We live in a loveless world
We live in a loveless world. Our systems and structures are unjust: the caste system oppresses scheduled castes (dalits) and backward classes; globalization favours the rich at the cost of the poor; development programmes displace the tribals and adivasis from their homelands; ceaseless wars and terrorist activities exterminate hundreds of innocent lives and render several thousand as refugees; expressions of fundamentalism suppress minorities; the patriarchal system victimizes women and children; a competitive world frustrates several struggling youth; our busy life leaves no time for families to care for one another ; consumerism depletes the earth’s resources and pollute nature; … indeed the list is unending.
A lyric, entitled “A World without Love,” expresses utter disappointment with such a world:
Please lock me away, And don’t allow the day,
Here inside where I hide, With my loneliness
I don’t care what they say, I won’t stay In a world without love
Love given to a loveless world
Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894), author of three collections of mostly religious poetry and four devotional books, suffered poor health from age 16. Rossetti’s best-known hymns are the Christmas carols “In the Bleak Midwinter” (1872) and “Love Came Down at Christmas,” (1885).
The first stanza of “In the Bleak Midwinter” paints a vivid picture of an unwelcoming and desolate landscape: In the bleak mid-winter, Frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow, In the bleak mid-winter, Long ago.
“Love Came Down at Christmas” presents an inviting image of incarnate “Love” descending to such a loveless bleak world: Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, Love divine; love was born at Christmas, star and angels gave the sign.
Indeed, if one includes the word “lovely,” “Love” is mentioned 12 times in three short stanzas of the carol, Love came down at Christmas. The carol, in a sense, echoes 1 John 4: 7-11, a passage that mentions “love” in some form 13 times: “ Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.”
Love gives itself
The love of God in Jesus Christ is no romantic expression of love. It is not like the Christmas gifts we exchange with friends during the season. It is a love which calls for the giving of one’s life.
The last verse of the carol,”In the Bleak Mid-winter”, talks about giving:
What can I give him, Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him; Give my heart.
British hymn writer Elizabeth Cosnett provides a social commentary that may shed light on this verse. She notes that, “when a woman wrote these words, women were largely excluded from the professions and from higher education.” Like the shepherds, she was not employed; like the wise men, Rossetti held no degree. Therefore the reading of this verse articulates a special sharpness and poignancy.
The writer invites us to offer our own gift to the Christ Child just as the shepherds and wise men did. Rather than presenting expensive gifts, however, we offer the most important gift — our hearts, indeed our very lives.
A Thanksgiving Festival was being held in a rural place. A hen and a goat were watching people bringing gifts to be offered. The hen got excited and suggested to the goat that they too could participate in the festival. The hen said to the goat, “I can offer my eggs for omelettes! You can offer your meat for biryani!” The goat replied, “For you to offer your eggs is a superfluous contribution. For me to offer my meat is a sacrificial commitment!”
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross” (Phil.2: 5-8).
Love came down at Christmas!
Love gave itself on the Cross!
Such love facilitates just, inclusive and integrated communities!
Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad
National Council of Churches in India