A Crazy Christmas Concept – LOVE
Merry Christmas, church. That’s my sister-in-law, Cheryl, by the way and my mother-in-law, Ruth. I don’t want to brag; I did teach them both all they know about music. This is my favorite Christmas song. And really, if I’m honest, Cheryl is probably my favorite person in the world to hear sing it.
But my excitement this year about this song is even greater. And maybe you want to know why, so I’ll answer you. It’s greater this year because of the content of the song, specifically just a line and a half of the poetry. That’s pretty much all we’re going to look at from this song is a line and a half. And what the poet penned there is so insane, it’s so out there and radical and countercultural and challenging and mysterious. And maybe to throw in a couple of more modern descriptives: hype, lit, fresh, and fire. In this song, one of the things he said, it’s insane. The message is actually so wild I wonder if we’ve even heard it. And maybe you’ve never even been in church. So, throw your seatbelt on because you’re going to start with a wild, crazy message.
What is it? Here’s the line: “Truly he taught us to love one another. His law is love.” Jesus taught us to love one another. Huh. Not really the reaction I thought I was going to get there. No one’s shouting or jumping or running around or screaming, “Ryan, I can’t believe it! I’ve never heard that before!”
Oh, do you guys know this one? This isn’t a new message? Well, that explains it. This is awkward. I have twenty-seven more minutes of material based around this amazing thing of loving each other. I thought I had found something unique, something that would literally change the way we live and treat people every day of our lives, something that would literally rule us. Well, maybe you’ll just have to listen in as I describe how this has impacted me, this line and a half of poetry. Jesus taught us to love one another.
Maybe it hit me this year because of the way I see myself live in my family. If the law of Jesus is to love, then I break the law. Maybe it hit me this year because of issues I see in our church. Not out there, but here — marriage things, relational things, arguments. Is love the governing rule of your home, mom and dads? And this is a great Sunday, because we have kids with us this Sunday. There’s no Kidstuff this week, so all of you kids are in here. Kids, do you start with love when you think about your brother or sister? Just keep going. How about this one. Does the law of love rule your life group? How about everybody here, is your starting point love for other people in this church — the staff of this church, the elders of this church? If Jesus taught us to love one another and it’s a law that we have to love, then that has to dominate our lives. Does it?
Well, maybe we should ask another question first. Is that true? Did Jesus really teach us to love one another, and is that love a law? Let’s be skeptical of “O Holy Night.” After all, “O Holy Night” is just a song that somebody wrote a couple of hundred years ago. Let’s compare “O Holy Night” to the Bible and see if Jesus really teaches us to love one other. I took some time and looked through the Bible and found a couple of times where this is mentioned, and we’re going to read those out loud together. It’s going to be up here on the screens, and I want you guys to be part of it. Every time there’s a bold line you guys are going to say it out loud. And if you’ve been around here long, you know I kind of have this little idiosyncrasy of when we ask for things to be read out loud, don’t do the church mumble where you talk just loud enough so nobody else hears you, but actually say it out loud. And we’re going to read several verses, so you hang in with me. I’m going to keep us moving right through. Everywhere there’s bold you’re going to jump in. Here we go.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
“These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”
“Love one another with brotherly affection.”
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” [Let’s say that one again like you’re bearing a burden.] “Bearing with one another in love.”
“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”
“Now concerning brotherly love, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.”
“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”
“Let brotherly love continue.”
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.”
“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.”
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”
“And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he commanded us.”
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
“And now I ask you, dear lady — not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have heard from the beginning — that we love one another.”
I think it’s fair to say that we were told to love one another. I think it’s fair to say that it’s even a law. It’s a commandment. But how do we do it? How do we love one another? How can we obey this law of love that Jesus gave us? Well, we have to admit some things.
First, we have to admit loving isn’t normal. Loving isn’t normal. Now some of you adults here know me a little bit and might know my family. Some of you kids, you might not know me as well. I want to let you know something I have a sister. She’s four years older than I am. Her name is Raquel, and believe it or not her birthday is on Christmas Day. She was born on Christmas. When my sister and I were young, we did not get along very well at all. I was not a very good brother; I disliked my sister. And actually, there was this one time where I had some quarters. I took the quarters, and I took a pencil, and I colored one side of the quarter. And I did that with like four or five quarters, and then I took those quarters and went into my sister’s room and put them on her desk. Then I went and found my mom and dad and I said, “Mom and Dad, Raquel is stealing my money.” And I took my dad to her room, pointed at the quarters, and then told my dad, “I know these are my quarters because every time I get a quarter, I color one side with a pencil.” Now I wasn’t a very bright kid. It was not a good plan. My mom and dad saw through that, and I got in a lot of trouble for lying.
