What do you get the person who has everything? This is a common question at Christmas time. We ask this because we think that Christmas is about gifts. But I would argue that the gifts that Christmas is about are not those that you can buy at Wal-Mart, the mall or the outlets. It’s about gifts that are priceless; those that money cannot buy; and gifts that are all too few in today’s world. We are here because God has been generous to us. And because of that generosity, is there something that we can give one another? The answer should not be surprising.
Recently, I read the story about Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War, Lincoln frequently visited the hospitals and addressed cheering words to the wounded warriors. On one occasion he found a young fellow whose legs had been amputated, and who was evidently sinking rapidly. “Is there anything I can do for you?” asked Lincoln. “You might write a letter to my mother,” was the faint reply. The President wrote at the youth’s dictation: “My dearest mother: I have been shot bad, but am bearing up. I tried to do my duty. They tell me I cannot recover. God bless you and Father; kiss Mary and John for me.” At the end were these words as postscript: “Written by Abraham Lincoln.”
When the boy perused the epistle and saw these added words, he looked with astonishment at the visitor and asked, “Are you our President?” “Yes,” was the quiet answer, “and now that you know that, is there anything else I can do for you?” Feebly the lad said, “I guess you might hold my hand, and see me through.” That night, the tall, yet gentle president, took the time to see this young soldier through the most difficult stage of his life. He provides us a picture of compassion.
That story accentuates the love that God shows us in the gift of His son. I am a firm believer that Christmas is about the gospel, the generosity of God. What is the gospel? IT is the story of God’s love and God’s truth, stated on the back of your bulletin. It says that no one knows you better than the One who created you. You are here because He loved you and fashioned you together in your mother’s womb. You entered this world in all of its complexities with sin. Because of being related to Adam and Eve, the first couple, you come with their baggage. You are sinful by nature and by decision. You are separated from God.
But God, in His love, saw your predicament and mine and sent His missionary, the only One that could remedy the situation. He sent His Son Jesus as a sacrifice for your sin (1 John 4:10) to bridge the gulf between you and he. Lastly, it is your place to respond to such generosity. Your response should be that of repentance and faith. Repentance is turning from your sin and asking forgiveness. Faith is embracing God and following His Son Jesus Christ. It is a situation where Jesus sits on the throne of your heart, rather than yourself. You are a new person because God the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in your life. Your whole outlook, your whole decisions are different because of Him. That is the gospel and tells of the kindness of God. Maybe you’ve heard this before? Many of us know this. Many others take it for granted. But it is God’s good news and still changes lives every day.
And it is based on that good news that Christians should be the most loving people in the world. Today, I want to talk about that precious gift that we can show one another, not only at Christmas, but year round. Simply stated, we can love, because God has loved to us. So, how is that done? First, consider how we as Christians, ought to treat one another. In the last week of his earthly ministry, in anticipation of the cross, Jesus met with His disciples and shared with them from His heart. He said in John 15:12: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.” And verse 16: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit– fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.”
If there was one thing that the Lord wanted the church to be known for, it is the love that we show one another. What are some ways that Jesus loved His disciples? For one, He was patient with them. Within the body of Christ, it is so easy to learn of each other’s faults and idiosyncrasies. Are we willing to bear with each other? Do we have it to overlook things that annoy us or get on each other’s nerves? Colossians 3:12 talks about: “… bearing with each other and forgiving each other, just as God in Christ forgave you.” Who do you need to show kindness to? A parent? A sibling? A spouse? A child? A neighbor? Maybe it is someone’s memory?
Secondly, he was a risk taker with His love. The people who were a part of His band were a rough crowd. Fisherman, tax collectors, some were even people involved in the most scandalous of deeds (prostitutes). I wonder how big of a risk taker we are with our love. I must confess I gravitate to those that are easy to love, those that love me back, those that love me maybe more than I love them. Those that do nice things for me. But am I a risk taker with my love? Am I willing to love someone and show them compassion regardless of what I receive in return? Maybe it’s an enemy? Maybe it is someone who we know very little about? Jesus makes that statement that has always convicted me. He said earlier in John 13:35: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Are you willing to love someone before they love you back? Are we willing to take a risk on someone?
We’re going to learn more of what it means to treat our fellow Christians as we study Thom Rainer’s I Am a Church Member. I hope you will join us on Sunday, January 12 at 10 a.m. in the Fellowship Hall for seven weeks of spiritual growth; a great way to start off the New Year! In any organization, we can come to it seeking to have our needs met, our desires fed and miss the real meaning because of our innate selfishness, by default. What would God teach you in the New Year? Get a book by calling our church office (610.584.4480) and show up on January 12!
And then there’s how Christians ought to treat the world. What do we, as a church, owe our neighbors and one another because of God’s generosity? One is goodness. Paul said in Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” In a world that is growing emotionally and relationally colder by the minute, it is the church of Jesus Christ that shows redemptive love.
I appreciate our Advent Responsive Litany from yesterday. It said: “In a hurried world with little time for others, Advent calls us to remember that love is patient. In a world where often we become consumed by our own interests, Advent calls us to remember that love is kind. In a world where we are quick to anger and slow to forgive, Advent calls us to remember that love is not easily angered, and through love we come to forgive. This Advent let us behold the love of God embodied in our Savior’s birth.”
It might seem small, but sometimes the most subtle acts of kindness are what the world needs. And aren’t we called to do them? If Christians don’t, who will? The elevator man was gruff, and in his estimation the little, frail old lady who got on last made one passenger too many in his car. “Take the next car,” he commanded gruffly. “Take the next car!” slipping his hand in front of her. But the little old lady, frightened in the crowd, seemed deaf to his remark and unconscious that anything was required of her. A young lady from the middle of the car worked her way out to make one passenger less.
The aged woman, happy at being able to find room, did not notice that anything had been done for her. The elevator man did not appear to notice. Nobody thanked the girl, as, pressed for time in her busy day, she stood looking a little wistfully after the ascending car, thinking perhaps that it was merely a sacrifice of time that counted for little. But doubtless every heart in that car, as it went up, was beating with some better impulse because of that little kindness so unobtrusively done. One of the things that made Paul the best missionary that the world has ever seen, was the love that Jesus had showed him. So he says in 2 Corinthians 5:14: “For the love of Christ compels us…. Because of the work of God in His life, Paul committed himself to the ministry of reconciliation, telling others about how great the love of God is toward those who would turn and follow.
Jesus described the end times in Matthew 24: 12: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold….” In this world where compassion is becoming rare; and truth is an elusive thing, I want to remind you that Christmas is a display of God’s love to you. What the angels told the shepherds is still applicable now more than ever before. Luke 2:10 says: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”