I recently read a story about Joseph Scriven who wrote the lyrics to the hymn “What a Friend we have in Jesus” in 1855 for his mother who missed him terribly after he had emigrated to Canada. Scriven was an Irishman who left Ireland for Canada after his fiancé died. In Canada he tutored the children of wealthy families. He then got engaged to a woman in Canada, but she also died before their wedding. Grief stricken, Scriven decided he was to remain a bachelor. But he never gave up on loving people. On Saturday nights he would go downtown and distribute Gospel pamphlets to the men coming out of the bars.
One Saturday night in winter Scriven was handing out his tracts and a group of men coming out of a bar decided to beat him up. After leaving him bleeding and lying on the ground they staggered away. As Scriven watched the thugs move away he noticed one of them did not have a winter coat to protect himself from the cold. He hastily got up and caught up to the man, took off his coat and gave it to him.
Would you have done such a thing? I have to admit that I probably would not have even thought to give this man my own coat. After all, he didn’t deserve it. A situation becomes a scandal when it violates people’s expectations about how a person in a certain position is supposed to behave. We generally think of it in a negative way such as a politician who takes bribes, or a teacher abuses children. But it was a scandalous love displayed by Scriven. And it is scandalous love that Jesus demonstrated by taking on human form to save you and me. We celebrate this love at Christmas. Yes, it seems to me that the Christmas story is the ultimate display of a scandalous love.
But God’s love for us didn’t begin at Christmas. He has always loved us with a scandalous love. We often fail to understand just how scandalous God’s love for us is, and how radical it is that God would show that love by lowering himself to be born in human form. His scandalous love is on full display in the story of Hosea where we read:
Hosea 2:2-3 (CEB) When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, marry a prostitute and have children of prostitution, for the people of the land commit great prostitution by deserting the LORD . ” So Hosea went and took Gomer, Diblaim’s daughter, and she became pregnant and bore him a son.”
Hosea 3:1 (TNIV) The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”
Christmas is the heralding of God who comes to be with us. God is the one who pursues. The Incarnation is the revelation of God’s scandalous love affair with humanity. Do you trust God’s promise to redeem your life? To love you and want your love in return, no matter what kind of mess your life has been? To whom or in what way can you show “scandalous” love this holiday season because of God’s great love shown to you?