The Gifts of Christmas: The Gift of Love

Ephesians 3:14-19

 What would Christmas be without the songs and carols? Bear with me, today we are going to play “Name That Christmas Song.” Susan will sing a phrase from a well-known holiday song, and you try to think of the song title. Ready?

  • We’re snuggled up together like two birds of a feather would be. (“Sleigh Ride”)
  • When we finally kiss goodnight, how I’ll hate going out in the storm. But if you really hold me tight, all the way home I’ll be warm. (“Let It Snow”)
  • Please have snow and mistletoe and presents under the tree. (“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”)
  • Mistletoe hung where you can see every couple tries to stop. (“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”)
  • In the meadow we can build a snowman and pretend that he is Parson Brown. He’ll say are you married, we’ll say no man. But you can do the job when you’re in town. (“Winter Wonderland”)

Okay, if you couldn’t get any of those, here is one for the rest of us. Hint:

All I want for Christmas is you. (“All I Want for Christmas Is You”)

Do you notice a theme here? Valentine’s Day may get all the glory for being the holiday of love, but it’s pretty clear that Christmas holds a corner on the market as the season of love and romance. In fact, the “2014 American Wedding Study” conducted by Brides magazine, researchers found that 19 percent of all engagements occur in December, making it the most popular month to get engaged. And can you guess what day is the most popular to pop the question? Statistics show that Christmas Eve is the most popular day for engagements. Sorry, Cupid, data released by Facebook last year showed that Christmas Eve is the most popular day to get engaged, followed by Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, and then Valentine’s Day.

There’s nothing wrong with celebrating love during this season. But depending on where you find yourself in regard to the love spectrum, all this love in the air can bring happiness and expectation or loneliness and isolation. Either way, too much focus on cuddling and mistletoe can blind us to the real love story of Christmas.

So I challenge us all not to miss the true story of love this season. This is the love story that has been written for all of us. The story of true, faithful, unending, sacrificial love. God’s love in sending Jesus is the one love that changes everything.

Love has been God’s story from the beginning. God’s love was with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden both before and after sin entered the world. God showed His love by saving Noah and his family from the flood and giving them a new start. God gave the commandments and law as a way for His people to know his love and stay connected to Him. And it was because of love He sent His Son to live among us—the God of the universe was born in a stable, died on the cross, and rose again from the grave. All signs of God’s love.

The second gift of Christmas that we’ll unwrap this Advent season is God’s love.

 I’m going to guess that if I just say John 3:16, many of us hear the familiar verse run through our heads automatically. It goes like this: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The problem is, sometimes we are so familiar with this verse that we can recite it and look right past it, but God’s love in sending Jesus is the one love that changes everything. The message of this verse is the core of what we believe. So it makes sense that as we unwrap the gift of love today, we should start here: God loved the world. He gave His Son. When we accept that gift and believe in Him, we are given eternal life. So the first thing we do with the gift of God’s love is so basic it’s easy to overlook.

Accept His Love

We must Accept the gift of His Love. For some of you here today, this step of accepting the gift of God’s love and believing in Jesus may be difficult. It may be something you’ve struggled with for a long time, it may be a brand-new idea for you, or it may be a gift you’ve neglected for a while. Maybe you feel unlovable. Maybe you’ve been burned by human love so many times you find it difficult to trust that there’s something greater. Maybe you think, You don’t know what I’ve done. You don’t know the dark secrets and doubts and fears and pain inside. Maybe I don’t, but God does—and the love He offers sees and knows and understands. The love that God offers is Jesus Christ.

No matter what challenges or hurts you hold, God’s love can handle them and heal them. Wherever you are on your journey is okay. God knows. He understands. And His response is His open arms of perfect love. Wherever you are, I encourage you to accept the gift of God’s love. Let this season be one of accepting the love and salvation God offers in His Son.

Experience His Love

During this season, may we all also experience the love of God deeply. It’s easy to be distracted by all the things that need to get done. It’s easy to read the headlines and wonder if love really can overcome the darkness and hatred in our world. It’s easy to allow fear and worry to overwhelm us and keep us from feeling loved.

