All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need[1]

Last week I began a short series of posts for advent thinking about how we can prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas. Each week I’m looking at a different aspect of what the coming of Jesus was and is intended to signify for us and how we can prepare ourselves to receive it.

My last post considered how Christmas is about hope. Hope is a good beginning but it isn’t enough by itself.  Hope implies that we are confident that things will change, even that they will change for the better, but we still need to give it content.

This is what the final three weeks of advent begin to fill in. This week we are looking at ‘Love’.

Suggested readings: Isaiah 40:1-12; 1 John 4:7-21; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

The Need for Love

‘All you need is love,’ so say the Beatles. It is a popular sentiment and it is easy to dismiss; love is not, obviously, all that we need. Yet with that said, the Beatles were on to something. In his sermon on marriage St John Chrysostom (the greatest preacher of the first thousand years of Christianity) commented that ‘The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together.’[2] Similarly, John Wesley, for whom the whole of Christian life was the pursuit of holy love argued that ‘Love is the end, the sole end, of every dispensation of God, from the beginning of the world to the consummation of all things.’[3]

It isn’t just singers and saints who have argued for the centrality of love to humanity. Psychologist, Dr Raj Raghunathan, describes the need to be loved as ‘one of our most basic and fundamental needs’ while the need to show love ‘is hard-wired and deep-seated.’ [4]

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Jesus said that truly ‘it is better to give than to receive.’[5]

To love and to be loved is part of what we are created for – to be loved first by God and then to show love to each other. The failures of humanity can largely be traced back to the rebellion and insecurity which prevents us from receiving the divine love for which we were created and our subsequent failure show that love to one another. When we pray for God to come to us, when we become people of hope, we are praying for God to show us love, to teach us what it means to love and to enable us in turn to love one another.

Christmas is both God’s act of love for us and his demonstration to us of how we should love.

Christmas is God’s Love for Us

The passage I suggested reading from Isaiah speaks of a day when God would come to his people and demonstrate his love for them. It is taken up in the New Testament and explicitly referred to being fulfilled in the coming of Jesus.

In the prediction the prophet paints a picture of what God’s love for us is like and how we can experience it when he comes.

It is love that forgives.[6]

The birth of Jesus is about God doing everything that is necessary to restore our relationship with him. The prophet doesn’t hide from the fact that his people are sinners. We cannot hide from our failings, shame, or even our guilt. It simply won’t do to pretend that we are fine – for how then will we ever get better?

Christmas is not about pretending that we’re fine and God can come anyway – like a family barely containing their feud around a Turkey dinner. When Jesus comes he comes not to hide our sin but to deal with it. God has taken the punishment, paid the debt, healed the disease – whatever picture you like to use – that separated us from him. This is love that forgives and renews.

It is love that reveals.[7]

At Christmas we find out what God is like – he makes himself accessible to us by revealing himself to us in a way we can understand. This is the absolute minimum requirement for a relationship of love – to know the other person. Christmas is where we begin to see the glory of God in a way we can understand.

To put it another way, if you want to know what God is like, come and look at Jesus. This is love that reveals

It is love that is faithful and reliable.[8]

We know that human beings fail and are unreliable. We let each other down – we can’t help it. Isaiah uses the picture of flowers falling or grass withering when it gets hot.

Yet God’s love is not like that.

As Isaiah says ‘the word of our God endures forever.’ God’s love will not fail, is totally reliable, and endures forever. When Jesus was born, humanity encountered the first and only wholly dependable love that has ever been. This is love that endures.

It is love that is strong and protects.[9]

This may seem a strange theme to bring out in a prophecy about Christmas. After all, we are in the season where we worship a baby born, ‘meek and mild’, totally vulnerable, in relative poverty. Yet Isaiah points out that this baby will crush the head of our enemies and redeem us from the curse of death.

Isaiah wants to stand at the manger in Bethlehem and cry out ‘See the Sovereign LORD comes with power and rules with a mighty arm.’ By his life and death and resurrection this Son of God will love us by protecting us from all that can harm us. Here is love that is strong and protects.

