God’s gift to us this Christmas
We are in the fourth week of advent and Christmas is nearly here. Anyone excited for family gatherings, time off of work, and way to many sweets and spinach dip? I am excited to celebrate Christmas with family and to not have to travel for 8 hours to get there.
I think one of the things that I enjoy about Christmas is the fun, the rest, the enjoyment . . . that I can have with people I love. But even if someone did not have people to celebrate Christmas with this year, can this Christmas still be “bright” as Bing Crosby has been crooning to us for weeks?
I believe the text we are looking at today tells us that we can and that is probably the best gift that we can receive this year or any time. God’s gift to us this Christmas is his love shown to us in Jesus Christ.
But the question is, have you opened that gift yet? Because we do not have to wait until December 25 to open that gift, it is available for us now.
We are looking at a text from Romans which powerfully wraps up faith, justification, peace, and love . . . and gives it to us.
There are three “ribbons” I would like to pull on as we unwrap this gift. The first is “What God’s love is”, the second is “what God’s love is like” and the final is “what this means for us”.
From the beginning, God has loved his creation. We see this repeatedly stated in the Old Testament. Job 7:17 ““What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him,”. This question in Job ponders why God cares so much for people and loves them so much. It is almost like it doesn’t make sense how much God loves and cares for the people of his creation. The Romans text says that God has restored the broken relationship we had with him because of sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus and we access that restoration through faith in Jesus. Paul sums this up as “having peace” with God.
Paul wraps up this entire theological reality in one image, and that is the image of a jar brimming with love that is poured out into us. God’s love has been poured into us. So faith in Jesus, which brings justification, which brings peace with God, which is the gospel, is poured out. That begs the question, do we desire to be filled with the love that God has poured out? (have the people answer that to themselves.) If you do, then say so to God now. “God, I do desire to be filled with your wondrous love which you have lavishly poured out into us”
Paul also tells us that this love comes to us through the Holy Spirit which is given to those who believe in Jesus and are justified through that faith. This image or “pouring out” connected with the Holy Spirit strongly points to an Old Testament promise, one which Peter quotes at his sermon at pentecost.
The circumstance of Peter’s sermon was that the Holy Spirit had come upon all the people meeting in the upper room and caused them to speak in tongues, which apparently meant that the people visiting Jerusalem who spoke many different languages could understand the message of these believers praising God for his mighty works in their own languages.
They did not understand how this could be and some suggested that these believers were drunk. However, Peter stood up and proclaimed that they were not drunk but that the scripture was being fulfilled from Joel, who said “After all of this I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your elderly will have prophetic dreams; your young men will see visions. Even on male and female servants I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28–29 NET)
Peter uses this to show that even though the people who were prophesying by the Spirit might not have been the proper “kind”, this was evidence that God had opened up his spirit to all who believed in Jesus. The Holy Spirit had been sent to them because of their faith and was given to all who believe.
Ezekiel and Isaiah also use the image of “pouring out” in regard to the Spirt and I think Paul is deliberately using the image of God’s love being pour out in connection with the Holy Spirit to say that
belief in the Gospel is the fulfillment of what God said he would do in restoring his people.
Of course, a major theme of Paul’s letters is that this restoration is not only for the Jews but includes the gentiles as well.
So then to pull on the “ribbon” of what God’s love is, we find that it is:
his self-sacrificing power shown by sending his son to live, die, and be raised again so that we could be restored to being at peace with him.
The gift of his love is “peace with God”. Maybe we need to just take a second to think about that. As far as gifts go, that is pretty hard to beat.
Would you be disappointed if you were to unwrap a gift that showed you that God had gone to all the hard work of knowing you personally, knowing what was causing the most harm to you, made a way to protect you from it, and gave it to you all when you had no idea who he was or that you needed it. That is what God’s love is.
Now the second ribbon on this gift is what God’s love like. It is this: God loves those who have hated him. Let me ask you this: Is it a small thing to continually love and care for someone who resents you and actively opposes you? — Pause
I think it is not. vs 8 says that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God’s love is not contingent on us meeting a certain standard. It is not as if he keeps score of our wrongs and when we pass a certain point, he cannot love us anymore. God loves not only those who struggle to love him in return, but God loves those who never loved him and in fact, are his enemies. God loves the angry atheist bloggers. He loves the shouting anti-religious protestors. God loves the people who want to shut down government funding for Christian schools (was anyone following that story a few years ago?) God loves radicalized extremists who plot terror attacks.
All these and more share as the objects of God’s abundant love that has been poured out for us in the manger at Bethlehem. This does not mean universal salvation, but it does show how God has loved the people he has created.
