The gospel is compelling, not coercive.
Is there a statement that more fully embodies the Christmas story?
In a time when Christian denominations offer a fragmented picture of the body of Christ, when self-appointed gatekeepers impose narrow definitions and restrictive requirements for what is and is not acceptable, and when fear is wielded as the primary motivator of faith, we as the church would do well to be reminded of the compelling nature of God’s entry into our winner-take-all existence.
The ancient Hebrews spoke of God’s hesed love. Hesed is most often translated as “loving-kindness,” eliciting mercy, loyalty, faithfulness and compassion.
Hesed love is not conditional. It is not a love that wavers with our commitment or diminishes in the face of our disobedience. It is not love that pushes us to change in order to be acceptable.
Hesed is love that comes to us in a story of the poor and oppressed, of the despised and reviled. Of a baby born in dirt and filth to an unwed mother, whose coming was announced not to kings or religious leaders but to untrustworthy field workers and immigrant astrologers.
It is no coincidence that hesed is by its very nature incarnational. It is love that comes to us not as a warm and fuzzy feeling of attraction and excitement but as something that comes alive and takes shape in us and through us.
It is not just something that is delivered to us, but produces something in us, something new and surprising.
Something faithful and compassionate and merciful and just and beautiful.
There is nothing coercive about this kind of love. Nothing about it screams, “accept me or else!”
But could there be anything more compelling?
Is there anything else, any other power in the universe that so captivates us? That grabs our imagination and makes us ask, what if life could REALLY be like this?
That’s the answer that Christmas gives us.
The compelling story that life really CAN be like this. That there is a love that reaches past our sorry commitments and our disobedience. That brings the incarnational beauty of hesed alive in us and unites us.
This Christmas, may we truly embrace the hesed loving-kindness of God through the incarnation of Jesus. And may we, like him, become a compelling force for mercy, love, justice, and compassion.