Finally, we have a picture of love that is gentle and kind.[10]

Here is a God who is able to gather us up in his arms, who is gentle with those who are hurt and sore, who looks to restore and to heal his children. This is the Father who will fight furiously to protect his children and then gently carry them home to tend to their wounds, love them and hold them close to his heart.

This is THE love. The love that defines all other loves, that gives them meaning and inspiration.

As we read from 1 John,

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.[11]

Christmas is Love that Costs and Inspires

It is a wonderful picture, beautiful, true and making sense of all that we desire and intuitively know about ourselves but it is not yet complete.

John tells us that this is love that costs.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

The coming of the Son of God at Christmas was already a demonstration of God’s love but it was not enough to accomplish all that he had for us. To remove the curse of sin and death from us would cost the Son of God his life; to celebrate the child in a manger is to look forward to the man on a cross.

In other words, Christmas is the beginning of God’s demonstration of love for us, not the end.

God’s love cost him. True love will always cost us.  It calls us to be committed to the good of another, to prefer their interests ahead of ours, to seek their good even at the price of our pain. When the Son of God came to earth he loved us even to the cost of his life.

He loved you enough to die for you.

Even that is not enough, however. Most love-stories would end with death but not this one.

As surely as the stable led to the cross, the cross led to the resurrection. Jesus dying and coming back to life is the final demonstration that the vision and gift of love that we receive at Christmas can overcome everything. To coin a phrase, it is the proof that love, or if you prefer Christmas, wins. And now we are called to live it out.

John goes on:

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.[12]

John is talking about love between Christians but the principle extends further than that. We are called to embrace the love that characterises Christmas – that forgives, reveals God, keeps faith, protects, and nurtures – and to allow it to become completed in us.

Application

How can we live differently in light of this?

First, encounter Christ.

If you haven’t encountered the love of God given to us in his Son then this Christmas can be the best you have ever had. Isaiah speaks about ‘preparing the way of the Lord.’ You can prepare yourself to receive Christ by asking God and examining yourself to see where your life is out of line with what he wants. Then receive him by trusting him.

Second, embody Christ.

We can be a people who love others as God loves us. This begins with asking ourselves hard questions:

  • Do we love our family or friends with forgiveness, with gentleness, with protection, with nurture?
  • How are our relationships this Christmas?

If there is someone with whom you are not at peace then today is the day to fix that.

Third, present Christ to others.

We present Christ to others by demonstrating his love for them in our words and in our actions. Why not find someone to encourage or nurture? If you know of anyone with practical needs then go out and meet them. Don’t expect anything in return – do it for love.

 

This is part of a series of reflections focussed on preparing for Christmas. If you’re looking for a service to go to during this season, you’re welcome to join us at Hersham Baptist Church.

  • Sunday 10th December, 10:30 am family worship.
  • Sunday 17th December, 10:30 am, communion.
  • Sunday 17th December, 5:30pm, family carol service.
  • Sunday 24th December, 10:30am, communion.
  • Sunday 24th December, 3:00pm, come and join in nativity.
  • Monday 25th December, 10:00am, family Christmas celebration.

[1] ‘All You Need Is Love’, Lennon-McCartney, 1967.

[2] St John Chrysostom, Homily on Marriage, < http://www.roca.org/OA/121/121b.htm > [accessed 7 December 2017]

[3] John Wesley, ‘Sermon 36: The Law Established Through Faith’, Sermons on Several Occasions

[4] Raj Raghunathan, ‘The Need to Love’, Psychology Today (8 January 2014) < https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sapient-nature/201401/the-need-love > [accessed 7 December 2017]

[5] Acts 20:35.

[6] Isaiah 40:1-2

[7] Isaiah 40:3-5.

[8] Isaiah 40:6-8

[9] Isaiah 40:9-11.

[10] Isaiah 40:10-11.

[11] 1 John 4:9

[12] 1 John 4:11

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