(34) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
(35) By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Why do we celebrate Christmas? Have you ever asked yourself that question? I'm not talking about, "What is the reason for the season?" or "What is Christmas really about?". I'm talking about why we have made Christmas a holiday at all. If we think about the Jewish holidays that were celebrated at the time of Jesus, most of them revolve around some type of deliverance. We start with the Passover, which is a reminder of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. You have Yom Kippur, which is about atonement for sins. Hanukkah is about deliverance of the Jews from external rule in the Intertestamental Period (a 400 year period of time between the Old and New Testaments).
Even in the early Christian church Christmas was not celebrated. The most important holiday in the early church (as should also be today) was Easter. At Easter Jesus emerged from the grave victorious over sin and death. Again, Easter is a celebration of deliverance. Second to Easter, the baptism of Jesus was most important because it was at the baptism of Jesus that it was revealed that He was God's Son. The first recorded celebration of Christmas didn't happen until about 300 years after Jesus's death! In fact, 2 of the 4 Gospel books in the New Testament don't even make mention of the Christmas story.
So why, then, should we even bother celebrating Christmas -- especially now that Christmas has become extremely commercialized? Here are some thoughts to consider:
Philippians 2 tells us that although Jesus is God, he voluntarily humbled himself and became a man. Not only did he became a man, he humbled himself to become a servant of men. And again, he not only became a servant of men, he humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross, the most humiliating and excruciating form of death ever conceived. There is one word that can sum up what these verses are revealing to us about Jesus: Love. It was at the birth of Jesus that we began to see fullest possible expression of God's love. In fact, the God of all love broke through into history with the birth of a baby boy. And that is something worth celebrating!
There is something we need to know about love -- it is always outward moving. That is the best news we could possibly hear. If love were inwardly focused, there would be no love available for us, because God would keep it all to Himself. And that is what John 13:34-35 is talking about. Jesus freely gave us his love. Yet when we receive that love, it costs us everything. The love of God flowed outward toward us just as Jesus blood flowed out for us. And Jesus commands us to imitate himself in our love for one another, with an outward flowing, self-giving, humble love.
In light of this, it makes sense that we give gifts during the Christmas season. But more than trinkets and knick-knacks, we are called to give just as we have received. In fact, our love for one another in Christ is the greatest gift we can give the world, because it is in this self-sacrificing imitation of Jesus that the world will see true love.
1) How have you experienced the outward flow of God's love toward you?
2)How is the love of God flowing through you in the form of self-giving love toward others?
3) How does an understanding of the outward flow of God's love affect your view of the Christian Mission?
4) In this season of Advent, how can you reflect the love of Jesus to the community around you (Hint: it doesn't involve correcting people when they say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"!)?
Are there ways that you are taking the love of the Lord for granted in your life? Ask God to show you ways in which you are not cherishing His love for you and confess those ways to God and to a brother or sister in Christ.
What are some specific ways you have seen Christ's love in your life? Make a list and specifically thank God for each one. Ask God that He would continue to open your eyes to the way He has shown His love to you.
Ask the Lord to give you tangible ways to show His love to your neighbors, coworkers and friends. Ask that God would provide you with opportunities to share the good news of His love for them with those people.
Many of our brothers and sisters around the world are suffering under persecution. Ask that the God of love would fill their hearts with the knowledge of His love for them. Ask that He would bring to mind verses that declare His love for them that they would be strengthened in their faith.
Father, Your love is spectacular. We are fully unworthy of You. We are unworthy of your love. We are unworthy of salvation. Yet in love, You created us; in love, You sent Your Son to die for us; in love, You offer us salvation; in love, You sanctify us; in love, You bring us into an intimate, loving relationship with Yourself; and in love, You give us life.
Let us love You with all of our hearts. Let us love You with all of our minds. Let us love You with all of our souls. Let us love you with all of our strength. Father, let our hearts reflect back to You the love You have shown to us.
Let our thoughts be consumed with You. Let our minds be filled with the truth of Your promises to us. Let our hearts be filled with Your love. Father, we ask that Your love would overflow from our hearts into the world around us. Let us love like Jesus. Let us lay aside ourselves to make much of Jesus by being poured out in love for the world around us. Let us love one another in the church that the world will know that we are in Christ because of our love for one another.
Love Came Down At Christmas
By Christina Rossetti
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.