When you think about the celebration of Christmas, what Bible readings do you normally think about? Maybe your mind goes right to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, with readings detailing the birth of Jesus. Do you see a play-by-play of Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem, the birth in a stable, and the excited entrance of the Shepherds? Maybe you find yourself pondering the several messianic promises of the Old Testament, with words and phrases spoken by Isaiah. Whatever specific passages or readings you think about, I am willing to bet that Song of Songs is not a biblical book that immediately comes to mind. And yet, this past Wednesday, the lectionary called us to read from this book as we journey to Christmas.
Just think about that for a moment: in the last week of Advent, we read about the ardent desire of a beloved for her lover. Reading Songs of Songs sometimes makes us blush. Its words are beautiful and sensual, and at times, borderline racy. It is a book which gives voice to visceral passion and erotic longing. This is not the stuff of normal Christmas reflections. And yet, just four days before the celebration of Christ’s birth, we read: “Listen! My Lover! Look! Here he comes, leaping over the mountains, and bounding over the hills.” (SofS 2:8)
What would it look if we approached Christmas like a beloved longing for his or her lover? Love, after all, is implicit in our understanding of Christmas; yet what if this love is not one of mere sentiment or nostalgia but one of passion and intense desire? Would this change the way we view the coming of Christ? Can we see the divine in breaking not as a highly refined expression of sacrificial love—one so wrapped up in murky theological expressions that it loses its visceral quality—but as a lover completely consumed with passion? Author and theologian James K.A. Smith writes
“Instead of setting up a false dichotomy between agape and eros, we could think of agape as rightly ordered eros:”
(In “You are what you love” pg. 10)
God comes, not as a theologian to bestow a message to be heard and pondered, but as a lover to be embraced. God, who is love, becomes the incarnate expression of rightly ordered eros. In this way, the approaching nearness of the one who is our soul’s desire quickens us. Our hearts skip beats, our minds become singularly focused. Anticipation fills every moment because we know that we will soon be enfolded in His sweet embrace. And like two lovers who cannot help but be in constant touch, come Christmas morning, we wrap ourselves around the one we have longed for.
Could it be that it is coming to Jesus in this way that we fully enter into the glory of the incarnation? We call to Jesus with a longing that says there is no other place we would rather be than in His presence. We echo the passion of Song of Songs and join with the beloved who calls out for her lover in aching desire: “show me your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face is altogether lovely.” (SofS 2:14)
To receive Jesus as this divine lover would mean we do not approach Jesus as a mere child: one to be held, cuddled, cared for, or managed. Nor do we come to him as one coming to a gift; Jesus is not an item to be received—to be looked at and admired but never embraced. For Jesus to be the lover of our souls means that he cannot be the mere content of a message, existing as nothing more than informative data to be thought about and memorized. He is our divine lover—the one for whom our hearts beat and our souls ache. Jesus is the one whom we give our entire selves, the one whose presence is the very culmination of our deepest desire.
In a few days, your lover comes. In a few days, the divine longing ceases and our desire is filled. Come, Lord Jesus, Come.