The Weakness… and the Strength…of Love
A Reflection on Luke 2:15-20
Have you ever noticed how love can make you feel weak? It’s built into the very vocabulary of love.
“She makes me weak in the knees,” the teenage boy says, talking about his prom date.
“She’s lovesick,” we say about a girl who is so deeply in love that she loses her appetite.
Falling in love, as that phrase indicates, can make you feel like love is controlling you more than you are controlling it.
At a deeper level, love truly does weaken a person in that it makes one vulnerable. The moment you begin to love a thing, anything really, that thing can then hurt you. If there was no love, there would be no pain, but the possibility of pain rises in direct proportion to the love experienced. The greater the love, the greater the pain. When I see that 50 people in Arkansas died of Covid on any given day, I’m sad. But when I lose my grandfather or uncle or sister, I’m broken. The difference between the two is the difference between data and love.
When a husband of 28 years walks out on his wife, the pain is almost unbearable because the love was so profound. When a child doesn’t seem to fit in, it hurts the parent as much as it hurts the child. When your church means a great deal to you and your church travels through a desert season, you can’t help but get sand in your eyes.
Love is a way of sticking your neck out there, which is the easiest way to get yourself beheaded. Love is a way of giving your heart to something external to yourself, which is the easiest way to get it broken. Love is a way of bearing your soul to another, which is sure to get it exposed at some point. Love demands that your life orient around something else. Love demands that you consider other interests, not just your own. Love absorbs the existence of others into the existence of the self so that what is felt by one is felt by the other. Nothing makes a person vulnerable quite like loving someone or something else.
To be sure, love can make a person weak. But have you also noticed how love can make a person strong?
I mean, I’ve seen love empower someone to do something they couldn’t have done otherwise. I once knew a man who went to see his wife every day in the Alzheimer’s unit of a senior adult living center. In the later years, she didn’t even seem to recognize him. “But I know her,” he said with a grin. He went every day, in spite of the pain, because he loved her.
I once saw a mom point her finger in the chest of a 275-pound football player, right there on the field- because he was taunting her son. I have seen love prompt people to march in the streets and raise their voices no matter the price. I have seen love speak the truth for the sake of another, when lying, or silence, would have come at a much cheaper price.
Love has a way of sharpening the mind. When someone you love is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, you’ll find yourself learning all about it. Love has a way of emboldening the voice, and you’ll find yourself speaking to matters about which you would have otherwise been silent. Love has a way of animating the muscles, moving you to do things you otherwise wouldn’t do. Love makes one strong, even as it makes one vulnerable.
I think about this every time I look at a nativity scene. There Jesus lays, as vulnerable as any human has ever been. His life was totally dependent upon the care of others. He is the incarnation of love, and therefore, the incarnation of weakness.
But the way Luke tells the story, Jesus’ vulnerability and weakness is contrasted with the strength and might of Caesar Augustus, the most powerful man in the world. Luke seemed to think that the world altering, reality shattering news was found in the manger in Bethlehem rather than the throne in Rome. Luke seemed to think that God’s weakness was stronger than human power. Luke seemed to think that love was more powerful than power. Luke seemed to think that love was the most powerful thing in the whole wide world.
The next time you look at a nativity scene, ask yourself what you see. Do you see power or weakness? If the answer is both, good! Love, real love, always looks that way. It might just be the most vulnerable thing in the world- and the most powerful- all at the same time.
I don’t understand that any more than I understand virgin births. But I can’t deny it either.