But here’s the weird thing. My mom and dad never had to sit down with me and teach me how to dislike my sister. My mom and dad never sat down with me and said, “Now Ryan, we want you to say unkind things to your sister, and here’s what that would sound like. Ryan, here’s how you can be mean and make fun of your sister.” My parents never had to do that. Why didn’t I need to be taught that? How did I just start there? It was pretty normal for me to not love my sister.
Loving isn’t normal. It seems that’s where we start. It’s as if we begin at birth with a love problem. We begin in a space of not loving. Why is that? “O Holy Night” puts it this way,
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining.”
Pining just means longing for something else, wanting something else. The Bible says this about sin,
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
What is this sin we’re talking about? See, God has a standard. He has a level that has to be met, and actually God himself is the standard. We were created to meet God’s standard. But in this moment of disobeying, Adam and Eve chose to love themselves more than they loved God. Adam and Eve sinned. Being sinful, being a sinner, is not being able to meet God’s standard. And we also use sin to describe those moments when we do something that God has said, “Don’t do that.”
Here’s the really terrible truth about sin, sin kills. It kills. It always brings about death. Literally, because of sin, we physically die now. We were never supposed to die. Sin always kills. But it doesn’t just kill our body, it kills our soul, or it kills the person we really are on the inside. We die physically, and we die spiritually. And for that sin to be removed or fixed or covered or cleaned up, the only way for that to happen is through death.
Everyone here — from the youngest child to the oldest adult — we all have at least one thing in common. We don’t meet God’s standard. We’re all sinners. We do things God tells us not to do. And if God is the standard, and God is love, I can’t love like God. That’s when we have to admit something else. We have to admit, in order to love, that we need help. We need help. Even though I’m a sinner, that doesn’t mean I don’t have any hope. It doesn’t mean I can’t ever love. There is a way for me to meet God’s standard. Within the song, “O Holy Night,” we see some truths that really give us a big hope. First one is this, Jesus is our Savior. Jesus is our Savior.
“It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.”
With this whole thing about sin, we have to admit we need saving. Being a sinner, it’s like someone who fell through the ice on a frozen lake and can’t get out by themselves. Being a sinner is like being a really small child, maybe 2 years old, who can’t run fast enough to get across the street safely and needs a parent to scoop them up and get them out of the way of an oncoming vehicle. Being a sinner is like being an older adult in a fourth story apartment, and the building is on fire, and you can’t get out of there unless a fireman comes all the way up to the window. We all need saving. We need saved from sin because God can’t live with sin. He can’t abide it. He can’t take it. And sin has to be taken care of.
Remember, a few moments ago I said the only way for sin to be cleaned up, fixed, removed, is for death to occur. That’s how Jesus saved us. He died so we don’t have to. It can be kind of weird to understand, but because of Jesus, even if this body in front of all of you, even if I were to die in the next year, because of Jesus, I still get to live. God’s going to take this body and make it new, and my soul and body are going to be together perfectly forever. Death doesn’t win. Sin loses, Jesus wins. Jesus is our Savior.
The song also tells us that Jesus was born. The Savior was born. Now that’s a big part of why we celebrate this time of year at Christmas. Sometimes churches use a big word called incarnation around this time of year. All that means is God became human. Jesus came to earth. Can you picture Jesus as a baby in your brain? Take a moment in your brain and paint a picture of Jesus in the manger. Now remember as you paint that picture, Jesus was born in the Middle East. Jesus wouldn’t look much like me — probably dark skin, dark hair, and I wonder if it was a lot of curly hair. He was born to this couple, Mary and Joseph. Jesus was a real baby. Jesus became, the Bible tells us, he became just like us in humanity. He had fingers and toes and flesh, and he could jump and sing and laugh. But Jesus was more than human. And here’s where you’re going to have to stretch the muscles of your imagination really, really far to understand this part. Something like this, have you ever tried to imagine forever, and your brain kind of stops. You’re trying but your brain goes, “No, I can’t do that.” We can imagine next Christmas, maybe four or five after that. But if I say the year, oh I don’t know, 2069, fifty years from now. I’d be 90/96. 500 years? 5000 years? And when you get to 5000 years, you haven’t even started forever yet.
If your brain cramps there, I’m going to give you a bigger brain cramp. Imagine this one: when Jesus was born a human, Jesus was still God. Now that’s kind of crazy to think about. My brain is cramping but it’s really, really important. Because one of the things “O Holy Night” doesn’t tell us is why Jesus was born. Why did he have to do that? And there’s a couple of answers for that, but one of them is, Jesus had a specific purpose in being born. Jesus being a human means that he can live the perfect life that Adam and Eve didn’t, that you and I can’t. Jesus is the one who can meet God’s standard. Jesus is the one who can solve the sin problem. Jesus’ real life is so important because it gives us hope. Jesus can live for us, on our behalf. He can meet the standard we don’t have a shot of meeting.
