"We love because he first loved us." 1 John 4:19
The young girl was traveling from her Mexican village to the nearby chapel to visit the Nativity scene. Pepita was upset because she had no money to buy a gift to offer the baby Jesus during the service. But as she walked, she picked a bouquet along the roadside—weeds really. She was discouraged at her lack, but her cousin reminded her that even the most humble gift given in love would be acceptable in God’s eyes. When Pepita brought her offering to the Christ child, her bouquet miraculously transformed into beautiful red flowers, known as cuetlaxochitl—poinsettias.
Our own Christmas tradition of giving and displaying poinsettias comes from Mexico. The first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, brought the plant home in 1828 to study and cultivate it. He began giving them to friends as the lovely red flowers bloomed around Christmas, and a Pennsylvanian botanist soon began growing and selling them as the tradition spread.
The original legend of Pepita reminds us of human love’s humble response to God’s love. “We love because he first loved us.” When we are able to receive God’s love, in all of its unconditional fullness, we are able to be vulnerable, accepted, and unashamed. We are aware there is nothing we can do to deserve this love. We understand our frailty and our smallness. There is nothing we can give to impress God, but all He wants is us. There is freedom in this realization, freedom to receive His love and to offer it back. There is even freedom to pass this love on to others, as John continues to write in 1 John 4. Our love is not an obligation or a duty we must grit our teeth and force. It is a renewing fountain continually flowing from the source of love Himself. Let’s drink deeply from the true source of love this Christmas and rediscover its refreshing flow.
Do you feel loved? How can you remind yourself throughout the day of God’s unfailing, never-ending love for you?