Ever since I was five years old and playing the Archangel Gabriel at school, I have had my doubts as to whether anyone really understands what is going on in the nativity. Now that I’m a bit older it feels to me as though children get it exactly right. The nativity is miracle, mystery and wonder: open-mouthed incomprehension feels to me an entirely appropriate reaction.After all, it’s hardly a promising start: the Son of God, a king (but without the usual royal trappings), born to an unmarried virgin in a stable in a tin-pot town on the edge of the Roman Empire. Are you sure?

But one thing I have come to understand through the beauty of the nativity and the Gospels is how powerful love is. For love, God comes quietly to earth, to be with us, to bring forgiveness, healing and new life. For love, God gives everything, even an only son, to gather the peoples of the earth into arms outstretched. For love, God sends the Holy Spirit to breathe inspiration continuously into our lives. God risks all, gives all, to be with us.

And how do the humans in the nativity respond to this love? Mary agrees to be the God-bearer; Joseph keeps his new family safe; shepherds come to worship; magi travel long distances, bringing gifts to pay homage. All are drawn by invitation, by searching, by love.

The love of God inspires. It encourages us to take bold steps, to discover new futures beyond our imaginations. It tugs at our sense of purpose, at our tendency to take the easier way. It shows us where the need for love is most acute and challenges us to meet that need.

This Christmas and new year, what will Love inspire in you?

Caroline Essex