Imagine being in 7th grade. For some of us, that’s looking back in time. But for some of us here, you’re going to have to imagine 7th grade. Maybe some harder homework, more time at home spent on school — 7th grade. What if the teacher in 7th grade got up and said, “Listen, (first day of school) one student in this class, whatever they do will be applied to the whole class. If that student gets all As, everybody in the class gets all As. If the student in the class has perfect attendance, everybody gets perfect attendance. If the student obeys every class rule and every school behavior rule, that’s applied to everybody in the class.” Jesus is like the student in the class. Jesus lived perfectly for us, and we receive the benefits of his perfect life.
How do we obey this law of love that Jesus gave us? We have to start by admitting that we need saving. We have to say, “I don’t measure up to God’s standard.” But the good news is this: we can then believe that Jesus the God man perfectly met that standard. And when we believe in him it’s as if we get to step into the shoes of Jesus and walk in his life. And at that moment, now we can start loving like he does because we’re living out of his life.
But it gets even better. Not only do we get to live the life Jesus gave us, but we get to follow his example. Jesus loved people who didn’t deserve it. I’m evidence of that. I haven’t lived in such a way to deserve the love of Jesus, but man he’s been so kind to me. And the truth is, you haven’t lived in such a way to deserve the love of Jesus either. Jesus loved all kinds of people who didn’t deserve it. Jesus loved this one guy whose name was Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was actually a traitor to his people and a thief and an embezzler of money. Jesus loved this one woman who made some really bad choices in her life. Jesus loved this one group of people that, according to the religious leaders, were so bad that when Jesus had a meal with them, they got really mad at Jesus just because he ate with those people. Jesus loves soldiers, fishermen, priests, government officials, men, women, and definitely children. Jesus even loved a friend of his that betrayed him. Jesus loved people who hurt him. One of Jesus’ best friends, his name was Peter, he wrote this letter, and it’s in the Bible. In there he describes Jesus. When people made fun of Jesus, Jesus never made fun of them in return. There were people who actually made Jesus suffer in his life and when they did that to Jesus, Jesus never threatened them. He loved them. Jesus was literally the best ever at loving people, even people that did wrong and wronged him. And because Jesus transfers his perfect life to us, we have the power to love just like Jesus. We can love people who don’t deserve it. We can love people even when they hurt us.
What can our love look like? Well love is so big. There are so many ways we can answer this question. I want to answer two specific ways of what the love of Jesus can look like. The first comes from a guy named Paul. Paul wrote a lot of the New Testament in the Bible, and Paul wrote one letter to this church in Corinth who were basically arguing about everything — so bad that one part of his letter, one whole part of his letter is just about love to try to get these people back together. And in that one chapter about love, I want to focus on one thing that Paul says about love. He says this: love is not resentful. Now I’m guessing most adults know what resentful means. Maybe some of you kids don’t. Think of it this way, love isn’t bitter. Imagine eating a lemon peel. Yeah, it would taste “bleh.” Love isn’t that. Love doesn’t look at people and get sour and grumpy and mean. Love doesn’t live that way. And the word resentful actually can mean a couple of different things. Another one it means is love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. Or love doesn’t create a list of what people have done and hold it against them. Love doesn’t make angry lists. Or to put that positively, love always wipes the slate clean. Love erases angry lists. Love deletes angry lists. The first way that we can love like Jesus, as his people, no matter what your age is, love doesn’t make angry lists. Love isn’t bitter, it’s sweet. Love is always an empty tablet.
The second way that we can love like Jesus comes from Peter, Jesus’s friend. He writes this about love. He tells us that love has to keep on going. It’s something that we need to keep doing. And if we do, there’s something really powerful that comes out of it. Peter says this,
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly since love covers a multitude of sins.”
Above all. If I begin a statement with “above all,” that means that whatever comes after it is supposed to be the highest priority, the most important. Something like this: I love pastry, but above all, I love cheese Danishes. Cheese Danishes are my highest pastry priority. Everybody in here has an above all. It might be a video game that you like more than any other video game. Above all, I like this video game. It could be a stuffed animal that you like, a time of year that you like. Peter is telling us in this moment, above all, that when it comes to being a Christian the highest priority we have is love. Peter tells us,
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly.”
Keep loving one another. Don’t stop loving. Love is an ongoing action and choice. We continue to choose to love. Love isn’t lazy. Love continues to be exercised. Now for adults who are married, I think that’s a context we understand. Kids, I’m going to talk about marriage for a second. To stay married you have to keep on loving one another earnestly. Look at a picture of these two kids here. Last Monday my wife and I celebrated 24 years of being married. Yup, thank you. And I say this in all seriousness, living with me for 24 years … “Keep loving one another earnestly.” Rebecca’s had to choose to keep on loving me because we’ve had a couple of moments in our marriage where I wasn’t lovable because of the way I was acting. And so, she had to keep choosing to love me. Love is not always determined by how we feel but by who we are, because we’re walking in the shoes of Jesus. We’re living in the life he gave us. We keep loving one another earnestly, earnestly.
