John 13:34-38 (NIV)
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!”
For the first time in a long time, I have had the privilege of working with the youth for the Christmas program at church. For weeks, the kids and leaders have met together to prepare a piece to describe the victory of won the night Jesus made His Way to earth. Though it seems like a simple story of a man and woman great with child, navigating a lengthy journey to find no vacancy in the local inn who would labor through the night and give birth in a stable among the sleeping livestock. Babies are born every day. I am quite certain that Jesus did not look any different than a normal infant who draws its first breath. It’s funny how life works. As a woman, my body is fully equipped and able to give birth without the assistance of another. We have made it as comfortable and controlled as possible. Not that night, as this young girl produced the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. How could anyone know other than those carefully chosen by God be aware that love, real love, pure love, and true unadulterated, unbiased and unconditional love had burst into the atmosphere?
As we have worked with these young people, I have become more and more aware of the impact of God’s Gift to this world. The truth is that even though I have two sons who are less than perfect, they are mine. I love them. I cherish them and would not allow a hair on their head to be harmed for another human being. I guard them with my life though they are well into adulthood. I would never allow them to die for another or willingly give them up for you. I told these young people that very thing on a night when attention was wandering, playfulness distracting and a lack of self-control prevailed. People would come to church for this one night some to see this very thing. This might be the only chance that we have to share the Gospel with those they love and care for. The stranger who somehow drifted in. Would we do a good job? Would we give our all?
It is the holiday season. I know how busy I am. I can imagine how busy you are. We have long lists of gifts to buy. In each store, I hear couples deliberating what they will give and how much to spend on those they intend to bless in their giving. What are you giving Jesus for Christmas? He has been speaking to my heart. Each time I get overwhelmed in the tasks, get a bit grouchy or become too busy. The Holy Spirit gently reminds me that this is not what it is about. It is about God giving His Son, His Only Son that I may have eternal life. The most precious gift ever given. What will I give back? Since the season began, we participated in parties and events. I have made Christmas goody bags, wrapped gifts, given to those who need it, and so much more in a vain attempt to honor the Lord with my life. Is it enough? Only if I decide in my heart to give myself first. Any gift given is only as valid as the intent of one’s heart.
John 13:34-38 is not a Christmas story passage at all. However, it allows us to see the struggle of mankind in giving back to the Giver of Life with our own. Jesus is nearing His Hour of Sacrifice. He shares with His Closest Friends, His Disciples, His Greatest Desire. We are to love on another. Peter does not agree or disagree but asks Jesus, “Where are you going?” He wanted to go with Jesus even offering his very life to keep his Lord safe. The awful truth comes out when Jesus tells Peter before the rising of the sun, you will deny me three times. Have we denied Jesus this Christmas? Has He told us to love one another but we chose to give Him something else? Something less uncomfortable? A gift that costs less than our self? What He has asked is what He desires? Have we given Him less than our best? Have we chosen to do rather than love? Have we become so caught up in the holiday that we are not honoring Christ and His Birth? I am not pointing a finger at you but rather asking myself. Tonight as people gather together in our church, am I ready to love them? Will I receive them? Or will I be so caught up in costumes and lights that I forget the Light of the World and the Gift for which He is asking?
John 3:16-21 (NIV)
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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
God loved me so much that He gave His Only Son. He gave His Best for me. He allowed His Son to come to this earth and endure a long separation. He watched as the people rejected, abused, tortured and killed His Child. He even turned from Him that day on the Cross as His Wrath was poured out on His Child for each and every sin we have ever committed bore down on Him. My greatest fear is losing a child. Thank God for the Blood of His Son that covers my children each day. The only choice that we have to make is will we take the Gift of Jesus and allow Him to change our life or will we reject His Gift and remain in the darkness. Do not be mistaken there is only one choice – life or death. There is no gray area. Light has come to the world. Many people love the darkness more than light. Whoever choose the Light of God’s Love will live by the truth of who they are and what they have become. To love God means that we must love other people.
Jesus did not to condemn anyone but with the sole purpose that all would be saved. When people encounter us this holiday season, do they see the Gift and the Giver? Can they tell a difference? Or have we somehow taken what was given and assumed a sense of entitlement? Do we freely offer the Love of God to others unconditionally as it was given to us? We are not called to live in the darkness or entertain it but we come in contact with people hidden in the darkness bound by sin. What is our response? Judgment or condemnation? Do we look down on them? Are we able to extend love to them from the unfathomable, unconditional and overflowing Gift we have been given from the Flawless Giver?
I John 4:11-12 (NIV)
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
When Jesus saves us, He gives us His Spirit. As we repent of our sins and turn our life fully over to Christ, there is a change in our perspective from the earth to the Heavenlies. God fills us to overflowing with His Love giving seed to the sower so we can now spread this love to others. Unconditionally. Overflowing. Neverending. This requires that our heart is changed to see others as Jesus does. It means that our expectation is no longer in what they can do for us but completely in what the Lord is doing in us. We can now love them when they let us down, step on us, betray us and overlook us because everything we need is provided mind, spirit and body in the Lord. We become complete when our love connects with others tightly bonding together the Body of Christ.
Hebrews 10:23-25 (NIV)
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
A few Christmas ago, our youngest requested an IPod Touch for Christmas. It was really the only thing that she asked for. We decided to give her an IPad Mini thinking it would be a step up for her. It was a more expensive and much nicer gift than what she asked for. Our intention was that we would surprise her with something better than she asked for. When she opened it on Christmas day, her face showed her disappointment. When I talked to her after all the gifts were opened, she was clearly upset. “But I didn’t want that…” As a parent, my heart sank. I became angry and tearful. I was devastated that I let her down and mad at her dissatisfaction. She had an expectation. When the expectation was not met as she had planned for her own personal satisfaction, she was disappointed. However, once she began using the gift, it was soon clear that it was perfect.
Sometimes we do not understand that what God is giving us or has already provided in our life is a valuable gift. We have predetermined what will satisfy our soul and fulfill our longings. When God gives us what is best, we become like disappointed children. The Gift that God has given us is His Love. He gave it by giving us the Life of His Son. In Jesus is every hope, dream and desire that we have coming to absolute and complete fulfillment. We must hold on to our hope. We prove that we are His Disciples by loving others. Completely. Are we doing that today? I want tonight’s performance to be flawless, but truthfully if at the end of the night a single, solitary soul finds Jesus and experiences His Love – all the time, preparation and sacrifice will be worth it all.
Romans 13:8-10 (NIV)
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Do you desire to honor Jesus this Christmas? Are you killing yourself trying to do so? Stop right where you are. I am about to let you off the hook. If you simply hand the Salvation Army bell ringer a hot cup of coffee and tell them Merry Christmas with a smile while dropping a small offering in his pot – you just got it right. If you invite someone to the Christmas play at church, pick them up so they will come, sit by them and introduce them to all your friends even though they don’t look or act saved, guess what? You nailed it. When they cut you off in traffic, instead of offering an offensive gesture, pray that they will make it safely to their destination. Hold the door for others. Smile and thank every clerk. Love. That really is all there is to give. Jesus doesn’t want our fancy clothes, expansive feast, or perfect performance this Christmas. He doesn’t even want us to make vows that we have not the wherewithal to complete. First, Jesus wants us to love Him with all our heart. He has given us all of His Love. Then He wants us to love others with the passion the Lord gives us. His Love. He is the Giver. We receive the Gift. To honor Him is to become a giver of His Love ourselves.
II John 6 (NIV)
And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.