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It’s so easy for me to forget the recklessness of Advent.
It all looks so safe and tidy and sanitary in our nativity scenes. The hay is soft and yellow. Joseph and the shepherds have showered and groomed their beards. Little Lord Jesus is wrapped in swaddling clothes of pure white 100 percent cotton, a serene smile on his face. King Herod and his band of baby-killing ruffians are nowhere in sight.
But how different the reality must have been: a newborn and his parents stashed among the animals, covered in dirt and sweat, weeping tears of joy or pain or fear or infant hunger. How shocked and uncertain those same parents must have been, when a few reclusive men smelling of sheep dung showed up looking for a king, or when foreigners carrying spices warned them that a murderous Herod was on his way. How agonizing it must have been for You, as a father, to entrust Your son to a human race that had already failed You innumerable times. How heartbreaking it must have been. How foolish.
If You had asked for my advice, I would have recommended a safer plan to save the world. I would have proposed a love without risk, a love given only as deep as deserved. I would have suggested something wise, something logical. But You didn’t ask for my help. Instead You insisted, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:25, that Your foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. You chose to love in a way that wouldn’t make sense. You wanted to be foolish. And You succeeded.
It was foolish of Jesus to come to earth, logically speaking. To go from divine throne to fragile infant body. To trade streets of gold for filth and disease and violence. To love the world with wide-open arms, vulnerable, and then be betrayed. It was foolish to sacrifice everything for a crowd of ungrateful murderers, ransoming the lifeless blood of humanity with the priceless blood of a Savior.
But it’s by that same foolishness that the world came alive. That’s the agape love of God, the unconditional, reckless, wasteful, open-armed embrace of God. Without foolishness, there can be no incarnation. Without foolishness, there can be no salvation.
When I celebrate the arrival of Jesus, I’m celebrating the foolishness of love.
Teach me, God, to remember this Advent season what love really means. When I declare my intention to love like Jesus, don’t let me settle for a love that’s safe and bordered. Don’t let me love only those who look or act or think like me, only those who are deserving, only those who are lovable. I dare to ask that You teach me how to really love like Jesus. Teach me to love foolishly.
Teach me to open my arms wide to others, even when it means exposing myself to discomfort or danger or death. Give me courage to love recklessly, to risk being hurt. Let me prefer being betrayed, as You were, rather than refusing to embrace the person who might betray me. Teach me a love that is unrestricted, unbounded, unrelenting.
Make me humble. Let me think less about myself and more about the world around me. Help me set aside my own wants, my own needs, trusting that You are in control of them all—and then fill up that empty space with love. Make me more passionate about the interests of others than I am about my own interests, as Philippians 2:3-4 calls me to be. Give me the humility to value others even more than I value myself.
If Your love is foolish, let me be foolish too. Make my love like Your love.
Give me the love of the shepherds who left their fields and sheep to worship an infant king. Give me the love of the wise men who risked Herod’s wrath to follow stars and angels’ orders. Give me the love of Anna the prophet and of Simeon, whose deathbed request was to look upon the redeemer of Israel.
Give me the love of a Father who sent his only son to die.
It cost You everything to become Emmanuel, God with us. Make me reckless enough to follow in Your footsteps this Advent season. Let Your coming be my call to action. Let the incarnation be my battle cry.
I pray by the power of Jesus, whose foolish love has given me life,
Gregory Coles is an author and an English instructor at Penn State University. Learn more at www.gregcoles.com.