The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher Priest-in-Charge Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville

One of the carols of Christmas is a lovely poem by Christina Rossetti. Here is the text:

"Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine; love was born at Christmas: star and angels gave the sign.

"Worship we the Godhead, love incarnate, love divine; worship we our Jesus, but where-with for sacred sign?

"Love shall be our token; love be yours and love be mine, love to God and neighbor, love for plea and gift and sign."

Love was not created at the first Christmas, but in a special sense the love that we share at this season did come down at Christmas. While love has always been a human emotion, love in its deepest meaning was born at Christmas.

The first Christmas was special because in the birth of Jesus divine love was focused for us in a fashion never more clearly perceived. Love came down to the "cradled in straw" so that even the quivering child might have a companion of promise. Love in its emotion would be seen in Jesus' care for his disciples and his mother. Love in its inclusiveness would be demonstrated when a woman taken in adultery was forgiven and when a penitent thief was offered the gift of heaven. Love in its sacrificial nature would never more clearly be seen than in a crucifixion on Calvary. No treasure, however costly, was too great a gift for the Christ Child to give -- not even his life. It was in the full offering of himself to Love that he wished to fulfill God's message to us.

And what was that message?

It was the message that love is what life is meant to be about. "God is Love," and it is in the living out of that love in our everyday lives that we find joy, purpose, and hope for this life and the life to come. (1 John 4:8)

Christmas, therefore, is a time for thanksgiving. It is a time to give thanks for love. It is a time to give thanks for the love we share with each other and for the gift of God in Christ. It is a time to give thanks for love that allows us to be forgiven and restored when relationships fail. We celebrate good times when love is felt; and we celebrate the good news that love can continue after love is lost.

If love is the gift you wish to give this Christmas, rejoice that you have that gift to give. If love is the gift you wish to receive, open your heart to new possibilities. Place yourself at the cradle of the Christ Child and think of all that his gift of love is meant to be. Think of his gentleness. Think of his courage. Think of the generosity of his love. Think of the hope that he gives to all who will receive it.