October 31, 2023 • Article, De Pree Journal, Marketplace Leaders
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, “keep watch” means to watch to make sure that no one is coming.” The historical context of Jesus’ birth into the world was marked by the Massacre of the Innocents—the slaughter of children two years and younger. This was King Herod’s attempt to kill the newborn king of the Jews, which provoked Joseph, Mary, and Jesus’ exile to Egypt (Matthew 2:12-18). Keeping watch was necessary for survival.
An idealized retelling of the manger narrative ignores the likely terror and trauma Joseph, Mary, and Jesus endured. In God Speaks Through Wombs: Poems on God’s Unexpected Coming, Drew Jackson offers us this sober reminder inspired by the gospel of Luke: This is “history. Told by those lovers of Adonai from the underside.” Despite the terror they faced, their faith gave them hope. They found encouragement from the prophets to anticipate with joy the New Jerusalem and a time with no more weeping and crying (Isaiah 65:18). In their suffering, Mary and Joseph were anticipating joy, the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham through the birth of the Son of God. Now, nothing was impossible.
Søren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” We have the benefit of foresight, having Jesus’crucifixion in view as we ponder in our hearts Christ’s coming at Bethlehem, but the parents of the Christ child were living it forward. Kierkegaard’s wisdom suggests that we can only understand Jesus’ birth looking backward from his death. It is the connective tissue between these events—Jesus birth and death—that point us toward why Love came and what it is determined to accomplish.
I am drawn to Jesus’ Farewell Discourses in John 13-17 which are delivered in the face of imminent death or departure and described as “Jesus’ last meal and instructions to his disciples.” At the very end of his life and ministry, what was most important to Jesus? What insight can we glean from the heart of Christ? Scholars suggest, “We find Jesus concerned first for the community that he leaves behind, for the quality of their life together, and for the witness they bear to him in the world. The life of the community is to be characterized, above all, by response to his commands, a response that is lived out in mutual love.” The recurring theme is Love, a new commandment is given: “And then you will search and long for me. But I tell you what I told the Jewish leaders: you’ll not be able to come where I am. So I give you now a new commandment: Love each other just as much as I have loved you” (John 13:33b-34 TPT).
A New Commandment: The Call to Love
The Gospel in Solentiname by Ernesto Cardenal chronicles the communal reading and reflection of the Scriptures from a village in Nicaragua. Witness their conversation about Jesus’ commandment.
“We can’t go where he goes, but we can find him that way, by loving one another; in this way he will indeed be present. He is saying goodbye to them, and on giving them that new commandment he is telling them, telling us, that we must look for him not where he is going but in communal love.”
The beauty of God’s magnificent plan is that we find Christ on earth today in the love we find in each other.
“As long as we have a divided society, as long as there are class distinctions, he’s not there. And they’re going to be looking for him without finding him. But if we obey the new commandment, then we’ve got him with us.”
What makes it a new commandment?
“I think it was just in theory and wasn’t practiced. Now it’s a new commandment because it’s supposed to be practiced and to change society. It’s a commandment that will bring a revolution, and that’s the newness.”
“This will be something different, not just a religious precept as the Jews saw it but a new social reality. On calling it ‘a new commandment,’ Jesus is saying that his commandment is a new command to love.”
The distinguishing characteristic of the followers of the Way is to be their love for one another. That is how we live forward, but is that our lived experience? In a 2007 Barna Study respondents replied “Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus,” which has given rise to the term “unchristian.” If this is true for society, could this also be true of our leadership at work?
I want to share one more voice from Solentiname:
“The word of God is the word of love, because God is love. God’s word is the commandment of love. Christ is that word, which has come to communicate to us the love for one another. He incarnates the commandment that we must love one another. And to love one another means to put in practice his word, to be his disciples.”
This community member beautifully puts John 13:35 in conversation with Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 7:24, “Everyone, then, who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”
The command to love is not just a theory. It is a calling with real practical application. Looking backward at Jesus’ life for understanding, I see Emmanuel, God with us, more clearly as Love with us. Just as the exiled parents of the Christ-child, injustice, and terror surround us and our faith calls us to live forward the life of Love. But there are real obstacles to practicing Love in everyday life.
Perhaps the paradox of Advent is the invitation to keep watch for all that comes against Love while also waiting with joyful anticipation for Love. In this present age of discord and strife, we sit in tension wrought with disharmony and the hope of Love at the same time.
The opposition to Love surrounds us. Fear-based systems, all forms of oppression and injustice, the objectification and dehumanization of people, just to name a few. In your marketplace context, what are you keeping watch for? What are you guarding against? The beauty of Love is its power to transform, to sanctify bringing truth, light, healing, and courage. As a leader, are you joyfully anticipating Love?
In another poem Jackson makes this assertion about Jesus and Love: “but he claims this is the way the whole system will be undone.” Love with us is the power to transform that which we are keeping watch for and guarding against. Brian McLaren sparks our redemptive imagination that I believe is applicable to our work contexts with this thought-provoking question: “Whatever Christianity was supposed to be, it was supposed to be about love. What would a system look like that was designed to help people become the most loving version of themselves? This is our invitation to reimagine the systems that we’ve inherited to produce a different result.” What would happen in our living forward if each of us became Love in our contexts and looked for it in everyone?
A Practical Tool for Leading with Love
What does it look like to lead with Love? Consider this LOVE framework for transformational leadership for starters.
L: Listen Deeply, Look Again, which is the etymology of the word respect.
O: Open to Listen, Difference, Change, Open Hearted. It is a heart-set more than a mindset.
V: Vulnerable, Value the Imago Dei in each person
E: Empathy, Emotional Well Being, Expand, Evolve
An Advent Blessing
May we see Advent with new eyes and a new heart, understanding it backward from Resurrection to birth to grasp more fully perhaps why Love entered this earth realm. As you keep watch and joyfully anticipate Love’s transforming power as you become a catalyst for change in your context, may you experience Love’s presence as you encounter it in others. May Love be how you occupy until Jesus returns. Blessings as you walk the path of Jesus, the pathway of Love. Amen.
Achtemeier, Paul J, Joel B Green, Joel B Green, Marianne Meye Thompson, Marianne Meye Thompson, and Paul J Achtemeier. 2001. Introducing the New Testament : Its Literature and Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.