I Don't Know Why I Love You Like I Do
Updated: Jan 15
And the angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. --Luke 1:28-29
"I don't know why I love you like I do. I don't know why, I just do," my mother used to sing to me as she waltzed me on her hip around the kitchen.
Did I ever mention that my mother had been a ballroom dancer? And an occasional nightclub singer? My mother had been a fetching redhead and a snappy dresser--I have the pictures to prove it. As likely as not, she probably both dazzled and befuddled my staid and steady German-American dad. And when she sang that song to me, who knows who or what she was thinking of? Maybe of the men she enchanted, the daughters who adored her, the friends she deftly impressed with her cleverness, beauty and wit.
Who knows? I was a kid. And "I Don't Know Why I Love You Like I Do" was just a song I grew up hearing my mother sing. And yet that song imprinted on me. Even now it goes a long way for me in describing how people are about faith, about faith in a God with a specific name--Vishnu, Hashem, Allah, Jesus. Even now it goes a long way for me in understanding belief in a divine presence more described than actually named: Supreme Being, Holy Spirit, Abiding Lord.
As humans we tend to have a hankering toward the transcendent, even if we don't use those words to identify it. Which is why it always moves me at the same time that it amuses me that on Christmas Eve--nine days from now!--a great many people who would not otherwise describe themselves as in any way religious at all, will show up in churches singing hymns, standing side-by-side with strangers in candlelit darkness, trying to figure out how to take communion (for a lot of folks it's been a dog's age or more) and listening to preachers who may be gifted, decent or lousy at their craft.
Yes, people will come, at least on Christmas Eve, when it is dark and tradition is as good an excuse as any to give way to a little God-hunger.
I've been a pastor for a quarter century. And I don't know why people come to church on Christmas Eve the way they do. I don't know why. They just do.
Do you think it is because the Christmas story is fundamentally one of dependency? Once we grasp this idea of God as a frail infant, we've got to realize how greatly that infant God depends on human effort and human love simply to grow up and get by. We human schlubs actually play a role in caring for baby God.
Or let me put it that way: All that Jesus-as-King talk totally misses the point for me. Instead of a monarch, calling the shots, we get an infant, crying for milk. Instead of a bullying ruler, we get a baby restless for warmth. And in those wordless and persistent newborn cries, we get a pretty potent hint that depending on each other--and depending on such a hard-to-grasp concept as an unfailingly loving God--is really what life is about.
But how scary is that? What is more frightening than needing one another? What is more off-putting than putting our trust outside ourselves? Many of us don't even share our passwords with our partners! Trusting our souls to God, our love to others seems like the fool-hardiest of ideas.
And yet--and yet, this is Advent. And there is this about Advent:
Mary—talking to an angel, searching for the right words--Mary simply gave away her password. Mary simply said "yes." No numbers, symbols, upper case or lower case letters. Mary said, according to St. Luke’s gospel “Here am I. Let it be with me according to your word.”
She said to that nervous, overburdened angel Gabriel, I'll just go with what you’re telling me. I’ll take your word on this. I’ll take the Word into my body where it will become not the ghost of an idea, but the flesh of a child. I’ll take the Word into my body where it will not become a Word any longer, but a Deed. A Deed and a Savior.
That is how, I believe, Mary chose not to flee the wrath to come that John the Baptizer so belligerently speaks of. You know how I feel about John the Baptist--how I wish he'd take a shower, take a Valium and get off all our backs. Still, John is right, of course. We do cower in fear and we do seek to flee because we fear the ill to our earth and to our fellow citizens that our deeds incurred and continue to incur. And we rightly should be fearful of that. John speaks and the pattern of human behavior is duly noted, duly confirmed. John speaks to humanity in general and across the board. And we are left with only fear.
But Mary responds to Gabriel in particular and when she speaks, the world is changed. The word is made not only flesh, but is also made into deed and love comes alive. Mary gives her body as a home for Jesus so that, in the fullness of time, Jesus gives his body that we might find a home in God.
And that is what, to me, is the most profound thing about Christmas—that it’s so magnificently risky. God relying on human love. That’s thinking outside the box. That’s making a leap of faith. That is the tender-hearted God trusting that, amidst the hard-heartedness of so many people, there would still be some tender-hearted fools willing to risk their love and their trust, willing to say let it be with me according to your word.
God must have been imagining that there were others, like Mary, perplexed and clearly not in charge of her life, who still could embrace the idea that love lives and breathes and saves and that we are privileged—even if we don’t understand all the whys and wherefores of it—to embrace it with our own brimming hearts.
Mary--fool and saint that she is--says yes to God and she puts her trust in God. She is willing to depend on God. But with her agreement, she is also saying that she will let God put God’s trust in her—and bear the Christ child into the world. The word is made deed by God’s word and by Mary’s word, as well. It’s a covenant between God and Mary, a promise sealed, a partnership enacted. Can you imagine such audacity? Or such bravery? Or maybe even a kind of holy foolisheness.
But in this way, Mary gets to give birth to the wonderful Counselor, the mighty God, the Prince of peace. Mary gets to give birth to love.
And because of that, so do we.
So I think that when people show up in church--even if it's only on Christmas Eve because your wife made you go or you are placating your grandmother--or simply because it's tradition--when people show up in church, I think that in some poor-fool, tender closet in their hearts they are saying--they are maybe even singing without words: I don't know why I love you like I do. I don't know why, I just do.