By Adam Johnson, Biola University —For God so loved that he gave. For God so loved that he sent. Love took the shape of giving and sending. 

For most of us, Christmas is a time of gathering. My family will travel to Washington and Idaho to be with grandpas, grandmas, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces. And there is something beautiful and powerful in families gathering around the world to celebrate the birth of Christ, to acknowledge that great gift in what we hope will be a genuine act of thanks: giving gifts in return.

But for the Holy Trinity, things were somewhat different. Christmas is not an act of gathering the family together. Rather, it was an act of breaking the family apart, so to speak. The Father sent, the Father gave. No, there was not a rupture in the Trinity; these are not three gods that one can leave the other as a son can leave a father and a mother. But the Gospel readings stand: God sent.

Something new happened in the life of God, and if we are to speak of it properly, it calls forth not the Hallmark image of a family gathered around the fireplace with a decorated Christmas tree in the background, but something more akin to a father, alone, with a son serving in the military overseas, a mother, alone, thinking of a daughter doing missions work in a faraway land. Christmas, in the life of the Holy Trinity, was more a time of separation, if we may be so bold, than it was a time of reunion, of gathering.

Of course we must be careful here, not to speak improperly of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is one. God is indivisible. Surely. But God sent, God gave, and the purpose of such reflection is to help us understand such giving. And in understanding, to appreciate that while Christmas can be a time of gathering, it is not only that. It is a time of giving, of sending. Here too, we are called to sell all we have to buy the field in which the precious treasure is hidden, here too it is true that “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:50). Christmas may be a time for family, but not idolatry of the family. Christmas was a time of loss, of sacrifice, that God might gather many to himself.

And it is that still, for us. It is an opportunity to give up and lose some if not all of those precious moments as a nuclear and extended family that we might gather in those who lack such a family, who don’t have a place to go. And that is one of the things I treasure most, looking back to Christmases through the years: the guests, the strangers, who so often filled our home.

Prayer: Father, thank you for loving, for sending, for giving. In a time of receiving, a time of gathering, help us send, help us give.

Adam Johnson is a theologian and Torrey Honors Institute professor who focuses on the doctrine of the atonement, exploring the many ways in which the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ affect the reconciliation of all things to God. 

This devotional was original published on Day 2 of The Advent Project, an online resource with scripture, devotionals, art, video, and music that helps participants remember the mystery of the incarnation and the Word made flesh. The Advent Project is provided free of charge by Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts. To subscribe and have the devotions sent directly to your email inbox: