The Gifts of Christmas Advent Series
Sermon 2: The Gift of Love
What would this season be without the Christmas songs and carols?
This evening we are going to play a little game. It’s called “Name That Christmas Song.” I’ll read a phrase from a well-known holiday song, and you try to think of the song title. Ready? Here we go.
· We’re snuggled up together like two birds of a feather would be. (“Sleigh Ride”)
· When we finally kiss goodnight, how I’ll hate going out in the storm. But if you really hold me tight, all the way home I’ll be warm. (“Let It Snow”)
· Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree won't be the same, dear, if you’re not here with me. (“Blue Christmas”)
· Please have snow and mistletoe and presents under the tree. (“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”)
· Mistletoe hung where you can see every couple tries to stop. (“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”)
· In the meadow we can build a snowman and pretend that he is Parson Brown. He’ll say are you married, we’ll say no man. But you can do the job when you’re in town. (“Winter Wonderland”)
Okay, if you couldn’t get any of those, here is one for the rest of us. Hint: The song title is the same as the lyrics!
· All I want for Christmas is you. (“All I Want for Christmas Is You”)
Do you notice a theme here? Valentine’s Day may get all the glory for being the holiday of love, but it’s pretty clear that Christmas holds a corner on the market as the season of love and romance. In fact, in the “2014 American Wedding Study” conducted by Brides magazine, researchers found that 19 percent of all engagements occur in December, making it the most popular month to get engaged. And can you guess what day is the most popular to pop the question? Statistics show that Christmas Eve is the most popular day for engagements. Data released by Facebook showed that Christmas Eve is the most popular day to get engaged, followed by Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and then Valentine’s Day.
And there is certainly nothing wrong with celebrating love during this season. But depending on where you find yourself in regard to romantic relationships at the moment, all this love in the air stuff can result in happiness and expectation or loneliness and isolation. Either way, too much focus on cuddling in the cold and meeting under the mistletoe can blind us to the real love story of Christmas.
This is the love story that has been written for all of us. The story of true, faithful, unending, sacrificial love. God’s love in sending Jesus, and it changes everything.
Love has been God’s story from the beginning. From the moment of creation, God’s love was part of the fabric of our world.
God’s love was with Adam and Eve in the Garden before and after sin entered the world.
God showed His love by saving Noah and his family from the flood and giving them a new start.
In the Old Testament God gave the Law—the Commandments—in love as a way for His people stay connected to Him.
And His love turned the world inside out when He sent His Son to live among us—the God of the universe to be born in a stable, die on the cross, and raise again from the grave. It took love to disrupt and overturn the power of death and evil.
The story is not about a feeling. It’s God’s story of love in action—how the God of the universe loves you so much that He left everything in order to be with you, to sacrifice His life that you could be with Him. This love is the second gift of Christmas that we’ll unwrap this Advent season.
If you were with us last Wednesday evening you know that we began a journey through Advent by unwrapping the gift of hope. The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival,” and this season is marked by expectation, waiting, anticipation, and longing. Advent is not just an extension of Christmas, it is a season that links the past, present, and future. Advent offers us the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, to celebrate His birth, and to be alert for His second coming.
During Advent we light candles on a wreath, which point to Jesus’ coming into a world lost in darkness. This week we lit an additional candle. Each flame brings us closer to the arrival of the true Light of the world.
Last week we lit the candle of HOPE. We talked about hope past, present, and future as we looked at a few prophecies about Jesus’ coming, were challenged to hope in Him amid the trials of life, and were reminded of the hope still to be fulfilled when He comes again.
Today we light the candle of LOVE. Advent is a season for gaining even greater understanding of how wide and long and high and deep His love is for us. This is the gift we unwrap today.
Have you been with kids as they unwrap gifts on Christmas? The excitement of ripping off the paper is quickly replaced by the excitement of opening up the box and actually playing with whatever toy or game is inside. The worst thing in the world is a gift without batteries or a gift that requires adult setup. Kids want to unwrap and dive in. That’s what we are going to do this evening with the gift of love.
