Willa Cather’s Christmas story, “The Burglar’s Christmas,” portrays a young man named William, who had moved away from his family back east and was now in Chicago. Impoverished, he breaks into a house on Christmas Eve to steal some food. He discovers that he has burglarized the house of his parents who had moved to Chicago. His mother catches him while stealing, and he confesses everything.
In so many words she begs him to stay, “Tonight you have come back to me, just as you always did after you ran away to swim in the river that was forbidden you, the river you loved because it was forbidden . . . I never asked you where you had been then, nor will I now. You have come back to me, that’s all in all to me.”
He looks up at her questioningly and says, “I wonder if you know how much you pardon?” She responds, “O, my poor boy, much or little, what does it matter? Have you wandered so far and paid such a bitter price for knowledge and not yet learned that love has nothing to do with pardon or forgiveness, that it only loves, and loves—and loves?”
The God who has come to us in Christ, “only loves, and loves—and loves.” God is continually at work in non-coercive, creative ways, revealing to us the width and depth of unconditional divine love.
Jesus, empowered by divine love, challenged the powers that be and stood in solidarity with the poor, oppressed, marginalized, and excluded, confronting the gatekeepers of conventional religion and the powerbrokers of the social order. Courageously, he preached, taught, and lived the kingdom of God, and the kingdoms of the world were offended and outraged. In our discipleship to Jesus we are called to love like him.
God’s love is the energy of the universe. When this energy pulsates through our thoughts, attitudes, and actions, and vibrates through our conversation and conduct, then our spirits are electrified with the joy, mystery, wonder, and sheer gift of life. As we become conductors through whom God’s love flows, we become God’s gift to others who need fresh experiences of God’s grace and goodness. As the current of divine love arcs outward into the lives of the people we touch, we serve as mediators of the light and radiance of the divine presence.
I read somewhere that during the filming of “The Misfits,” Arthur Miller, who was married to Marilyn Monroe, watched his wife descend into the depths of depression and despair. He feared for her life as he observed their growing estrangement, her paranoia, and her dependence on barbiturates. One evening while she was sleeping, after a doctor had been persuaded to give her yet another shot, Miller stood over her. Commenting on that moment he said, “I found myself straining to imagine miracles. What if she was to wake and I was able to say, ‘God loves you, darling,’ and she was able to believe it! How I wished I still had my religion and she hers.”
Can we really believe this? Can we believe that God loves us each one with an unconditional love that drives out all fear; a love that will never give up on us and never let us go? What a difference it would make if we could. When we are confident that we are forever God’s beloved children, then we are empowered to love God’s creation and one another with the unconditional love of God.
(The preceding reflections were adapted from my book, Shimmers of Light: Spiritual Reflections for the Christmas Season, published by Wifp and Stock Publishers; available at wipfandstock.com).