Love Made Real
I spent a week this December in Dili with a team of COOS youth, serving Timor’s young people together with our long-term missionaries. One of the most memorable programmes we helped them with was a Christmas service for youths.
‘Christmas service’. For me, this term calls to mind a stage decorated with trees, stars, and fairy lights; the nativity scene; singing familiar carols – and perhaps even watching a full-blown musical. Could we call our meeting a ‘Christmas service’ if we weren’t planning to include any of those elements?
At 9:30am on a Sunday, our service kicked off with fifty barefooted youths – Singaporeans and Timorese – perched eagerly on plastic stools in a simple room. We went crazy playing an icebreaker, shed tears as we sang in unison about the Father’s love (no carols), listened intently to the Word (which was not about the nativity), then huddled in small circles to share about our lives and pray for one another.
One moment in the gathering stood out for me. After the last worship song about the Father’s love, many Timorese youth were in tears, perhaps missing their own earthly fathers, or being deeply moved by their heavenly one. Instead of closing off the worship time and moving straight into the Word, our preacher, Siew Lee paused and asked us all to give a hug to someone of the same gender. Singaporeans and Timorese youth offered each other long, heartfelt embraces. I pulled a Timorese friend into my arms and she began to cry. Each hug ministered the Father’s love tangibly, through the language of touch. It was as if the arms of God encircled every person we embraced.
This mission trip taught me that it is ‘love made real’ which people need. In the same way that getting a hungry man to think about food will not satisfy his hunger, merely explaining the idea or concept of God’s love to a starving heart will not satisfy it. We humans need to feel God’s love experientially, not just ponder it conceptually, for it to sink into our beings that we are loved. Someone needs to be there with us, to help make God’s love real.
I think parents already understand this concept of needing to be physically present in order to communicate love to their children. When we reached out to the Timorese kids, we intuitively knew that it would not suffice to simply say, “God loves you”. Instead, we spent hours sitting beside them on tiny stools, performing every action of their kindergarten songs with them, playing kiddy games with them, and getting our hands sticky making crafts with them at the same tiny table. In many ways, we became one of them.
At Christmas, we celebrate the heavenly Father doing just that. He became one of us, His children. He probably grew up running with other kids down dusty streets, perhaps scraping a knee or two, inevitably perspiring under the Middle Eastern sun. He didn’t feed the five thousand in a I’m-a-superior-being-so-let-me-help way, for He himself knew how human hunger felt (Matthew 4:2). He did not emotionlessly wipe away sadness, but felt troubled and wept with the weeping (John 11:33, 35).
At Christmas, the Father didn’t just send a message or a miracle to say, “I love you”. Instead, He –LOVE – became flesh and dwelt among us. He became God-with-us, and communicated His tender love in a tangible, ‘humanly-experiential’ way. At Christmas, LOVE is ‘made real’ to us.
Unlike our Christmas youth service in Dili, at this year’s Christmas service at COOS we will have our decorated stage, our lights, our carols, and our Scripture readings about the nativity. These function as signs, pointing us toward what we’re celebrating: God coming to live among His children; God making His love ‘real’ for each of us.
As we walk in Christ’s steps, why not seek to make the Father’s love real – a tangible experience – for someone near you this Christmas? Perhaps a simple hug is all it will take.
Hannah has a big heart for the youth, she loves to read and is a regular contributor to reflections on life@COOS.