I’m going to guess that if I just say the reference John 3:16, many of us here tonight will hear the familiar verse run through our heads automatically. Just in case, it goes like this: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The problem is, sometimes we are so familiar with this verse that we can recite it and look right past it, but God’s love in sending Jesus is the one love that changes everything. We know the verse so well that we can overlook it if we’re not careful. But this was and is the ultimate gift and act of sacrificial, holy, complete, and infinite love.
The message of this verse is the core of the Christian faith.
God loved the world.
He gave His Son.
When we believe in Him, we are given His life—salvation and eternal life.
So the first thing we do with the gift of God’s love is so basic it’s easy to overlook. We must believe. Notice I said “basic” not “easy.” For some of you here today, this step of believing in Jesus may be very difficult. It may be something you’ve struggled with for a long time, it may be a brand-new idea for you, or it may be a gift you’ve neglected for a while. Maybe you feel unlovable. Maybe you’ve been burned by human love too many times to trust that there’s something greater. Maybe you think, You don’t know what I’ve done. You don’t know the dark secrets and doubts and fears and pain inside. Maybe I don’t, but God does—and the love He offers sees and knows and understands. The love that God offers is Jesus Christ.
No matter what challenges or hurts you hold, God’s love can handle them and heal them. Wherever you are on your journey is okay. God knows. He understands. And His response is His open arms of perfect love.
Let this season of Advent be one of receiving the love and salvation God offers in His Son.
It’s easy to be distracted by all the things that need to get done before Christmas. It’s easy to read the headlines and wonder if love really can overcome the darkness and hatred in our world. It’s easy to allow worry about tomorrow, to worry about our health, or the health of a friend/loved-one and allow it to overwhelm us and keep us from feeling loved.
All those things matter—God does not ask you to ignore those things in order to have His love. You don’t have to purge or rid yourself of hurry or worry. He invites us to bring all of our concerns to Him, to cast all your cares on Him, your deepest hurts and concerns of your life to Him so He can fill you and renew you with His love.
The good news is that the love He gives through His Son Jesus Christ is enough. The apostle Paul described that love like this: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).
This is a powerful love—the most powerful love. It is love that can’t be contained or constrained by any power in the universe, not evil, not death, no person or power.
It is love to be embraced. If we want to go back to our example of a kid on Christmas day, this is not a gift to unwrap and then put on a shelf. It’s more like a new favorite stuffed animal to embrace and carry and hold and love till its ears wear off—or a complete set of clothes to put on and live in. And, no, these examples don’t begin to do God’s love justice, but I hope you get the idea. God’s love is our lifeblood; it is the oxygen coursing through us to continually fill us with life.
Let this season be one of embracing God’s love fully in new and deep ways as we continually open our hearts and hands and minds and lives to Him.
I am sure everyone here today have either been love, or is in love right now. And I’d be willing to bet that you’ve done something crazy to proclaim your love to the world. Right? Maybe you literally shouted it out loud in public. Certainly nowadays you proclaimed it on Facebook or your social media platform of choice. It’s why we have centuries’ worth of poetry and novels and plays and love songs about love. When we are in love, it shows. We can’t help it. Love overflows.
The gift of God’s love is the same way—it’s for sharing. And, in fact, sharing this gift doesn’t leave us with less; it leaves us with more. It is natural to share it, to let it overflow out and around us.
John addressed this in 1 John 4:9–11:
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
God’s love comes to us and flows through us.
What does that look like for you this season? It could mean spending quality time with family. It could mean reconnecting with a friend who has drifted away. It might mean serving neighbors or strangers or seeking out someone you suspect is lonely or hurting. It might mean forgiving someone who has hurt you or apologizing to someone you have hurt. There are endless ways where God’s love can flow through you as you love others as He has loved you. Think of one way right now that you can share God’s love this week. Then keep your heart and eyes open to the world around you as Christmas approaches.
And right now, God’s love for you is sitting upon the altar. He comes to you in the most intimate way, giving you his very self to eat and drink. He has carried all your sins to the cross, atoning for them so you can be set free. He did all this for you! And now He gives you Himself to eat and drink, assuring you of His love for you!
Prayer: Almighty God, thank You for the reminder of Your love for us this Advent.Help us to accept, experience, and share Your love with others this season. Please continue to fill us with expectation as we live in Your love and wait for the complete fulfillment of that love when Christ comes again.
Blessing: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17–19)