We’ve just come through the season of gifts, all the presents of Christmas and the good wishes for the New Year. A gift – something given over freely, with good will and coming not from obligation but from good will and esteem. It raises the question: of all the gifts to receive, which would be the most valuable and precious?
Heading the list for many would be another’s love, the love coming from another. This is the gift behind all gifts. It would mean that the most personal and warmest core of that person is being directed at you — better said, is being poured out on you.
Ingesting that love wakes up something deep inside. It produces confidence, self-assurance and self-respect, and in fact meaning itself. Absorbing the truth of another’s love opens us to life itself. There is no more valuable gift.
With this notion of the gift behind all gifts, we move to a scene early in Luke’s gospel: Jesus kneeling at the Jordan River right after John has baptized him. It’s exactly at this juncture that Jesus receives that gift of gifts — his Father God telling him that he is Beloved, precious in His sight.
The Spirit descending right after is only a further expression of that love, the Holy Spirit being none other than God’s love poured out, filling Jesus here at the Jordan and then flowing into all of us.
Another tender scene, this time from Isaiah, adds further color to the Father’s message. It’s the Good Shepherd lovingly gathering the precious lambs in his arms and holding them close against his heart.(Is. 40:11)
Both these scenarios, Isaiah’s shepherd and Jesus baptism, provide the setting for the core Christian proclamation — and also the central Christian task. We are loved, the beloved of God. And we are commissioned to bring that selfless, precious love to others. In Jesus’ life of love and in his selfless death, we catch sight of God’s loving us, God holding each one of us close to His heart. If there’s any truth at the core of the Gospel, it’s this: “You are my beloved, and in you I am well pleased. My Spirit, who is love itself, is always coming to you.” (Lk 3:22)
Echoes come through in Vincent’s Common Rules. “…the love of God which is so great that human understanding can’t grasp it; enlightenment from on high is needed to raise us up in order to show us the height and depth, the breadth and excellence of this love.” (Chapter 2, article 12)
The Christian task, simply put, is to radiate this gift of gifts. It is love for another, loving action spread through the world which bears the love behind all loves: that of The Father for us coming in God’s Spirit through the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Standing there on that river bank with John the Baptist, we come close to the very heart of it: Jesus realizing himself as the beloved of God, Jesus being given that gift behind all gifts. As all of us gather at the Eucharist, we hear yet another rendering of that same saving truth, “This is my body and blood, poured out in love for you. Do this in memory of me.”