1 John 4:9-11 (Christmas Day)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
December 25, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is from 1 John 4:9-11:
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have 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 also ought to love one another.
So what did you get for Christmas? Was it what you wanted? Did Santa come through again for you this year? He did at my house! I hope he did for you too.
The giving of Christmas presents is meant to remind each of us of the gift that God the Father gave to us in His Son, the Word of God Made flesh, Jesus Christ. It is His gift of love to us that enables us to be God’s gifts to the world.
God loves you dearly, and He shows you His love by sending you your greatest gift: Jesus. So often when we think of love we think of the emotion and the romance. We use the word love to talk about our favorite food and about our favorite people. We love our cars, our pets, our vacations . . . love has become so overused that we have forgotten that love has a price.
St. John tells us in his first letter that love, as defined and described in the Bible, is not an emotion. It is not a warm, fuzzy feeling. It is not even our attraction for another person. John tells us that “God is love” and that the only way to know love is to know God. John then goes on to tell us that God’s greatest expression of love is Jesus. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” This is more than the heartwarming manger story we hear at Christmas. John reminds us the baby that Mary wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger on that first Christmas came with the purpose of expressing God’s love. God, the Father, sent that baby, His Son, Jesus, to grow up and live for us the righteous life He demands; He sent that baby, His Son, Jesus, to die for us to be the “propitiation for our sins,” which means that Jesus is the one who was sent to die the sacrificial death for our sins. If God is love, then His love is truly shown as He sends us sinners Jesus. The great gift of Jesus is what Christmas is all about!
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.” Or in the words of the Christmas hymn “God Loves Me Dearly”:
He sent forth Jesus,
My dear Redeemer,
He sent forth Jesus
And set me free. (Lutheran Service Book 392:3)
The love of God is not an emotion, it is not expressed in good feelings—not even the great feelings we have around Christmastime. Jesus is God’s greatest expression of His love. God’s love for us in Jesus is seen in His sinless life, all His miraculous works, the prophecies He fulfilled, the promises He’s given, and the words of life He preached. It includes His suffering and death on the cross, and it includes the victory of the empty tomb! That is how God’s love is truly shown! The love of God is His determination, His activity to send us Jesus to buy us back from the penalty of sin.
Unfortunately, this expression of God’s love is lost, especially in the hubbub of the season. We get busy in the trappings and activities of the holidays and lose sight of the fact that Jesus’ birth is given its eternal meaning in His death on the cross. It all can get so easily lost and we run from shopping to celebration to work to family to this, that, and the other thing. At this time of year, probably more than at any other, we need to make some quiet time with our God in His Word (the Bible), clear away the clutter of Christmas, and take a good look again at the love that came down from heaven for us that night so long ago in Bethlehem! Think of the words of the hymn “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You.”
Love caused Your incarnation;
Love brought You down to me.
Your thirst for my salvation
Procured my liberty.
Oh, love beyond all telling,
That led You to embrace
In love, all love excelling,
Our lost and fallen race. (LSB 334:4)
That is true love! That love of God, expressed in His Son, Jesus, is what Christmas is all about! We meditate on that love as we celebrate Christmas day. One Lutheran scholar once wrote this about this true love of Christmas:
As long as we talk of God’s love and think only of the candy of our wishes, we have never yet known that love. The victory of God’s love is on Calvary; the triumph of His love, in Christ’s open tomb; the glory of His love in all those who now live through Christ.—To know God’s love is to prize the sacrifice that love made; to share its power; to serve in its kingdom. The greatest thing in the world is not anything of the world at all; it is the heavenly love of God in Christ Jesus his Son. (R. C. H. Lenski, The Eisenach Epistle Selections [Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1914], 1:573)
Even the unbelieving world around us puts an emphasis on giving, sharing, and helping others in the days leading up to Christmas. We usually do a little more of it ourselves around this time of year also, don’t we? Hopefully our reason for doing good and showing love for others at this time of year, and always, is motivated by a heart of love and in genuine appreciation for the love God has shown in His Son.
But if all we’re doing for our fellow man is giving gifts, food, a friendly visit, or volunteering our time, then we aren’t showing our fellow man the fullest or truest kind of love! In fact, as one theologian once put it, “It is the height of lovelessness to let men’s souls go on to [destruction], while we provide a thousand charities for their bodies” (Lenski, 574). If we share food, money, clothing, and time, but do not share the true meaning and love of Christmas with others, we are not showing true love. If we go and visit with the less fortunate, when we go Christmas caroling, or when we have any other opportunities to do good to others, but do not share the love of Christ in both word and song, then we are not loving our neighbor with the Love that loved us enough to give up everything, even His life, that we might be saved.
You and I have been given the love of God. You and I have received in His Word and in our Baptism the love of God that forgives our sins, removes from us the penalty of sin, and gives us life eternal with God. We have received the gift of “God with us,” Immanuel; Jesus, the Savior, born in Bethlehem’s manger. The natural response to the great, saving gift of God’s love in Christ is to share and show that love with others. But you notice that John’s words are a bit surprising in that last verse, aren’t they? You might expect him to say, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love Him.” Instead, he tells us “we also ought to love one another.” The best way to express our love for God—and the way He most wants us to express our love for Him—is to show love for our neighbor, not only our fellow believers, but especially those whom God places in our path who desperately need to hear the Good News of God, who is love. The fact that we have been loved by God means that we have been given as a gift of God’s love to the world: showing our love for God through loving and serving them in Jesus’ name!
This is the reason that I appreciate and encourage our Food Shelf Ministry so much. We aren’t just giving people the earthly things they need when we hand out toothpaste and deodorant, shampoo and body wash. We also give them the one thing needful, the true love of God in the Savior Jesus Christ. And we do it with our actions and most importantly with our words speaking HIS Word. We’ve shared the love of God with a woman who has suffered domestic abuse. We’ve shared the love of God in Christ with a teenage couple where the very young girl is pregnant, offering the support and love of this congregation and the free gift of Holy Baptism. We’ve cried with the hurting and laughed with those rejoicing in God’s love for them.
How wonderful it is that through God’s greatest gift to us, our Savior Jesus, who won our forgiveness and new life, that the Lord would cause us to be gifts of Christ to the world! After all, we who are in Christ are “Christians,” followers of Christ who give Christ to the world! As much as we love the gifts of Christmas, we will always be loved by God more. As much as we desire the gifts of Christmas, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will all the more desire to be the gifts of God in Christ to the world so that many will hear and know by faith that a Savior has been for them, who is Jesus Christ, the Lord. Amen.