Many Moods of Christmas: Love John 3:16-21

It is easy to confuse Christmas Day and Valentine’s Day.  They both involve the color red; gift giving; and they are shared with the one you love.  Retailers market both days similarly; using sentimentality and romance; covering these seasons like a blanket of snow.  It allows us to maintain a much idealized image in our heads of these similar observances.

Propping up the ideal can be difficult when the people we love find a way of fouling it up.  The kids don’t come home for Christmas or come late.  Your sister-in-law wants to have dinner at noon instead of 3:00 like you planned.  Your husband won’t cooperate and put up the Christmas lights or the yard art you so love.  Getting everyone together at Christmas can be an annual reminder that things are not right in the family; and they can’t be fixed with a fabulous gift, a beautifully decorated house, or a delicious meal.

We have approached Christmas this year; lighting the four traditional candles of hope, peace, joy and now today love during these Sundays of Advent.  The candle of love with light today symbolizes a kind of love that isn’t romantic or sentimental love.  It is a love that caused God to send the “only begotten Son, so that those who believe might not perish but have everlasting life.”  It might seem odd to use John 3:16 as a Christmas text.  But it is THE Christmas text.  It was love that motivated God to come among us, to save us and not condemn us, and to rescue us and not let us perish.  That is the heart of Christmas.

After 9/11 then mayor, Rudy Giuliani, spoke at a funeral service for a police officer.  He said: “I’ve learned something through all this.  When everybody was fleeing that building, and the cops and the firefighters and the EMS people were heading up into it, do you think any of them said, I wonder how many blacks are up there for us to save?  I wonder what percentage are whites up here?  How many Jews are there?  Are these people making $400,000 a year, or $24,000, or?  When you’re saving lives, they’re all precious, that’s how we’re supposed to live all the time.  How would you want the cops to treat you if you were on the seventy-fifth floor that day?  Would you want them to say, Excuse me, but I’ve got to get the bosses out first?  I confess I haven’t always lived this way.  I’m convinced that God wants us to do it.  He wants us to value every human life the way he does.”

The way God values every human life is to love every person enough to send God’s Son to rescue us from perishing and lead us to life everlasting. The way God’s Son rescues us from perishing and leads us to life everlasting is by first becoming one of us.  The essence of the Christmas message says God rescued us from this perishable human nature in order that we might share the imperishable divine nature.  God sent the Son into the world in order to make us sons and daughters of God.  God took on our dying flesh so that we might take on God’s living spirit.

The best news is God entered into our existence to love those who were not even aware how their life lacked the love God.  God moved toward us, even though we were moving away from God.  God’s only begotten Son gave up all rights like in order to make things right.  The kind of love that came down at Christmas is not romantic sugar-plum love.  It is not a sentimental, colored-light, tinseled tree love.  It is a pursuing love that bulldogs those who might not even know they want to be loved.

Christmas gatherings have a way of reminding families they are not as close as they wish.  Loving each other might seem impossible and will require a Christmas miracle.  Siblings, parents or children are brought together though they have spent the year dealing with the falling out.  Blended families who are always working on blending challenges sit at the same table.  In most families there is one person who loves all in the middle of all the tension.  Their love goes beyond just keeping the peace; but insists on that which is right so there might be good will among all.  Their love does not judge to condemn, but loves to set things right.  Their love for family looks a lot like God’s love for the world.

God’s disposition never changes’ no one is ever cut off from the love of God.  God’s love is inexhaustible and unchangeable.  After John 3:16 says God so loved the world that God gave his only Son, it continues in verse 17, saying: Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  God does not condemn anyone; period!  Some people would love a comma there instead of a period.  We condemn, shame, and guilt ourselves.  We refuse to accept the unconditional love of God that forgives and saves us and suffer under our own condemnation because we reject it.

Judgment is not about destroying the one judged, it is about setting things right.  William Young’s book “The Shack” is about a Mack’s little girl Missy who was abducted and killed by a predatory pedophile.  Mack grieves terribly, blaming himself and God as much as the monster who committed the crime.  God summons him back to the shack where she was murdered, and he comes to know the love of God more deeply.  Eventually, Mack is asked to play the judge, including the role of judging God for what had happened to his daughter and to him.  He has now been so immersed in the love God he no longer feels stuck in his grief and refuses to judge.

Our pride gets in the way of believing God’s love is boundless enough to love us through any circumstance.  Our self-centeredness causes us to get stuck with our own judgments about life; believing more in our own way.  God invites us to place our faith in the love of a Christ child who showed the way by lying down in a manger so we may know we are loved by God.  The love that came down at Christmas was the eternal Son of God; giving up all privilege; trusting his Father who sent him to show heaven’s love would go to all lengths, even to raise him from a grave.  You can nourish whatever part of you still needs to know love of God by giving your life to a love that will go that far to show God’s love.

Loving with Christmas love was captured by the writer of 1 John who insisted we love our sisters and brothers; whether they are related to us by spirit or flesh.  We are to love others by dropping our need to be right in order for things to be right between us.  We are to love others by identifying so closely with others we can feel the pain behind the brokenness.  We are to love others by attaching ourselves to their journey and not letting any little thing get between the love of God that saves us all.

When he was nine years old, Bishara Awad watched his Greek Christina Orthodox father gunned down by an Israeli sniper in front of their home in Jerusalem.  He nourished a bitter heart most of his life.  He would grow up to begin a school, which cared for every kind of child, Jewish, Muslim and Christian.  While praying one day, he felt the Lord telling him he needed to work on the hatred that had built up in his heart after the loss of father.  It came to see it was no different than the hatred he witnessed among the students he was teaching to love others like Christ loved them.  His healing heart let him to see that Jews, Christians, and Muslims were all equally suffering in his conflicted nation.  The love of God begin grow in his heart as he saw how God loved each person and did not recognize the barriers they had created between the people in his land.  

He began to live the Christmas message that God came to bring all people together in love.  Today he and other Christians take Christmas presents to children with disabilities in Bethlehem as a way of demonstrating the love of God.  This is their way of making Christmas a faithful celebration that crosses borders of reconciliation; discovering afresh why God sent his Son.

May all of us discover afresh this Christmas by our gifts of love why God sent God’s Son.

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Published in: on December 23, 2011 at 8:41 am  Leave a Comment  

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