I still love Christmas Eve. I love that feeling of what’s going to happen tomorrow. It’s just, my family has always loved Christmas, and I feel that anticipation. That’s, I think, what Peter’s going after. Be ready for it just like a child on Christmas Eve (or a 46-year-old child in my case) is waiting for Christmas morning. Be ready to love.
And then Peter tells us why. Why do we keep loving one another earnestly? Why is it the highest priority? Because, “since love covers a multitude of sins.” Love covers a multitude of sins. What did Jesus do with our sin? He died and covered it with his blood. And now this guy Peter, a friend of Jesus, is saying, “You guys get to live the same way. You get to live and love just like Jesus.” Our love can cover other people’s sin. It can cover a multitude of sins. Now a multitude is a funny word. I bet hardly anybody has used that word this week. It just means a lot. If you go out and look at the sky when it’s clear there’s a multitude of stars. There’s a lot of stars. In the story when Jesus is born, angels come to announce that to shepherds and that Bible tells us that
“There was with the angel a multitude [same word] of the heavenly host glorifying and praising God saying, ‘glory to God in the highest!’”
How big do you think that choir was? Six angels? 60? 600? I don’t know. The Bible doesn’t tell us. But I sure do feel like it was a big choir. It was a multitude of heavenly hosts. How many sins can love cover? A multitude, a lot. Think of things you cover in real life. Your expensive cell phone, you wrap a cover around it. At this time of year, a lot of you are baking. Nobody goes through the work of baking and then leaves everything out on the counter to get stale. What do you do with it? You wrap it, you cover it. Love can wrap around wrongs that are done to us. When someone wrongs us, we can live like Jesus and wrap, just like a Christmas present, we can wrap what they did in love. We don’t have to highlight it. We don’t have to confront it. We don’t have to point it out. We don’t have to get mad at them, correct them. We can cover it. The second way we can love like Jesus is: keep on loving and cover wrongs.
Let me clarify this covering wrong thing because this is important. We’re not talking about anything illegal. That’s not what Peter is talking about. Christians don’t cover up illegal things. Christians don’t cover up when people are getting hurt. In situations where people are getting hurt physically and emotionally and other ways, that’s not what Christians cover. That’s not what Peter is talking about. Peter seems to be going after an overall attitude because we know in the Bible there are things that the government is supposed to take care of. The government takes care of crime. Romans 13. We know there are other places in the Bible. Matthew, a friend of Jesus, told us that there are times where we don’t cover wrong. We go to somebody, and we tell them what they did wrong so that we can make it right together. I think what Peter though is going after is this overall attitude that in the life of a Christian, somebody who’s walking in the shoes of Jesus, you are going to have plenty of opportunity to cover wrongs. Those things that happen between brothers and sisters, moms and dads, parents and kids. You’re going have plenty of opportunity to love rather than point out. If our lives are dominated by confronting everything rather than covering, then we might have a love problem.
How can we take this out this week, these two ways to live? I wanted to give you something that you could do, something that you could really look at no matter what your age is. You could do this with your mom and dad if you’re really young, even if you don’t write yet. If you write, you could do this on your own. Moms and dads, you can do this on your own as well. Do it as a family. There’s this simple chart that I’ve created, these two ways to live out the law of love. Love doesn’t make angry lists. Love keeps loving and covers wrongs. And then there are three environments or three places where you could live both those things out — home, church, work, or school. What does it look like in home to stop making angry lists? That might mean that you have to make some things right with your brother or sister. You might need your mom’s and dad’s help to talk to each other so that you guys know you love each other. And hey, guess what older teens, moms, dads? We’re no different. There are some marriages in here that probably need to get rid of angry lists. There are friends in here who probably need to get rid of angry lists. Maybe that’s in the church. If you’re angry at someone and you have a list of wrongs and you just rehearse it, go make it right or wrap it in the love of Jesus.
Where can we keep loving one another earnestly and covering wrongs? What would that look like at work? Because remember, one of the things he wrote was,
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus was born. Jesus is our Savior. We get to live his life every day, and he loved every moment of every day of his life on earth. And now he invites us and gives us the power to love each other as well. Let’s do it. Let’s love.
Father, would you give us the grace and energy we need to do that? It’s not normal, but you can change us supernaturally and let us love each other, from the youngest child to the oldest adult. God let us do that this week. Let us love each other this week. Be more than just sentimental, but truly love living out of the life of Jesus. And I pray this in your name, amen.