Love for Christmas

Each year during the Christmas season, I try to write a blog post on a Christmas poem that has been meaningful for me. In the last six years, this has meant poems by Whitman, Rossetti, Auden, Elliot, Hardy, and Brodsky. I have also, over this time, managed three of the four Advent themes: Hope, Peace, and Joy. So this post is going to be a twofer: the seve th installment of the Christmas poetry theme, and the final installment on the Advent series. I want to talk about love.

Specifically, I want to talk about Christina Rossetti’s wonderful poem, “Christmastide” (her second entry in this series, which began with “In the Bleak Midwinter” in 2016). Here is the poem:

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

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 first important thing to notice about this poem is that it is about love. I mean, it is really about love. The word (including derivatives) occurs 11 times in twelve lines. And it is also about the birth of Christ, because Christ is love. Love is the sign of Christ, the proof of Christ, and the reason for Christ. Love is the giver and the gift, the reason and the season. Love is the whole deal. That’s what Christmas means.

The older I get, and the more I try to think deep thoughts, the more I realize that deep thoughts just aren’t necessary when it comes to love. There aren’t any secrets. There’s no fine print. I have known everything I need to know about love since I was three years old. All of my failures are failures of will or imagination, not understanding.

What I find frustrating, mainly in myself, is how hard it is to just say things like, “it’s all about love,” without feeling the need to qualify it. We want to make sure that everyone knows that, while love is all well and good, just because we love someone in that general sort of vaguely religious way, it doesn’t mean that we approve of them, or agree with them, or don’t think that people like them are ruining the world. In more than 50 years of religious discussions, I fear, I have learned more about what love doesn’t mean (approval, condoning of sin, desire to remove consequences, etc.) than about what it does mean.

Fortunately, though, it is not that tricky.

Love means that we want people to be happy, we want them to be well, we are terrified at the fact that something bad might happen to them, we want to mourn with them when they are mourning and rejoice with them when they are rejoicing. It means that their happiness is as important to us as our own. And, in a religious sense, it means that we see and understnd people the way that God sees and understands them. Love is infinite, unconditional, and absolute. All of the other questions about approving behavior and condoning wrongdoing –as important as they are and as necessary as they may be to contemplate–should never be confused with things that have anything to do with love.

At a time when manifestoing is in the news, this is my manifesto: I will love more and better than I did before. That’s it. That is the whole thing–Gospel and Epistle, soup to nuts, game and candle. Everything else, as my lawyer friends say, is dicta.


  1. I love this!
    Full stop.

  2. Roger Terry says:

    Thanks, Michael. I always enjoy reading your thoughts. These are especially meaningful.

  3. Thank you. Of many musical settings, this is once of the best:

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