The Nativity Stories (v) Unconditional Love

I’ve been suggesting that the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke are two different stories that invite us, while enjoying what’s on the surface, to think a little more deeply. Some people might imagine that because I don’t regard these stories as historical, their meaningfulness for me must be sadly impoverished, but not so !  

The traditional view, that God is infinite and eternal, means God is ‘outside’ of space and time, and the Bible acknowledges this when it says that, “God is spirit”, invisible, intangible and ineffable, and therefore unable to be directly described. What the nativity stories give us, then, is a ‘picture book’ story of a divine father giving the gift of his son, to a world which has too often fallen far short of the best of which it is capable. In his teaching and lifestyle, however, this son will demonstrate how to live an altruistic life with understanding and empathy, justice and integrity, loving care and concern. These stories are therefore about a gift of ‘unconditional love’, which I take to be one of the ‘archetypes’ found in the ‘collective unconscious’ of the human psyche, which unites all of us in a shared sphere of meaning and values, built up over all the centuries of our being in this world.

I think of unconditional love as being potentially, radically life changing. It’s to say to another person, I freely give you the gift of my love, and it will never be withdrawn, no matter what may happen, no matter what you might say or do, and not even if you should throw it back in my face. There are no conditions attached to my gift of love. It has not been owed to you, nor merited or earned by you, just simply given. Can we human beings actually actually rise to the challenge of that? Yes, we can. 

I think of the person who sees a stranger, drowning in a river. Though not a swimmer, they get into the water, and somehow, against all the odds, manage to get both themselves and the other person to the riverbank. The rescuer, asked afterwards about the risk to their own life, and what their thoughts were when they saw the other person’s predicament, may well reply that they didn’t think about anything. They just did what they had to do, one person for another, whatever the cost – a moment of spontaneous, down-to-earth, unsentimental, unconditional love. 

In such moments, we discover that this is a capacity we have within us. It comes from “the ground of our being” which is also the Source of all being. A Buddhist would say that it flows from our interconnectedness to one another, and to all things, in the one great web of being. This is what I see pictured in the Christmas story of the father god freely giving the gift of his son and then again, in the later Passion story of that son freely giving the gift of his life. 

I’m reminded, firstly, of some words from a poem by Cecil Spring Rice … 

“The love that asks no questions, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.”

and, secondly, (despite its outdated and non gender-neutral language), of the words of Christina Rossetti’s Christmas carol …

As I see it, there are no conditions here, not even a requirement for ‘belief’. We don’t need to be ‘saved’, but only to become ‘aware’ that we, along with all our fellow beings, are already ‘saved’ – that we always have been, and always will be – and to seek to live our lives in the ‘enlightenment’ of that potentially life-changing awareness, as our own contribution to “Peace on Earth, and Goodwill among all People” …..

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