There is a character in The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky that exemplifies this point. The young monk, Alyosha is the main character in the story and at one point, he comes across a group of boys throwing stones at a lone boy. He thinks this is unfair and so he rebukes the group of boys and saves the lone boy from being pummelled. Strangely though, this boy remains angry with him and refuses to speak with Alyosha, who is worried about this boy in tattered clothes. Alyosha begins to continue on his way and the boy follows him and begins to throw rocks at Alyosha and one rock hits him in the head. Alyosha is more shocked than angry and asks the boy why he seems so angry with him, but does not scold him, he continues to feel compassion for him. Finally, the boy in desperation rushes at Alyosha and bites his finger so hard that it bleeds and then runs away crying. Alyosha is of course surprised by this and in pain, but still is not angry because of how strange and sad this boy is. The point is that Alyosha has shown kindness to this boy the whole time yet the boy continued to abuse him. It is not until later that Alyosha learns that his brother, Dmitri, had dishonored the boy’s father and the boy had suffered abuse by the other boys in his school ever since. The boy knew Alyosha was Dmitri’s brother and his anger and sense of honor in defending his fathers dignity meant that Alyosha was the target of his wrath along with all other members of Alyosha’s family. The question that is raised in the story is what do we do with good being repaid with evil? This little story serves as an example of the same thing happening all over the world and in many different ways. In a way, this represents the disease afflicting the human condition, which is sin.
What do we do when good is repaid with evil? I can say from my own experience that I would most likely respond with anger at first and then a resolution that the person who had done such a thing would never benefit from my generosity and kindness again. Could you see yourself overlooking a boy throwing rocks at you for no reason other than he was mischevious? maybe. But then for him to go and bite you? I think that would put anyone over the top.
What I think this shows is that any of us have a limit to our love. We have conditions for when we love. We have a limit to the amount of love we give. And we have definite conditions for when we will withhold our love. Is this not true to some degree?
Here is what we need to understand about love: The human love we know and experience regularly is not like God’s love.
When we limit our love, God gives more.
When we place conditions, he is unconditional.
When we say “your actions do not deserve any more of my love”, God says “I love you still”.
Let those words sit with you “I love you still”.
Despite what we have done.
Despite when we think we have failed.
Despite our weakness, selfishness, continuous inclination to sin . . . God loves us still.
Now the final ribbon “What does this mean for us?”
Paul links the reception of God’s love with the work of the Holy Spirit “given to us”. This tells us that even the love of God is enabled by the Holy Spirit. Remember that Paul speaks of the love of God being the entire work of us being restored to peace with God. Part of that peace is for believers to receive the Holy Spirit, in effect meaning we receive God into us. What better way to know God’s love than to have God within us.
If you are not sure if you completely know the love of God, let me ask you this: Do you believe that there is more to life than getting up in the morning, eating breakfast, going about the tasks of your day, going to sleep at night, and repeating this until you die?
That is to say, do you believe there is an afterlife? What is more, do you believe that there is good things in store in the afterlife?
If you do believe there is more to life than what we have now and that there are good things in store for those who receive Jesus as Lord and saviour, then that is part of God’s love.
All of this should point us toward hope. In our text, Paul says “Through him we have also cobtained access by faith2 into this grace din which we stand, and ewe3 rejoice4 in hope of the glory of God. “
The “grace” in which we stand is having our sins forgiven and receiving the Holy Spirit. This is connected to being really ecstatic about “glory”. Why should we be exulting in the glory of God? I think this points to the final destiny God has in mind for his creation. The glory of God is not just God’s magnificence, but represents the beautiful culmination of all that God has put of himself into his creation and will be what we share in in the new heaven and new earth. To state this another way,
God has a fantastic wedding party planned and sent his son to deliver the wedding invites. To RSVP, simply believe in the messenger.
This requires faith to believe but God also gives us the Holy Spirit to understand his love and to receive it.
The first thing God’s love means for us is that the Holy Spirit enables us to understand the glory of God.
The second thing that this means for us is that we know God’s love because of the incarnation. John 3:16 says “For this is the way36 God loved the world: He gave his one and only37 Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish38 but have eternal life.” This brings us to the manger in Bethlehem once again. The story we know so well is love. The birth of Jesus is many things but it can be summed up as God’s love shown to the whole world.
God’s love descended in Christ, was fulfilled at the cross, and was glorified at the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
We began by asking whether we could feel loved this Christmas even if we were not surrounded by people and parties and gifts this year. What would you say in light of this text? Has God lavished us with gifts? With love? The answer comes as another question, have you placed your faith in trust in Jesus Christ? The gift God has given is spiritual peace through the work of Jesus Christ, who died so that we could be made right with God. This is God’s love for us and to us. Receive this gift this Christmas and know the love of God that surpasses understanding.