We are in the middle of a Christmas sermon series called “The Heart of Christmas” where we’re diving into the true meaning of this holiday season, and we’re using the Advent themes to do so (which are really gifts given to us) gifts of hope, love, joy, and peace that Christ brought us through His miraculous birth.
If you missed last week, you can watch or listen to it on our website, where we began with the gift hope. Through the retelling and re-reading of the scriptures each year at Christmas, we are reminded of the faithfulness of God from His prophetic word about Jesus’ future coming to the fulfillment of that word in Jesus’ birth. These scriptures and truth of God fulfilling His promise gives us confidence that we can place our hope in Him. No matter what we face, God will hold true to His promises, He will give us hope and meet us wherever we are. Today, we’ll look at another aspect of the heart of Christmas—the wonderful gift of love.
Let’s be honest. I love my friends and family, but there will be someone that gives me the most unusual Christmas gift that I have to figure out very carefully how to respond to without seeming like I don’t like or appreciate the gift. As we all prepare to celebrate and receive gifts, I want to offer you eight ways to respond to a gift that may be less than desirable. You may want to take some notes and arm yourself with Christmas gift gratitude.
- Well, well, well, now, there’s a gift!
- Oh my, I didn’t even know that there was a such a thing!
- You know, I always wanted one of these! Jog my memory—what’s it called again?
- You know what? I’m going to find a special place to put this.
- Boy, you just don’t see craftsmanship like that every day!
- And it’s such an interesting color too!
- You say that was the last one? Sure glad you snatched that baby up!
- You shouldn’t have! No, really, I mean it. You really shouldn’t have!
So, there you go. Now you’re ready for any and all scenarios.
Today, I want to speak about a gift you don’t have to rehearse a response for. It’s by far something all of us can use, something all of us need, and something all of us will be thankful to have. It is literally the greatest gift that has ever been given to us. It’s the wonderful offer of God’s love.
When God sent His Son to be born, it was an expression of His unfailing and relentless love. His love is a gift that is thoughtful because it meets our greatest need—our sinful nature. It’s a gift that is priceless because it could never be purchased apart from Christ’s blood. It’s a gift that is timeless because the grace of God is never ending. And above all else, God’s love is at the heart of Christmas and came right on time.
POINT #1 – GOD’S GIFT WAS RIGHT ON TIME
Have you ever received a present from someone and you could not believe how perfect the timing was? Or maybe it was a card. Maybe because of something you were going through or because of a need that was met, it was as if the giver knew just what your heart needed in that very moment. The first memory that comes to my mind of a gift like this was from my grandfather. I was a single mom and often “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” and a couple of times, my grandfather out of the blue would slip a fifty-dollar bill in my hand and say here you go. I’d ask, “What is this for?” And he’d just smile. It was like he knew in that very moment that was what I needed to get by that week.
Paul talked about the timing of Christmas when he wrote a letter to the church in Galatia.
4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.
From the moment creation was broken by sin, God began to unfold His plan to restore and rescue all that He had made.
And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
A strike on the heal refers to Satan’s attempts to defeat Christ during His life on earth. “He will strike you head” foreshadows Satan’s defeat when Christ rose from the dead. A strike on the heal is not deadly, but a blow to the head is. The entire Bible from beginning to end is an account of God’s divine efforts and faithfulness to reverse the effects of the Fall, all motivated by love.
Paul wrote that when Jesus came and was born to Mary, the fullness of time had come. It was the right moment in history to send His son to make a way for the world to be restored. Because of love, God was not content to sit back and just watch His creation suffer forever. He went to great lengths to be with us and make us a part of His family once again.
POINT #2 – WE ARE LOVED INTO THE FAMILY
What is perhaps most amazing is that when Jesus came, He came to meet us exactly where we are. He was born under the law of God in order to redeem human kind, which is under the expectations of God’s law. In doing so, His perfect life met the requirements that the law demanded. Where we fail, Jesus succeeded.
And according to Galatians 4, the full expression of God’s love is demonstrated in our spiritual adoption. We become children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. We are given all the privileges of a son or daughter of God, with God as our Father. The late pastor J.I. Packer wrote about this incredible expression of God’s love that came at Christmas.
“Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification. To be right with God, the Judge, is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater.”
Many of us live our lives every day missing the fact that God loves us. And when we miss the fact that we have been adopted into His family, we then have a hard time loving ourselves. Then, we have an even harder time loving others who are also valued and treasured by God. The whole reason this aspect of Christmas (God’s love) should not be missed or avoided is because it is central to us living the full lives that God wants for us.
In Ephesians, Paul tells us about all of the benefits of being in God’s family and being recipients of His love.
3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.
9 God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. 11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.
12 God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. 13 And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.
As a part of God’s family, we are made blameless in God’s sight (vs. 4). Our sins are washed away by His grace (vs. 7). We are showered in His kindness, all wisdom and understanding (vs. 8). God’s will and way are made known to us as a father might share with a child (vs. 9). We are chosen in advance, mind you, to receive an inheritance from God (vs. 11). We receive hope and salvation (vs. 13). We are marked with a seal, the Holy Spirit, to ensure that we will inherit eternal life as one of God’s precious possessions (vs. 13-14). All of this is only made possible by the arrival of Jesus at just the right time to one day sacrificially give His life on a cross to validate God’s amazing love for us.
POINT #3 – LOVE FREELY RECEIVED IS LOVE FREELY GIVEN
The reason love must be at the heart of Christmas is because, if we miss this being the central message of the season, in the midst of the lights and presents, we may never receive it for ourselves. What is perhaps most tragic about this oversight is that we often give the kind of love that we perceive to be ours. If we have not experienced the grace of God, it’s difficult to offer the grace of God. If we don’t know the compassion of God, it’s difficult to express the compassion of God. But when we recognize the kind of love that God has for us, it becomes the way in which we treat and love others.
The most famous of all passages in the Bible about love helps us understand God’s feelings toward us and the way we should feel about our spouse, children, friends, neighbors, and everyone.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
(Vs. 8-12) Paul then goes into explain that we don’t know everything. Some of God is for us to know later, when the time of perfection comes. Then we’ll know God just as He knows everything about us. But for now, we know enough to follow….
13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
We can get caught up in all kinds of things, even good things, and miss the whole point if love is not our motivating factor. Love like we have been given from God should cause us to be patient and kind to one another. It should cause us to avoid being envious of one another or proud. Love drives us to honor others and to keep a cool head. Love is present when we avoid evil and rejoice with good. Does this sound like the love you have received from God? Does it sound like the love you display in your life?
The way this passage might sound during Christmas would be like this:
If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights, and shiny ornaments but do not have love, I’m just another decorator.
If I work hard in the kitchen baking Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals, and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime but do not have love, I’m just another cook.
If I work at a soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home, and give all that I have to charity but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
If I trim the tree with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend countless holiday parties, and sing in the choir’s cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.
Love stops the cooking to hug the child. Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the spouse. Love is kind even when you’re stressed and tired. Love does not envy another’s home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens. Love does not yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way.
Love does not give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who cannot give. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never fails.
Toys will break, jewelry will be lost, golf clubs will rust, but giving the gift of love will endure. So, this Christmas see the arrival of Jesus as the ultimate gift from God. The kind of gift where the only proper response is to receive. May that love you receive in your hearts cause you to live it out every day of the year.