Christmas is supposed to be loving, right?
The Christmas crooning of Bing Crosby mellows us out. The rich chocolate of the Christmas fudge calms our stomachs. The gentle glow of the Christmas tree – all work to give us that gentle, loving feeling. We do all we can – even putting mistletoe in the middle of the home to try and make love a part of Christmas.
We’ve set the stage for love to be shown. Why then is showing love so complicated?
I was checking out Facebook today. On Christmas Eve, I was hoping to see in the trending stories things like “Merry Christmas” or “Christ is born.”
Nope. Instead, people who hate Donald Trump have been spending Christmas Eve talking about how much they hate Donald Trump. People who love Donald Trump have been talking about how much they hate Hillary Clinton and people who hate Donald Trump. There was an article or two discussing how the warm weather is removing all the Merry from Christmas. Another article about how Christmas is just a big scam. And no shortage of ads aimed at making you feel guilty for not buying enough for your kids tonight.
And that’s just on the computer.
Why is showing love so complicated?
The Bible has one simple answer: Sin.
Sin is the reason that love is so hard. Sin is selfish. Sin is proud. Sin is hateful. Sin is vengeful. Sin is everything that love is not.
That's why when we are looking for real love, we have to look to God. Look at what God did for us. “God sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live thorugh him.”
Parents – think about this. What would it be like to send your child away for Christmas? If they are in college, we usually spend top dollar just to get them back home for a day or two – who would willingly send their child away?
God did. He sent his Son – his perfect Son – the only Son that showed Him absolute, incredible unfailing love – away!
Look where he sent him, “into the world.”
Have you ever been invited to a Rizty party before? Those are real easy to click “yes” to on the evite. There might be fancy cheeses whose names you can’t pronounce, a professional string quartet playing in the background, delicious holiday smells coming from the hors d’oeuvres that are tinier than your pinky finger. There’s even a guy in the bathroom to hand you a paper towel and squirt lotion onto your hands for you.
Then, there are those other Christmas parties. Bachelor Pad Christmas parties. Where the one room studio apartment smells like a combination of must and spam. The only entertainment is a $1 Looney Tune Christmas special from the Walmart DVD bin and the menu consists of Hungry Man TV dinners.
It's’ easy to say YES to a nice place; and hard to say YES to a not so nice place.
Picture Jesus then. He had it all. He dwelt amongst the beautiful rays of sunshine in heaven. He had glorious views of the Cosmos. He walked amongst the gold plated, silver cobblestone path to his lush, divine covered throne with angels trumpeting on key to his every movement.
He gave that up.
He went to a barn.
He smelled animals smells.
He heard animal sounds.
He lay his head on a feeding trough.
That’s just the beginning. Because now he had entered a world filled with hatred – a world filled with violence – a world filled with grief and lust and anger and selfishness and jealousy and adultery and idolatry.
A world with all those things – and not much love.
So why did Jesus do it? “That we might live through him.” He did it to defeat your sin. He did it to defeat your pain. He did it to defeat the gloom of this world and to defeat death.
Isn’t that something? Organic food is all the rage right now, so there might be a shift in the Christmas goodies you get. You might get some that are hard pressed, chemical free, oatmeal treats. You may get some essential oils aiming to extend your life. You might get the new Insanity workout in order to start the New Year with a New you.
These things might extend your life…for a bit.
Jesus does extends your life…forever.
How did he do it? Well, he isn’t just an example. He isn’t – as some churches say – an example of how to live so that as long as you live like Jesus – you might make it to heaven eventually.
Then, suddenly we’d be here bragging about the religiosity of our Christmas. “Did you know I’ve been at church since 9am today? Did you know that I went to all of the services Gethsemane had to offer? Did you know that I’ve been singing "Joy to the World" in the shower…Man, do I love God."
That’s not the point. In fact, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Look at that phrase atoning sacrifice. Atoning means to “make one,” or “to bring peace.” It’d be like paying off a credit card and now you don’t owe them any more. You paid for it. You’re at peace. They better stop calling you.
But look at what it takes to make peace with God for your sins – it takes a sacrifice. Someone giving up their life for yours. Someone being in pain. Someone suffering.
That’s what Jesus did. In the darker side of Christmas, understand this: Jesus came to die for you. That’s true love. He didn’t just give up all his money – he didn’t just give up his spot in heaven – he didn’t just give up his perfect throne – he gave up his life for you!
Notice the past tense! We aren’t awaiting this Christmas to come. We aren’t in the process to see if it works. It is done. The manger. The cross. The tomb. They are all done. Jesus was born. Jesus was killed. Jesus was brought back to life – as proof that in Him you will have eternal life.
Yes. You. Believe it.
Because – think about this with me – Christmas is really about you. That’s what we just read, isn’t it? Christmas exists because God loved you that much. He sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for you.
And it doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter what you look like. It doesn’t matter what your culture is or what your Christmas traditions are. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been stuck in sin for ages. It doesn’t matter if Christmas feels pretty dark for you right now.
Jesus came because of you. Christmas happened because of you.
And now? God says love others. “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
At the end of this Christmas Eve service, we have a candlelight song. What happens is I head over to the big white candle in the middle of the Advent wreath. I light my candle on that candle. Then, the ushers come up and I light their candles with my candle. Then, they take their candles and light the first candles in each row. The first candles in each row pass the flame down to the end of the row until everyone has a candle that’s lit. Each having been lit by the flame from the tall white candle.
That candle’s name? The Christ candle.
May his love warm our hearts and touch us so that we share it with others this Christmas season and always. Amen.