This is the first week of Advent, the season where we anticipate the coming of Christ. It’s a time to hear and enter into the story of how Jesus came out of love to give his life for us. This grand love story of Christmas taps into a deep intuition we have about the centrality of love. We possess an inexplicable knowledge that if life has any meaning, it must have something to do with love. One could argue that all of our intuitions about morality and the meaning of life are at root an intuition about the supremacy of love.
Of course, many of us today embrace a worldview that makes it difficult to make sense of this profound intuition. Many, for example, believe that only physical matter is real and that there is, therefore, no objective reality to moral convictions and no overarching purpose to life. Still, if we are at all emotionally and psychologically healthy, we will live like morality does objectively exist and as if there is a purpose to life, and this purpose has something to do with love. The dream of love reigning supreme is not easily extinguished.
This enduring dream of love has been expressed in stories told by various cultures throughout time. While most love stories are between humans (for example, Helen of Troy and Paris or Romeo and Juliet), some are between gods (for example, Ariadne and Dionysus) and some even between a god and a human (for example, Aphrodite and Adonis). Today, we don’t see many stories of love involving gods, but we do see extravagant love stories between people. Just consider the incredible popularity of the books and movies by Nicholas Sparks. Or the fact that during the Christmas season, there are some television channels that only run Christmas movies, and so many of them are love stories. The popularity of love stories might have something to do with the ways they connect us with a primordial dream.
It’s the dream of love that lies at the heart of every human being.
If the depth of one’s love can be measured by the sacrifice one is willing to make for the beloved, then the Jesus story must be judged as not only the greatest love story ever told, but also the greatest love story that ever could be told. It is the story of the all-powerful Creator God making the greatest conceivable sacrifice for people who didn’t deserve—or even desire—it. No story could be imagined in which a lover sacrificed more for a beloved who deserved it less.
In this sense, the Jesus story climaxes and fulfills the dream of all the greatest legendary love stories. J. R. R. Tolkien said that the story of Jesus has a “peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving” quality to it that is “mythical” in its perfection. All other love stories are approximations of this one.