnight goes on to suggest that living out this love “begins when we confess who is our enemy and it ends when we learn to love them as our neighbor.” Loving our enemies begins with radical honesty about the way we see others. Then, it involves proximity — daring to invite “enemies” into our homes, dwelling with them, embracing them, and regarding them as God does. Love may very well involve speaking difficult truths at times, but always in a way that works for the other’s good and nudges toward Christlikeness, not merely to win an argument.

     Jesus invites us into a conspiracy of love this Christmas. This is not pragmatic or natural. In fact, Jesus does not even give a detailed reason why we are to love. Instead, Jesus confronts us with a vision of the world he came to bring: a kingdom characterized by love and peace with an invitation to join him in it. Maybe that is all the reason we really need.