LOVE. Born Here.

John 3:1-8, 16-21

LOVE. Born Here.

December 10, 2017

 

          What was born at Christmas?  Well, Christ, of course—the Messiah, Immanuel, the Son of God.  But most simply, LOVE was born at Christmas.  And each Christmas we long again for LOVE to be born in our world and here in our church and here in our hearts. 

          Love was born at Christmas.  Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in John 3:16: “For God so loved that world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”  The Son is the gift of the Father’s love.  Love is and love must be at the heart of the gospel and the heart of our lives.

          This is true throughout the New Testament.  The great command-ment is to love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).  After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus said there’s really only one commandment:  “that you love one another” (John 13:31).  1 Corinthians says that three things stand the test of time—faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love (13:13).  1 John goes so far as to say, "God is love" (4:16). The greatest image of love is the father of the prodigal son, welcoming his wayward child home with joy and not a word of judgement (Luke 15:11-32). Love is the heart of the gospel and of life. 

 

          Nevertheless, we make endless attempts to place other things at the heart of life.  From all the hoopla, you’d think that what was born at Christmas was decorations and cookies and presents under the tree.  These are great but they’re not the heart; that’s love.  Some people put rules or regulations or traditions at the heart of the gospel.  All these have their place, but they’re not the heart; that’s love.  Some of us, especially us pastors, put church activities at the heart of life—worship and service and Bible study.  These too are wonderful but they’re not the heart; that’s love.

          And some people believe in God’s love, just not for themselves. They consider themselves unworthy or for some reason outside of God’s love. Martin Luther encouraged such people, “Search in your [heart], whether you are not also a [person] (that is, a piece of the world) and [do you] belong to the number which the word “whosoever” embraces, as well as others?”1  Love is born at Christmas not for some, but for all, including me, and no matter what you think, including you.

 

          You may have noticed some harsh language in this scripture.  There is the prospect of perishing and the idea that some of us are condemned.  Love may be at the heart of the gospel, but love is not the only choice in life.  There is always the danger of perishing--of wasting one’s life on something other than love.  If love is not at the heart of life, then something else is at the heart, and is that not a form of perishing?

          And though God did not send the Son to condemn the world, it’s a sad fact that some of us condemn ourselves.  When you turn a light on, some people will come to it; others will hide from it.  I had a friend who one year dedicated himself to loving his wife more fully and sensitively.  He spoke more kindly to her and listened more carefully to her.  He did little things for her around the house and took her special places.  After a few months, word got out, and several men came to ask him for hints on how they too could love their wives better.  But other guys came and complained that the way he was treating his wife was making them look bad and wouldn’t he knock it off.  Put love at the center—some will gather around; others turn away. 

 

          In some ways, keeping God’s love at the heart of life is so simple.  Just don’t complicate things.  There’s a Peanuts cartoon where Peppermint Patty and Charlie Brown are sitting under a tree and she asks him, "Do you ever think about love, Chuck?"

"All the time," he says.  "Is music the food of love? Is love a many splendored thing? Is love here to stay? Does love make the world go 'round? Is love . . ."

"Wait a minute, Chuck!" she interrupts.  “I asked you a simple question and I wanted a simple answer! I didn't expect a whole lecture!  Let's start over . . .  Do you ever think about Love, Chuck?"

"Love?" he mumbles, with a confused look on his face.

"That's what I figured. . ." she concludes.  Don’t complicate things!

 

Yes, love is simple, but it's not easy, and when it's needed most, there's nothing sentimental about love.  You parents know what I mean.  Love waits by the phone when a child is out too late, and then hugs them like fury when they finally get home.  Love washes clothes and cooks meals and helps with homework without ever getting thanked.  Love keeps loving when lines are crossed, when angry words are spoken, when disagreements become impasses. 

Think about the love of God that sent the Son into the world.  Who knows how the Father must have worried while the Son was living down here?  Who knows how it hurt the Father to see the Son rejected and despised.  Who knows how the Father's heart broke when the Son breathed his last?  And who knows how the Father must suffer still when in the Son's name people judge and exclude rather than love and include? 

This is the sort of love that was born at Christmas:  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.

 

I tell you again: tradition has it that John, the author of the Gospel and Epistles of John and Revelation, had a disciple come to him.  "Master," he said, "Tell me one thing. . .  Why is it that you always write about love?  Why don't you ever write about anything else?"  St. John paused, waiting for the disciple to work it out himself.  Finally, he answered:  "Because," he said, "in the end, love is all there is."2

Look in the manger, my friends, and what will you find?  God’s love, only love.  Because in the end, that's all there is.

 

1 Quoted in Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012), 211.

2 Quoted in Samuel Wells, Learning to Dream Again: Rediscovering the Heart of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013). 

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