Second Sunday in Advent December 7, 1997
1 John 4:7-11
56, 64, 351, 90
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. So far the Holy Word.
In the Name of the Christ-child, Who came to bring the light of love into a loveless world, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
“The Christmas season is a time of __________.” Fill in the blank—what is it a time of? For most people, it’s a time of parties and gift-giving, of visits to relatives and vacations from work. Children look forward to an escape from school, and presents under the tree. For store owners, it’s hopefully a time of big profits. For Christians, though, this is an especially important time: to us, it’s a time of peace and joy, of comfort and forgiveness. But if there’s one word that fits in that blank better than any other…it’s love. For us, the Christmas season is a time of love.
…You don’t look too excited. I don’t blame you—we’ve heard “Christmas” equated with “love” on so many TV specials and Hallmark greeting cards that maybe it doesn’t mean much to us anymore. But it should.—And it will, if we look into God’s Word and see what kind of love it is that our Savior is bringing to us this Christmas. Today’s theme is:
Do you remember being in the children’s Christmas Eve programs when you were young? I do. I still recall vividly, as a preschooler, being given three simple words to recite—three words that happen to come from our text for today: “God is love.” It’s appropriate, isn’t it? God doesn’t just have love, God is the definition of love! John explains that love is inextricably interwoven with Christ, and with Christians. To such an extent, in fact, that by definition there’s really no such thing as an “unloving Christian.” Beloved, let us love one another, John says, for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. Well and good…but what’s all this got to do with Christmas?
That first Christmas, 2000 years ago, was an wonderful moment in the history of the world. It was wonderful because, in that moment, God manifested His love for you and me. In other words, He showed clearly exactly what His love was all about. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
It’s an amazing love. A love we have trouble understanding, because it’s not like any “love” that we feel. A young man once tried to describe it to an elderly friend of his who was dying. The old man was afraid to die, because he didn’t feel that he loved God as much as he should. “When I go home from here,” the young man said, “I’m going to take my baby daughter on my knee, look into her sweet eyes, and listen to her prattle. And no matter how tired I am, her presence will rest me, because I love her with unutterable tenderness. She doesn’t love me much, though. If my heart were breaking, she wouldn’t mind. If I were sick, it wouldn’t disturb her sleep. If I died, she might not even notice. What does it mean? Does she love me, or do I love her? Do I withhold my love until I know she loves me? Do I wait for her to do something worthy of my love before extending my love to her?” Well, the tears rolled down the old man’s face, because he finally understood the way God loves His children. Our text says, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us…”
Actually, even that story doesn’t give us the real picture of God’s love. Because little babies are naturally “lovable.” And one thing’s for sure: God didn’t love us humans because we were lovable! Just the opposite! Paul says, “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” By nature we were God’s enemies, not His friends. Humans don’t love God by nature—they hate Him, they turn away from Him, they do everything in their power to disobey His will. If it were up to them, all people would cover themselves in sin and shame, spit in God’s face, and do their best to get to hell as quickly as possible. No, man isn’t a very lovable creature. And yet God loved us.
When we think of love, we tend to imagine the way a handsome young prince would fall in love with and marry a beautiful young princess. God’s love isn’t like that at all. C. S. Lewis got it right when he pictured God’s love for us like this: the handsome prince goes walking among the grimy back alleys of a city slum, and finds a dirty old streetwalker sitting in the gutter. She has wasted her life in sin and filth, and she’s so ugly that no one wants her anymore. To this disgusting creature the prince says, “It is you that I love. Come and be my wife, and share the joys of my kingdom!”
My friends, God’s love for us is no less amazing than that! Paul tells us, “God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved, and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Eph 2:4-7. That’s the definition of grace: “undeserved love”. And that’s why this is hard for us to understand, because when you love somebody, there’s generally a good reason for it. You’re related to them, or they’ve done something kind for you. In His grace God loved us, even though what we deserved was the opposite of love! He decided to lift us out of the gutter of our sin, and make us His own, and give us the riches of His kingdom!
What an amazing love this is! And Christmas is the time when that God manifests that love for us. Now is when that love really comes into focus and becomes perfectly clear to us. Our text says, Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
This is the greatest gift—the most beautiful present—any of us will receive this year. It is the gift of God’s Son. And it’s not just that little Baby in the manger in Bethlehem, either… Because after all, we can’t just look at the infant Christ. We must look as well at the Savior as a grown man, suffering on the cross, bearing our sins in agony and shame. He became the “propitiation” for our sins—the payment, the ransom price. That is how God’s love is truly manifested toward us poor sinners—not so much in the cradle as in the cross! “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom 5:6-8. Here is our real reason to be cheerful this Christmas… Rejoice! Be merry! God loves you with just such an amazing love!
It’s like a wonderful Christmas gift, all wrapped up with ribbons, just for you. After describing this gift, John adds a happy footnote: Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. We should love one another. And he’;s not talking about the mushy sentimentality that we see so much of on TV at this season. Our love for one another isn’t just drummed up affection that lasts for a few weeks around Christmas and then disappears. It’s true love that flows from God’s love for us. One just naturally follows the other.
To illustrate, let me tell you a story. Once upon a time there was a man who sincerely wanted to be a good Christian. He went to the Methodist preacher, who advised him: “At the end of every day, stop and ask yourself, ‘What have I done for Christ?’”—So he tried that, but it only made him feel ashamed of his life, and his inability to love God and his neighbor. Then he went to the Lutheran preacher. His advice was different: “At the beginning of every day,” he said, “ask yourself, ‘What has Christ done for me?’” So he tried that…and it worked! The more he thought about the great love Jesus had shown to him, the easier it was to offer his gift of love and help to those around him who had need.
There’s a piece of Christmas music that’s always been a favorite of mine; it’s called, “Love Came Down at Christmas.” How true that title is! The very personification of love came down to us in the form a little Child—the Babe of Bethlehem. Let us rejoice in that love, and be merry in it! Let us celebrate God’s gift of love by sharing that love with others, and by fulfilling the requirement of love that our Savior Himself gave us: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.