Magazine article The Christian Century

Gift Wrapped

Magazine article The Christian Century

Gift Wrapped

Article excerpt

MY NEIGHBORHOOD offers Christmas shoppers lots of help: the counters are full, and the windows have been elegantly displaying gift suggestions since mid-October. I am led to ponder the original gift that generated this phenomenon of Christmas--a small, quiet, intimate gift of love in the birth of a child. What this is about, I remind myself, is God and God's love and God's plan to call love out of us.

The Greeks taught that God is perfect. By that they meant that God is complete, that God has no needs, no hopes, no aspirations. God doesn't need anything. God's perfection, the Greeks thought, meant that God is isolated, unchanging, unfeeling. The Greek word for it is apatheia. If God had feelings, became angry or happy, hated or loved, God would be as vulnerable as any human being--a preposterous idea, they thought.

Then came a new idea--that God loves, that God is love, love with all the risk and vulnerability and heartbreak that go along with love. Douglas John Hall says that the basic Christian assertion is the opposite of the Greek idea: "God is God only in relationship," Hall wrote. God cares so deeply, loves so passionately, that it hurts.

Twenty centuries ago a man by the name of John wrote to a beleaguered church in Asia Minor: "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God. …

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