The Advent theme for today’s message is love. There are two directions we will go.
The second direction is to think about the love shown to us by God, by Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit, along with what our reaction should be.
The first is to apply that love to the people important in Christmas. An application for any of us who are not the most important people in the eyes of the world. That includes me. Perhaps it applies to you as well, though I am not judging anyone in that way.
What brings this first direction to mind is how God used such common, ordinary people in the first Christmas.
For instance, God chose Mary to be the mother of the one who would become the Savior.
Mary. A young woman, rather than an older, established woman. A woman from the small town of Nazareth, rather than a woman from the capital city of Jerusalem. Being from Nazareth, a woman with meager means and little reputation, rather than a woman from somewhere important who had wealth and fame.
God chose Joseph to be the father of the one who would become the Savior. Not the physical father since Mary’s conceiving of Jesus happened supernaturally, but kind of a step-father to Jesus so the Lord would have a steadiness in His growing up years.
Joseph was a man of limited means. He had an occupation as a carpenter, but little money. God chose him rather than a more-established, wealthy man. Joseph was, like Mary, was from the small town of Nazareth rather than a big city such as Jerusalem. Certainly there should have been more worthy men, but God chose Joseph to help raise Jesus.
On the night of Jesus’ birth, God chose some shepherds to be the first ones to hear about the birth. That happened when those shepherds were, that night, out in some fields near the birthplace, tending to the sheep under their care.
And the birthplace was Bethlehem, another small town. Bethlehem was near the capital city of Jerusalem, but it was not Jerusalem. It was Bethlehem - the little town of Bethlehem - where Jesus was born.
And what about the shepherds being the first to hear about Jesus? There were many, many other people who could have been the first. Important people. Respected people. Which the shepherds were not. Shepherds were looked down on because their responsibilities often kept them from following the Jewish rules on things like hand washing, worshiping, and taking Sabbath days off.
There were many people the world would consider much worthier than the shepherds of being the first to hear about the birth of the one who would grow up to be the Savior of the world. But no. God’s decision was to let them be the first to learn of the Savior’s birth. The first ones to meet Him when they went from their sheep to where Jesus was.
What love God showed in Christmas. What love He showed, even to common, ordinary people. That gives me hope. Hope that while the world really does not know me - that in the eyes of the world I am unimportant - that does not leave me out of Christmas because if God used normal people 2000 years ago, He is willing to use people like me now.
We know that is fact because God has not, does not, and never will change. To anyone else hearing the words today who is also common or ordinary in the world, Merry Christmas.
Love. That is a perfect word for the Christmas celebration. Today and through this week which includes Christmas Day, let’s rejoice because of love. The love of God and, as we now get to the second part of this message, the love of Jesus and the love of the Holy Spirit. Love described in many ways, all of them encouraging for those of us who accept Jesus as the Savior He was born to become.
For this part of today’s message, there are four Bible verses to be highlighted. One each for the love God has for us, the love Jesus has for us, and the love the Holy Spirit has for us, and one that will teach what our response is to be.
One Bible verse that tells of God’s love for us is Romans 5:8. “But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
While we were yet sinners. That is certainly a true statement, going as far back as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden who lost a life of ease and beauty because of sin.
Sinning happened throughout the rest of the Old Testament, with people - His people - so often turning away from God and His laws. Over and over again, when God allowed bad things to happen to those who disobeyed, they returned to Him, but the next generations often returned to sinning.
That applies to David in the Old Testament, who wrote most of the Psalms, including Psalms that proclaim the love of God endures forever. David himself had to rely on that love since he, too, committed sins. Two we know about are adultery, which resulted in a baby being conceived, then arranging to have the woman’s husband killed so David could marry the mother of the child.
