I have a confession to make. While I enjoy many things about the holiday season, I have some grinchy tendencies. I enjoy the lights, but I get cranky about the electric bill. I like all the food, but I grumble about how bad all this sugar is for us. I love giving gifts, but braving the crowds to buy them stresses me out (thank you, online shopping!). I appreciate the beauty of a season devoted to giving thanks for our blessings and celebrating the greatest blessing of all, God’s incarnate Son, but I also struggle to keep my thoughts fixed on the hope that I have as a result of that blessing. I want the season to lead me to magnify Christ, but instead, I find it all too easy to become distracted by the trappings and lose sight of the true purpose. As I’ve been pondering how to have a worshipful season of Thanksgiving and Advent—one free from grouchy stress—I’ve realized that one of the best ways to celebrate God’s greatest gift has little to do with turkeys or trees, and everything to do with loving the ones Jesus loved: the unlovable.
If that seems a bit out of left field, bear with me for a moment.
Loving the unlovable was Jesus’ ultimate act, wasn’t it? There was nothing about you or me that could recommend us to him as desirable. We were in rebellion, separated from him, powerless to save ourselves, with nothing to offer. Although we were precious to God because we bore his image, we were not lovely. Sin distorted us from our original design, making us selfish, hateful, mutinous. And yet, Jesus took on flesh, stepped into time and space, and entered our world through a birth canal to rescue, redeem, and restore us to fellowship with God. Immanuel—God with us—came to bring us to God at a great price when we had nothing to give in return. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)
And therefore, one of the most worshipful things we can do to honor and celebrate this gift is to give one that reflects it by loving the unlovable. We can shift our focus away from trying to make the season as lovely for ourselves as possible and turn it instead to loving those who need it most.
The hard-to-love are all around us. Sometimes they’re in our neighborhoods or workplaces or schools. Sometimes they’re even–or perhaps especially–in our own families. Wherever they are, our natural impulse is to turn away from them in avoidance, not to draw closer, to be patient, or to bear with them in love. And yet, that is exactly what Jesus did for us, and exactly what he calls us to do for them: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)
Perhaps the truest celebration and greatest act of worship we can offer this season is to love the ones who are hard to love. We can embrace the prickly family member in warmth. We can welcome in the lonely neighbor. We can remain patient as we deal with the disobedient child. We can extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us. We can love as Christ loved. And as we do so, we may find that instead of becoming consumed with the holiday trappings that don’t reflect him in very meaningful ways, we are being transformed to look more like him and to love him more. Through loving the unlovable, we can magnify his ultimate act of love to a watching world. It will be harder than putting up beautiful decorations or giving perfect presents, but it is the most truly festive thing we could do.