Scripture: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10, NRSV)
Reflection: The 1999 romantic comedy film, Runaway Bride: Catch Her if You Can, starring Julia Roberts as Maggie and Richard Gere as Ike, focused on Maggie’s fear of commitment. Maggie gets cold feet and flees from several fiancés on their wedding day, jilting them at the altar. Ike discovers that Maggie is hesitant to enter into a long-term relationship because she suffers from people-pleaser syndrome. Ike accepts Maggie for who she is, falls in love with her, and gives her the space to be her differentiated self. Eventually, they have a small private wedding and enter into marriage, springing up joy and celebration for each other, Maggie’s family, and friends.
Fear of relational commitments is real. Fear of commitment to long-term relationships can be caused by numerous factors such as complicated family dynamics while growing up, attachment issues, former unhealthy relationships, trust issues because of past hurts, child trauma or abuse, and unmet childhood needs. Some go as far as to sabotage healthy relationships to avoid commitment.
The prophet Isaiah proclaims that God, like a jilted but determined groom, is at work to redeem, reconcile, and restore the broken relationship with Israel, God’s bride. God wills to take a people prone to run away, stay away, and stray away from a relationship with him back and start again. With tender love and mercy, God is willing to receive, forgive, bless, clothe with garments of salvation, cover with righteousness, adorn the nation with jewels, and restore their lost fortunes.
Many jilt God, reluctant to enter into a relationship with God through Christ, afraid to be bound by the promises, privileges, and responsibilities entailed in the relationship. Some jilt God because they feel unworthy or believe the Christian life is too difficult, incapable of living up to their end of the relationship. François Fénelon (1651-1715) wrote extensively about the absolute love of God. He emphasized the spiritual life was the only way to the joy, not drudgery, of life. Fénelon recognized that viewed from the outside, following Christ appears demanding, but insists that Christ’s spirit of love makes such a life easy, led by God’s peace and love within, which sweetens and enables our capacity to sustain the relationship with joy. “God is so good,” says Fénelon, “that he only awaits our desire to overwhelm us with the gift which is himself. If we feed ourselves with Jesus Christ and his word, we shall be like a vessel in full sail with a fair wind.”
The Christmas story is about God’s relentless love for and faithfulness to a world prone to jilt God and God’s love; reluctant to receive and reciprocate with its love and commitment. While it is humanity’s nature to run away, stay away, and stray away from God, it is the loving, merciful nature of God to outrun us. God wills to receive, forgive, bless, clothe with garments of salvation, cover with righteousness, adorn with gifts, and overwhelm us with the gift which is himself. Christ made God’s love known to us through the incarnation, his merciful ministry, and his overwhelming love for us.
This Christmas, we can stop running away, staying away, and straying away from God; we cannot jilt and outrun God’s searching love and mercy for us. We need not fear committing ourselves to God, who has already committed himself to us through and in Christ. We can trust that God is faithful, and God will help us remain loyal to our commitment with the overwhelming gift, which is himself, always for us, in us, and with us.