David repented. He asked for God’s forgiveness, which was granted. But sinning continued, including early in New Testament times. It continues to this day. But as Romans 5:8 reminds us, God did not require people back then to somehow, on their own, become perfect. To somehow, on their own, become worthy of God’s love. No. While people were yet sinners, God sent Jesus to the world. The world Jesus had created. God sent Jesus to be born, teach, then die as the perfect sacrifice for sins so that all who believe in Him can and will have everlasting life. Life with blessings now and Heaven later.
The same is true even now. I remember many years ago, in my pre-pastoring days, I heard someone say she could not accept Jesus because there were too many things she was not ready to give up. I wish I had known then what I know now, which is that God does not expect us to be perfect before we accept Jesus. He does not expect that because we cannot reach that point on our own.
No. While we were yet sinners - even though we would at least begin our lives in sin - Jesus’ death is still critical for us. All we have to do is accept His death. Accept the salvation He offered through His death. Then He will work with us to continually transform us into the type of people He wants us to be - closer and closer to Him, purer and purer as life goes on.
What does Romans 5:8 have to do with Christmas? Jesus’ birth represents the best gift of all. The gift of salvation. The gift given long before we accepted it. The gift God knew we would need.
A bit later, a passage that tells us what our response is to be, but what love God showed even us in giving Jesus to us.
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God showed His love for us by giving Jesus, who would, 33 years after His birth, die as the sacrifice for sins. I John 2:1 is one Bible verse that speaks of the love Jesus has for us. Of course, His willingness to die as the sacrifice for our sins is the ultimate example of His love, but consider I John 2:1, which gives an example of His love even now.
The example was written by the apostle John. “My little children, I am writing this to you.”
Right before chapter 2, John challenged the Christians to whom he wrote to confess any sins they commit. The challenge was followed by a wonderful promise. John wrote, “If we confess our sins…” I am struck by the word “we.” John did not pretend he was perfect. If we confess our sins - here is the reward - “He [God] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins.”
And there is more. God will also “cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” which should make it easier and easier to obey Him in all things as we continue through life.
However, remember a point made earlier about our spiritual growth being a continual transformation into the type of people God wants us to be. A further explanation of that is in the second half of verse 1 of I John 2.
The first half gives the challenge that we not sin. That is of course the ideal. But, as the second half of the verse states, “if anyone does sin [this refers to those who are Christians slipping up in our obedience] we have an advocate with God.” The advocate is Jesus Christ.
What does it mean to be an advocate? There are a number of meanings of that word.
One is being a helper. Another is being a counselor. Both those meanings are special in a spiritual sense. If we sin, it is Jesus, our advocate, who will help us out of the sinful situation. It is Jesus who will counsel us how to avoid returning to sinning.
What wonderful gifts those two things are. A third meaning relates to a court of law. It is the advocate who acts as the defense of the one accused.
What love is shown by Jesus. With all He has done for each of us, as in leaving Heaven to be with us and teaching and dieing, if anyone sins, how easy it should be for Him to reject us. To leave us to our own devices. To make us lie in whatever beds we have made for ourselves. But He does not abandon us. He always has, always does, and always will offer to be our advocate. He is the advocate for any and all of us who accept Him as the Savior He became.
What does I John 2:1 have to do with Christmas? Jesus, the one whose birth we celebrate, grew up to die as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. On the third day after that, He came back to life. Forty days after that, He returned to Heaven. In Heaven, even now, one of His roles is to help, counsel, and defend if or when we sin. What a wonderful gift that is. One that could not have happened if He had not come to us in the first place. So this does involve Christmas.
A bit later, a passage that tells us what our response is to be, but what love Jesus continues to show even us in being our advocate.
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God showed His love for us by giving Jesus. Jesus shows His love for us by being the advocate for His people. Back to Romans, this time in verses 26 and 27 of chapter 8, we have verses that speak of the love the Holy Spirit has for us. Love shown when we pray.
Romans 8:26. “The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we…” There is the word “we” again, this time from the apostle Paul. Like John, Paul did not consider himself perfect. “For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”
Do you ever wonder how to pray about something, either for someone else or for yourself or about some situation? Do you ever wonder what God’s will is in something? You want what is best for yourself and for others and for God, but sometimes we just do not know what or how to pray.
