In 1885 an English author, Christina Rossetti, wrote a poem. She didn’t give it a title—that came later. Eventually, her poem was set to music and became a Christmas carol—not one of the ones that drift through the parking lots at this time of year, but one that is often sung in a sanctuary. Here are the words to the first stanza of Love Came Down at Christmas:
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
For reasons I cannot explain, these words came to me as I sat down to think about and reflect on the theme of love this Advent. Is this what love looks like? All lovely? Divine? Escorted by a star and angels? Certainly those are the components of the Christmas story that we all hold dear, and at this time of year it’s easy to feel warm and fuzzy toward everyone—especially the ones we run into at church. We smile, we hug, we purchase gifts, we wish each other “Merry Christmas” and we mean it, of course. Until the exhaustion of the season makes our tempers flare. Or the constant urge to buy, buy, buy makes our spirits sag. Is this the kind of love we’re singing about? Is this what Christmas love really looks like? And what happens when the season’s over? Is the sentiment gone, too? If it is, I suspect the “love” we sing about isn’t the kind of love God had in mind in the gift of Jesus.
I’ve seen love “come down,” but it wasn’t at Christmas. It was in late summer. And the sign wasn’t stars and angels. The sign was howling wind and days of rain. The kind of rain that simply wouldn’t stop. The kind of rain that took away people’s homes and carried away their hopes, their dreams, perhaps even their futures, and deposited them in unsightly piles along the manicured roadways of our neighborhoods. That wasn’t love, you say. That was disaster! Indeed, it was.
However we worship a God fully capable of transforming the worst into the best. And the tool God uses for that transformation is love. That baby born at Christmas, practically homeless himself, grew up and taught us by example, how to love, even in the face of betrayal, and how to begin to transform the world.
Wind and rain, not star and angels, became a sign for us.
And Chapelwood responded to the Harvey-sign with love--not the love we think of at Christmas, a love that smells good, feels good, and is wreathed in smiles and hugs. No, the sign of this love looked more like dirty hands, dirty feet, exhaustion, frustration, weeping, working, mucking, cooking, sharing, praying, paying…all the things that went on within our community as we came together after the devastation of the storm to shower love—not down, but on—our friends and total strangers.
Rossetti’s last stanza includes these words:
Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
The sign of Chapelwood’s love was in the form of boats and rescue, shelter for aid workers, camps for kids displaced by the storm, homes shared, prayers offered, and no questions asked. There was, for one incredible season, room for all at our inn. And like love always does, it brought us together. It broadened our world. It made us a family. The love that came down that first Christmas has indeed hung around. It’s still here, still doing its transforming work.
Love be yours, and love be mine.
Can you feel it? Can you share it?
by Elaine Scott