God does not ask you to ignore your fears or worries in order to experience His love. You don’t have to purge or rid yourself of them. He invites you to bring them to Him, to surrender the deepest hurts and concerns of your life to Him and allow Him to fill you and renew you with His love. And the good news is that nothing can separate us from His love. I declare with the Apostle Paul, will you declare with me…

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).

This is a powerful love—the most powerful love. It is love that can’t be contained or constrained by any power in the universe, not evil, not death, no person or power.

It’s love to be experienced. God’s love is our lifeblood and the oxygen coursing through us to continually fill us with life. Let this season be one of embracing God’s love fully and experiencing His love in new and deep ways as we continually open our hearts and hands and minds and lives to Him.

Paul’s prayer for the Christians in Ephesus is my prayer for you:

“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all God’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17–19

I am not praying that you would know that God loves you, but that you would know God’s love. Do you hear the difference? Do you know God’s love, or do you only know that God loves you?

Susan can teach me that the molecular structure of water is a combination of 2 molecules of Hydrogen & 1 molecule of Oxygen. But that doesn’t do much for me on a blazing hot afternoon in August when I’ve worked hard outside and my throat is so parched. I could care less about H2O as a chemical formula. My understanding of water doesn’t quench my thirst. My need is not for deeper insights into the meaning of water. I don’t need knowledge about water, I need water.

 If you know that God loves you, but you don’t know His Love, it’s like someone who studies water without ever enjoying how it quenches one’s thirst.

I am praying that you would “know” how wide, long, high and deep Christ’s love is. But the word “know” as it’s used here doesn’t mean “to gain a mental concept.” It means to grasp hold of. “To get it!”

I want you “to know [God’s] love.” Even though we aren’t capable of fully knowing it. I want you to experience what Francis Chan writes about in his book, “Crazy Love: Being Overwhelmed by the Relentless Love of God.”

And while intellectual understanding of God’s love is not the same as experiencing of God’s love, it is a place to start. Taking the time to think about and meditate on God’s love is a way to begin to drive it downward into our hearts.

There are four dimensions of God’s love that Paul prays we might understand, so they may they penetrate our hearts and be our experience.

The first: The width of God’s love… God’s love is for everyone! The width of God’s love may be the most obvious thing that distinguishes His love from human love. We love certain people but not others. We love certain types of people, but not others. And Christians can be the worst! We at times can be quite bias and bigoted and see some as better than others. We can think some are worthy of love and others are not.

Think about the person you most dislike. Now think about this: God is crazy about that person!

Well, what about “bad people”? Does God love them? Doesn’t the Bible say God hates some people? No. He hates their sin! Just as he hates all sin! But Jesus died because God loves sinners. Like me, like you, like homosexuals and abortion doctors, murderers and child abusers. He hates those behaviors – as he often hates my behavior and your behavior. But God’s love is so wide, that it still encompasses all of them and us. And he came to set us free from the power and penalty of sin, and make us like Christ. He longs that ALL might experience His love. Then there’s The length of God’s love…God’s love is so-long it will never let us go! This is most likely a time reference: that God’s love is forever and always. It isn’t just available on Sundays. There are no “regular business hours” for God’s love. The love of God doesn’t take holidays.
It also means that God’s love doesn’t give up. Mine sure does! When I offer people love they have a certain amount of time to respond and if they don’t, forget it! God isn’t like that – His love is more enduring than the Energizer bunny – it just keeps on going and going and going! God doesn’t give up on us.