No problem. Pray anyway, trusting that the Holy Spirit will intercede for us. The promise is that He will take our prayers and, in essence, translate our words.
That will happen even with our silent prayers when we are too confused to put our requests into words. He will translate what we have on our minds and in our hearts into requests that will be pleasing to God. Requests God will be happy to answer in ways that are best for all.
But listen. The promise is that the Spirit will intercede, not for everyone, but for the saints. That is toward the end of verse 27. The Holy Spirit will intercede for those of us who are Christians. So please make sure you are a Christian. If not, accept Him. How about right now inviting Him into your life.
What does Romans 8:26-27 have to do with Christmas? It was Jesus who grew up and, before His death, promised to send the Holy Spirit when He - Jesus - would no longer be with His disciples. That could not have happened if Jesus had not come to us the first place. So this does involve Christmas.
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What is to be our response, including this season, including next Wednesday, which is Christmas Day? The response is stated by Jesus Himself in Matthew 22:37 and 39.
“You shall love the Lord your God.” Love Him because of His love for you. For us. Love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Love God with everything you are.
And “you shall love your neighbor.” You shall let others know of God’s love by loving them. You shall love your neighbor”as you love yourself.”
Both can be done. They are to be done no matter who you are. You must be a Christian. Again, please make sure you are, and if you are not, change that even now by accepting Jesus as the Savior He is. But when you are a Christian, love God and love others.
Do that if you are important. Do that if you are not important, remembering that Mary was common and Joseph was ordinary, yet they were willing to fit into God’s plans, thereby showing their love for God.
Also remembering that the shepherds near Bethlehem who were the first to hear of Jesus’ birth and see Him were not respected, yet they showed their love for others by telling fellow shepherds about Jesus.
May you and I do the same. May each of us and we as a congregation continue to show our love for God and others, doing so now and always.
The closing carol for today is There’s a Song in the Air. It refers to what the angels announced about Jesus to the shepherds, and to the star the Wise Men saw. We will talk about them in a couple weeks. As we sing, let’s rejoice that what the angels proclaimed that night is still true today - that Jesus is God’s gift. A gift to all people, including common, ordinary people. A gift that leads us to salvation, to having an advocate with God, and to having our prayers understood by God.
What love there is in Christmas and beyond.
There’s a song in the air!
There’s a star in the sky!
There’s a mother’s deep prayer
And a baby’s low cry!
And the star rains its fire
while the beautiful sing,
For the manger of Bethlehem
cradles a King!
There’s a tumult of joy
O’er the wonderful birth,
For a Virgin’s sweet boy
Is the Lord of the earth.
Ay! the star rains it fire while the beautiful sing,
For the manger of Bethlehem
cradles a King!
In the light of that star
Lies the ages impearled;
And that song from above
Has swept over the world.
Every hearth is aflame,
and the beautiful sing
In the homes of the nations
that Jesus is King!
We rejoice in the light,
And we echo the song
That comes down through the night
From the Heavenly throng.
Ay! we shout to the lovely evangel
And we greet in His cradle
our Savior and King!
Throughout this Advent season, we have had four themes - hope, peace, joy, and today, love.
The hope of being able to fit into God’s plans.
The peace that comes from being in a good relationship with God, that coming by knowing Jesus is the Savior and letting Him into our lives.
The joy that is better than happiness. Happiness depends on things going well around us. Joy, like peace, is a result of being in a good relationship with God. It, too, comes from accepting Jesus as the Savior He came to be.
The love represented in the salvation offered to us even before we are perfect, the opportunity to have an advocate with God, and the privilege of having our prayers understood by God, all of which will be ours when we accept Jesus, not just as the baby whose birth we celebrate this season, but as the Savior He became.
Hope, peace, joy, love. What wonderful gifts wrapped up in Jesus. Amen.