“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
All throughout this season of Advent we have been talking about its virtues. We started out with hope. Advent is nothing if not an injection of hope into our lives. From there came peace. When hope comes into our heart, peace is going to be the result. Then followed joy. Hope and peace together will give us the confidence in our God to lay hold of that incorrigible contentment that makes up the foundation of real joy. But right at the heart of the season is another virtue. This one Paul identified as the greatest of them all. What is it? Love. This week, as we prepare to land with both feet on the day itself, we are going to be talking about love.
As before, we should probably start with a definition. This is one we’ve talked about before and several times since. This is a definition I work fairly diligently to drive into the hearts and minds of my own congregation. Ask members of my previous church what love is and many of them will give you something fairly close to this definition. Love is an intentional decision to see someone else become more fully who God designed them to be. This idea is fairly widely divergent from what we see and hear in our culture.
Culturally, love is little more than a particularly intense like. It is entirely wrapped up in our feelings. This may be fairly easily packaged as passionate and romantic, but it turns out to be hollow and short-lived. When we live by feelings, we die by them as well. Feelings come and go and change with the weather. If our love for another person is not rooted in something more reliable than our feelings, we are setting ourselves–and the people we love too–up for heartache and frustration. This is why the love we find in the Scriptures, most clearly demonstrated in the character of the God who inspired them, is so important.
Well, Christmas, at its heart, is a celebration of love, and I don’t mean the kind featured in the dozens of Hallmark and Hallmark-like movies that come out at this time of year. This is a good thing too because as one who winds up watching most of them, this year’s offerings have been different from those of the past. Normally, in the final sequence of dialogue before the climactic kiss, the characters express their love for one another. This isn’t often more than the squishy, feelings-only love we talked about, but at least it’s something. This year, more and more of the films have had the main characters simply express their like for one another. There’s just something about watching two people say, “I really think you’re great,” that doesn’t quite capture the heart the way, “I love you,” does. And while it is perhaps good the movies are being more honest and clear about the emotions being expressed in those moments, the loss of the language of love seems suggestive of a deeper cultural brokenness that only the real thing can repair.
Thankfully, Christmas reminds us that the real thing is available indeed. We can see that right here in what the apostle John wrote in his first letter to his former church in Ephesus. The coming of Christ to the world was the beginning point of our salvation, but it was more than that. It was the revelation of the love of God in a way no one could ignore or deny. In Jesus’ birth God revealed His love; in His death He gave us its primary demonstration.
I have three boys. I love them with all my heart. I’d take a bullet for each of them in a heartbeat. There wouldn’t even be a moment’s hesitation in the decision. I would lay down my life for them. If you have kids, you feel the same about your own. God’s love for His Son was like that. It was absolute and perfect. There was no chink in that armor. But we didn’t know that. We couldn’t know that. God’s perfect love was shared from Father to Son to Spirit and back to Father. He commanded us to love Him too and rightly so, but we didn’t really know what His love looked like.
Then Jesus came.
He was sent from the Father. He was sent for us. His love for us was so great that He was willing to lay down, not His own life, but the life of His only Son so that we might live through Him. If I love you enough that I’m willing to lay down the life of one of my boys so that you can live, there’s no questioning the extent and depth of my love for you anymore. I will have made it crystal clear. God did that for us in Jesus. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him.
But it didn’t stop there. He wasn’t satisfied with merely a revealing of His love by coming to earth. He knew we needed to have it proven before we would accept it. So He followed through on His revelation by having His Son lay down His life for us. He took our place so that we might live. The baby born in a stable eventually grew to be a man. That man lived a perfect, sinless life, and then voluntarily gave up that life in order to satisfy the justice of the Father on our behalf. He paid the price we never could so that we might have access to the life only He deserved. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
This is why love is at the heart of Christmas. There are two questions you need to answer in light of this. The first is here: Have you experienced this love in your own life? If you haven’t, now is a perfect time to receive it. You can receive and experience the perfect love of God in your own life. You simply accept the truth of the resurrection and invite Him to be your Lord and Savior. Commit yourself to following Him and His love will be yours.
The second question is this: Have you shown this love to someone else. You see, the thing about love is that it is an outwardly-focused virtue. Because it is an intentional decision to see someone else become more fully who God designed them to be, if you are not actively doing it for another person, you don’t have it right. Love gets demonstrated or it isn’t really love. And again, Christmas is a perfect time to do that. Who is it that you could move in the direction of Jesus this week? There is no greater proof that you have God’s love in your own life than when you are enacting it in the life of another person.
Christmas is for love. In just four more days we’ll celebrate that in style. I can’t wait to explore it with you between now and then. Merry Christmas.