One Sunday a pastor noticed that one of the men was wearing a lapel pin that had a bulldog on it. He was wearing it because he worked for Mack Truck and the bulldog is their logo, but the pastor didn’t know that. So when he asked, “Frank, why are you wearing a pin of a bulldog?” Frank got a twinkle in his eye and said, “Well, that bulldog symbolizes the tenacity with which I hold onto Jesus Christ.” His pastor answered, “Well, Frank, it’s a great symbol, but it’s lousy theology.” Frank said, “What do you mean?” The pastor said, “It should never stand for the tenacity with which you hold onto Jesus Christ. It should stand for the tenacity with which Jesus Christ holds onto you.” Jesus said, “I will never, ever, ever leave you or forsake you.”
We talk about “clinging to the Lord,” in times of trial, but it really is the other way around. It is the Lord Jesus who hangs on to us with the tenacity of a bulldog. God’s love is so wide, it embraces everyone; it is so long that it will never let us go, and third is… The height of God’s love…God’s love will never let us down! The Bible uses this word in a lot of different ways: It is used as a simple term of measurement. It is also used to refer to the utmost or the highest of something. When Paul uses it to describe God’s love, I think he means that the quality of God’s love surpasses any love we’ve ever known.

The way that we get to know something new is to compare it to something we’re already familiar with. We compare and contrast what we don’t know with what we do know. So with God’s love, when we try to figure out what it’s like, we compare it to the love we’ve known from other people. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

If you have been blessed with the love of others, especially in your family and especially as a child, it will be easy for you to say “God’s love is like that!” BUT if you have multiple Dear John experiences like me, after being dumped x-number of times, you begin to doubt there is a love that lasts. God wants you to know that he is crazy about you and although others may dump you and leave you he will not let you down.

God’s love is so wide, it embraces everyone; it is so long-lasting, it will never let us go; it will never let us down. Finally, there is The depth of God’s love…God’s love will care for our deepest needs! This word is used to describe the depths of the sea, or the depths of a miry pit. God loves down into the darkest parts of our lives.
Some of us are more open than others. Some of us reveal ourselves more freely than others. But all of us have locked closets and dark corners where we don’t want anybody to see. They are the places we have shut off from the light of day, the light of the love of even those who are closest to us.
We often keep people at a distance because we’re afraid that if someone sees those deep down ugly parts of us, they won’t love us anymore, and we just can’t risk that. But God’s love is deeper than our deepest secrets. It can penetrate the darkness of our worst fears. It can clean out the closets of sin, of despair, of self-hatred.

God’s love is so wide, it embraces everyone, including you;

God’s love is so long-lasting, it will never let you go;

God’s love will never let you down;

God’s love is deep enough to care for your deepest needs. Did you know that God is crazy about you? And he wants you to know how wide and how long and how high and how deep His love is for you.

 And once you experience it he wants you to share it.

3. Share His Love

Have you ever been in love? If so, there’s a good chance you’ve done something loud or crazy to let the world know. Maybe you literally shouted it out loud in public. Nowadays you proclaim it on Facebook or Twitter. It’s why we have centuries’ worth of poetry and novels and plays and love songs about love. When we are in love, it shows. We can’t help it. Love overflows.

 The gift of God’s love is the same way—it’s for sharing. There is something amazing about sharing God’s love – sharing this gift doesn’t leave us with less; it leaves us with more. Once we accept and experience the love of God, the next natural step is to share it, to let it overflow out and around us.

John addressed this process in 1 John 4:9–11: “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. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

God’s love comes to us and flows through us. The more we embrace and experience it, the more we share it with others. What does that look like for you this season?

It could mean spending quality time with family.

It could mean reconnecting with a friend who has drifted away.

It might mean serving neighbors or strangers.

Seeking out someone you suspect is lonely or hurting and sitting with them.

It might mean forgiving someone who has hurt you or apologizing to someone you have hurt.

Inviting them to worship with you.

There are endless ways to allow God’s love to flow through you as you love others as He has loved you. Think of one way right now that you can share God’s love this week. Then keep your heart and eyes open to love others as you have been loved.

Let’s keep our focus on making this a season of love that reaches far deeper than the sappy carols or even the romantic statistics. Let’s walk in God’s love and be known to others by His love flowing out of us. May this be a season of accepting, experiencing, and sharing God’s gift of love in a new or deeper way.

Prayer: God, thank You that in this season of Advent we can unwrap the gift of Your love. Help us to accept, experience, and share Your love with others this season. Please continue to fill us with expectation as we live in Your love and wait for the complete fulfillment of that love when Christ comes again. Amen

Benediction: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all God’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17–19

2017

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