1 John 4:10-11(NKJV)
10In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
During this Christmas season we have been focusing on the elements that make Christmas special even to those who, because of political correctness, believe Jesus should not be a part of the public celebration. We have looked at Joy, the inward sense of wellbeing that surpasses happiness. We have discovered that happiness is outward and therefore weak. Joy comes from the spirit of man and is not dependent upon outward things. It is a real strength for those who have it.
We have also discovered that peace in the context of Christmas has nothing to do with peace between people and nations. The Christmas proclamation of peace made by the angels to the shepherds in Israel was peace between God and man not peace among men. The availability of right relationship with God made inward peace available to man as well. Like joy, this peace is not an outward thing dependent upon the circumstances of life. It is an inward peace that flows from our relationship with God. It has the ability to overcome stress of all kinds.
Finally we have looked at “Christmas love.” The natural celebration focuses on the love of friends and family. It includes love to those who may not be lovable. However it once again falls short of the love celebrated in Christmas. Christmas love is the love of the Father God who chose to take on the penalty of man’s sin in order to restore man to relationship with Himself. The birth of the babe in Bethlehem was the physical manifestation of this love. God the Father took upon himself the form of flesh. He became a man, born of a virgin human woman. He was born just as all other men before and after him, but He had no human father. As such he was not only God in the flesh but he was a sinless human. He was capable of becoming the sacrifice for all mankind because he was man himself and yet more. He could pay for all sin because the sin that he died for was not his own.
All three of these elements originate with God and cannot be understood outside of a relationship with God. The joy of Christmas is the Joy of the Lord. The peace of Christmas is the the Peace of God which passes all understanding. The love of Christmas is the Love of God that was given to save the whole world. This is what we celebrate.
I want to point out one more thing about this love of God. As we watch the Christmas specials on TV, the stories often focus on the ability of this “Christmas love” to change the hearts of people. In the Christian context we often ask the question, “Do we really love God? Are we expressing the love of God to those around us?” All of these things are valid. We should ask these questions of ourselves. I believe the love of God celebrated at Christmas can change the hearts of men and women. However, how do we release this love? What must we do to love God and others the way we should?
Most of the time the burden is put on us. “You just have to do it.”, we are told. That is true, but how? When we look at love in any other contexts do we say, “Just dot it.”? We talk about “falling in love.” We talk about parental love. One person loves sports cars while another loves luxury cars. On person loves vanilla ice cream while another loves chocolate. Why? You just do. How do you know you love? You just do.
My point here is that love is an emotional response. Of course the love of God is much more than that. It is a motivation and it is a decision. It is a love not dependent upon emotions, but it is not a love devoid of them. When it is functioning in us it certainly can reach beyond our feelings. It is based on a decision and that is how we walk in it. The question, however, is where does it start. Do I just decide to love God? The verse above seems to indicate something else. Love begins with God.
You see, although we must choose to act on what the Bible calls love, we really can’t initiate it. What will cause us to love God and therefore have this love released in us. It is not an act of our will. It is not based on our efforts. This love must start with God not us. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us.” This a powerful statement. How than can I love God more. How can I love my fellow man with the love of God in such a way that it will really change him? I believe there is only one way.
If I want to love I must start where God starts. God loves me. My love for Him and my love for those around me will come to fruition as I meditate on how much God loves me. Jesus was born for me. He lived for me. He took upon himself my sin and died for my freedom. In all of it God was thinking of me. This may seem like a selfish point of view. It would be if this was just natural love, but it is not. The more we meditate on the love that began with God the more we respond with the same love.
We cannot work up this love. It is in us because of salvation. It is released by our appreciating and receiving the love God has for us. This Christmas day take some time to meditate on the wonderful love of God for you. Paul said it was the love of God that constrained him, drove him, to share that love for others. (2 Cor 5:14) If we truly understand HIs love for us, the only possible response is to love Him and love those for whom He died. In the words of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts character Linus, “That is what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”