The fourth Sunday of Advent is the celebration of LOVE. This is my favorite aspect of Advent, because with sincere love, we can experience the other three parts of this season: hope, joy and peace.
Love is a very misunderstood and over-used word. I love chocolate; I love to ski; but it is really not the same. Ask a classroom of kindergarteners what LOVE is, and you will hear some remarkable answers! Generally, we can get our heads around the visual affects of love, like a teddy bear, or grandma hugs and kisses, but to define love is very difficult.
In our current cultural climate, love can melt away as a snowflake on the warm pavement. Many people are afraid, confused, disappointed, and angry. We can add doubt and suspicion of others as well, especially if someone does not agree with our points of view. Ugly, painful things are said and done almost daily. In contrast, let me share a BRIEF survey of love from the NT, which seems a little unfair, but it would take a huge book to study, in depth, the love of God for his people:
In the Gospel of John, Jesus told his followers that, “as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now, remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love….My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you…” (John 15:5-13). Indeed, you can read all of John 15 about “abiding” in Jesus’ love. Certainly, there is no greater love for people than the demonstration of God’s love on the cross (Jn 15:13).
Furthermore, the author of John’s epistles (letters) punctuates the love of God and the love Christ’s followers show to one another. His message urges “more love and less hatred:”
1 John 3:1 – “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!
1 John 4:7-12 – “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 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….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.”
The Apostle Paul taught his churches a great deal about love, and gives us practical application of its meaning. Just a few examples include:
Romans 8:35, 39 – “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 13:9, 10 – The summation of the OT law is, “Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”
1 Corinthians 8:1-3 – “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up….whoever loves God is known by God.”
1 Corinthians 13:2, 3 – If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
Then, a favorite Pauline saying is in his letter to the Galatians:
Galatians 5:22-23– “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
Notice that the “fruit” is a singular noun (not plural “fruits”), which means that they all come together as a package deal. You cannot have just “goodness” or “self-control” without “love;” you cannot have “love” without the manifestation of the other eight virtues. In addition, it is the indwelling Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit) that produces the fruit within us. By his power, we are able to demonstrate all these virtues; without him, it is an impossible task. We must choose to “go on walking” in the Spirit to totally reject the “acts of the flesh” which immediately precede the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:19-21).
Perhaps most familiar is Paul’s treatment of love in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7. Love is described both positively and negatively: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails….and now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
What a precious passage! I don’t think it has ever been said more eloquently. But we should consider each phrase individually, by itself, and review our own lives. Am I “patient?” Am I always “kind?” Am I, in fact, “self-seeking?” Then, read it as a whole, in relation to the final phrase of this beautiful segment of a remarkable chapter – the “greatest of these is love!”
It boils down to this: we are to “walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” (Eph 5:2). Quite simply, we are to love God and love others. And we can do this. The Spirit will help.
My pastor prayed, “Lord, help me to be known for my love, not my ideology.”
So to everyone: have a wonder-filled, hopeful, joyous, peaceful and loving Christmas in 2020! Amen.