Saturday, December 25, 2010

O Holy Night: Grace and Love

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
The world has a natural brotherhood. The bond between mankind draws us together out of the forests and fields and into a society. "Man", said Aristotle, "is a social animal." As Hobbes teaches us, this society is a relationship of power, domination, and hierarchy. The brotherhood that binds all men together is a love of self. We recognize and embrace in others the image of ourselves, kindred spirits of ego. The all-consuming passion of man in his natural state is self-glorification.

The Law of Christ then drops like a bomb into this natural world. When all within us says "love yourself", Christ says "love your neighbor"; when the world says "the secret of the universe is you", Christ says "you must give yourself to others."
Surprisingly, this is not automatically good news. Telling a selfish person to love someone else merely has the effect of hardening them in their selfishness (as anyone who's ever worked with a two-year-old well knows). We see this truth written across the page of human experience in history (see the repeated failures of the social gospel), literature (see T.H. White's Once and Future King), and in Scripture (see rebellion after rebellion of the Israelites). The command to "love thy neighbor" merely reveals to us how much the natural world resembles a Cormac McCarthy novel.

Christ changes everything. Where the Law drops like a bomb into creation, Jesus enters quietly as a lamb. Where we have kicked our egos against the pricks of the Law, Christ has embodied that Law. And, in the ultimate embodiment, He has given Himself to us. Jesus has obeyed the law by loving us as his neighbors despite our utter lack of love for Him, and He has also give us the reward for His doing so. This is the peace that His Gospel brings, the good news that transforms the world. When touched by the Gospel, the selfish man is put to death and new life grows in his place. People now capable of loving their neighbor begin to do so in ways the natural world cannot truly comprehend. Only in a world under the shadow of the Gospel can we call the slave our brother, and only by the influence of Christ can oppression truly cease.

The best the world can do when it comes to love is to base it on self-interest. We naturally love our neighbor because we believe they will love us back. This in turn makes us the arbiters of love, and at the first perception of unkindness, love may be self-righteously withdrawn.
The Christian does not have this option, for the Love of God for His redeemed saints never ceases. Our motive for love is the infinite love which Jesus has shown us by dying in our place on the cross. We must therefore always humble ourselves to the level of our brothers in chains and work to end their oppression, just as Christ has ended our oppression by sin. From this flows forth all the good things of the Christian life: our love of our neighbor, hymns of joy, and our eternal praise for our saviour and redeemer.

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