Can you think of anyone you do not or cannot love; people you believe belong on God’s naughty list? I can. Bullies. Liars. Racists. Child abusers. Spouse abusers. People who judge people. Oops. People who gossip.
The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Roman Christians because he’d heard they were fighting, arguing, and judging each another. Some folks were certain that they were the strong Christians while those other people (you know who, right?) were weak. Those people belonged on God’s naughty list.
I try to imagine the day Paul’s letter was read out loud to the congregation, feel the tension in the room. After a pleasant and encouraging introduction Paul launched into the meat of his message. He started by naming names, listing people who belong on God’s naughty list: murderers and slnderers. Someone in the back shouted “Amen!” Paul went on: people who envy what other people have; people who hate; people who lie; those who are haughty and arrogant. Can I get an amen! Paul continued: people who boast; children who rebel against their parents; people who gossip. Oops. People who practice such things deserve to die, Paul said. The Amen Corner has become strangely silent.
But then in Romans 3 Paul gets to his first major point: “Everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, but all are treated as righteous by God’s free grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus.” When it comes to God’s naughty list, we’re all there. We’ve all fallen short; we can’t expect God to play favorites on that score. But then—and don’t miss this—Paul goes on to say we’re all on God’s love list. When it comes to God’s grace, God’s mercy, and God’s love, Paul concluded, God shows no partiality.
Do you realize how scandalous God’s love is? God loves all of us. God goes first in loving us, even if we have been naughty. Christmas celebrates THAT love, THAT God who became one of us in order to be with us. God, who is love through and through, became incarnate in a baby, born of a Virgin, God’s scandalous love affair with humankind.
What is a scandal? A scandal is anything that violates our expectations about how people ought to behave: a 5-star general cheats on his wife; a politician takes a bribe, and so on. God doesn’t want them to do bad things. God wants them stop; but still God loves them, just as God loves you and me. And God wants our love in return, no matter what kind of mess our lives have been in? God’s ways are not our ways. God works miracles in unexpected places, in unexpected ways. From a human point of view, God’s love is a scandalous love.
How about us? Can we respond by loving others in that way? What kind of scandal would it create this Christmas if you went out of your way to demonstrate love toward someone who’s not supposed to be loved? Is your presence making God’s love more visible in the lives of the people that you come into contact with? Who’re you not supposed to love? Might you love them anyway?