Our service this Sunday will be the choir cantata When Love Was Born, by Frank L. Cross and John M. Rasley. The narration of the cantata is drawn from throughout the New Testament, texts about love. And Jesus. And the Nativity. So just try and keep up.

John 1:1-2, 14: This selection comes from the prologue to John’s gospel, which establishes Jesus’ divinity, his incarnation, and the fact that this is not John the Baptist we’re talking about. All three of those points were contested in the early church, enough so that the churches in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) needed to hear this gospel with its explicit claims that Jesus was indeed the holy Son of God. In the Revised Common Lectionary, the prologue of John is listed for Christmas Day (which doesn’t usually have a service) and the second Sunday after Christmas (which is usually replaced by Epiphany). The Book of Common Worship insists that if John’s prologue is not used on Christmas Day, it’s important enough that we should read at some other point during Christmas. I really like it because by naming Jesus (the Son) first as “the Word,” it suggests trinitarian language that doesn’t depend on masculine nouns (Speaker, Word, and Breath?).

1 John 4:7-10, 16: Paul isn’t the only apostle to write a “love chapter.” Whereas Paul’s chapter is about love as a guiding principle in church life, this chapter goes straight to the source and discusses how love reflects and participates in the essence of God. Verses like “not that we loved God, but that he loved us” shouldn’t read like a Roman Road tract about how God loves us even though we’re terrible people. This passage is essentially about God’s love as the creative force that calls the church into being.

Luke 1:26-28, 31-32, 38: In the interest of time, this passage cuts all the drama out of the Annunciation: Mary’s bewilderment at the angel’s appearance, her question about how this could happen, even the overshadowing by the Holy Spirit. Out of context like this, Gabriel could be predicting a natural, run-of-the-mill pregnancy. Some modern commentators try to make this “miracle” realistic by noting that the Hebrew term for “virgin” could have meant “young woman,” or that a woman conceiving on her first cycle would be considered a virgin. All this misses the point of what Luke does with Mary’s character: she’s the open recipient of God’s Spirit, the contemplative who nurtures the seeds of God’s kingdom until they come to fruition, the model of what members of the church should be.

John 3:16-17: I think the word “believe” in 3:16 has been oversimplified to mean some kind of cognitive decision, when it has seemed to me to be more about the orientation of one’s life: is love the most important thing to us? To be sure, 3:17 offers the counterpoint that God’s goal in sending Jesus was not to present some kind of test that much of the world’s population will necessarily fail. Besides, “world” here means this world in all its glory and its fallenness. That’s what is being saved.

Luke 2:1, 4-11, 13-14: Not to be nostalgic, but there was a time when this passage was so familiar that when Linus started to quote it in Charlie Brown’s Christmas, we could assume that everyone knew what was going on. We know that’s not the case anymore for most of the Bible, and I’d suspect that this passage is included there. People know the basic story of stables glowing with Thomas Kinkade light, but I suspect the narrative is missing for many. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Maybe it gives us the chance to read this again, the way it juxtaposes Roman imperial power with the unusual birth of the heir to David’s throne, the way God’s messengers come into a world controlled by the powers of violence and immediately call out: “Do not be afraid.”

John 13:34-35: Jesus gives the command to love one another as part of his final instructions to the disciples before his crucifixion. Note that he isn’t telling us to be nice to one another, although that’s certainly an expression of love. He’s talking about a community of people who would go to death for one another, as happened frequently in the early church.

Ephesians 3:17-19: This passage sits at the intersection of God’s power and our lives, which is just where we start to comprehend the vastness of God’s love. This isn’t a knowledge that is arrived at conceptually or (usually) a surprise bolt from the blue; it’s a wisdom that is hard-won in the living of a life.