By now you’ve heard sermons and messages about Matthew and Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus Christ. By now, for some of you, Christmas is pretty much over. But in reality, it’s just beginning! I seem to remember something about the 12 days of Christmas. Actually, now the calendar has shifted so that Christmas doesn’t begin on Christmas and last until Epiphany: it starts the day after Halloween and ends on Christmas. Of course, using this calendar, Christmas is no longer the Christ-mass holy day but just another secular holiday.
Isn’t it a shame that Christmas lasts only a day? If only there were some way to make it last longer. For those of us intent on celebrating Christmas 12 days, we might want to meditate on other passages of Scripture as well, and in this way we can make Christmas last longer. And so we come to this morning’s lesson on I John 4.
I think I need about a week to meditate on 1 John 4, but since I have only a day I want to focus on God, who, in His coming in the person of Jesus Christ, is the focus of Christmas Day and every day. In particular, I want to try to understand two things about this God who became man for our sake: first, that God is love, and second that no one has seen God at any time. If you put these two things together, then you’ll understand both why people have a hard time believing God and also have an important clue to how we can all see and love Him better.
First, God is love. Love is an action, and because God is eternal His love must constantly be in action. Even before He created the world in love, God was love. How? Because the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all lived in perfect love before the world and time were created. God was love, God is love, and God will be love forever. This is the most fundamental fact of reality.
Love is an action, and not just a static idea. Ultimately, God’s love, or desire to do good to others, spilled over and out of Himself and gushed out in the Creation. We were all conceived by the love of God, and therefore love is a fundamental part of Creation because God created it by and for love. And yet God is invisible, and so how can we see God? We see it in the fruits of His love – in His Creation. But we don’t always or fully see God’s love in His Creation. If only there were some other way.
There is! The Creation speaks imperfectly of God’s love and nature to us, especially since we’ve forgotten the language of love and can no longer interpret the songs of the birds and the angels. Of course, we’ve forgotten the language of love because we have not loved God, and it takes love to understand love. Sin stands in the way of love, and pride is the opposite of love. How can we learn to see God and love Him?
God manifested it to us, not only showing us the love He always had but by remedying the problem of sin that destroys love. God manifested His love to us by sending His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him (verse 9). This is the Son who laid down His life for us that we might lay down our lives for the brethren. This is the Son who showed us the love of God by becoming one of us and destroying the destroyer of love – sin.
This, therefore, is love – not that we loved God but that He first loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (verse 10.)
But what about that second point, that God is invisible? Yes, God is visible through His Creation – but I see through a glass darkly and am clouded by sin. It is hard to see the love of God in His Creation: I need something more. Yes, God has sent His Son into the world: but the Son is now at the right hand of the Father, and I don’t have the visions that Sts. Stephen or John had in gazing into heaven and seeing Him there. I was not privileged to see Him in the flesh.Am I the only one who still has trouble seeing the God who is love and yet is invisible? I doubt it, though sometimes I feel like it. Is there still some other way that I can see God and His love that I may abide in them more?
John has told us another way, but already my memory of it grows dim. Remember how John told us he was writing his letter so that he who had seen and heard God in the flesh might share Him with us (1:3)? Remember how Jesus Himself said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35)? Remember how John said that “he who loves his brother abides in the light” (2:10) and how here in 4:7 he said, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God”? Perhaps most intriguingly John says, “as He is, so are we in the world” (verse 17.)
Putting this all together, how can we see God and His love better? By loving one another and by being loved. God did not shine His light of love through His Son for only 3 years or so on earth. What a waste, if this were true! No, God continues to shine His light of love through His Son, who is in us, and therefore the light of love must shine through us. And the Spirit of Christmas, which is the Holy Spirit that overshadowed Mary, is the Spirit of love and the Spirit of every day.
How can we see God and His love better? By loving one another and by being loved. How well we reflect the love of God in our lives by loving and being loved has everything to do with how well we and the world see God.
No love, no light. No love, no God.
When people say, then, that they have not seen God, either they are looking for Him in the wrong way or they have not experienced His love through the Christians in their lives. How sad, how tragic, how sinful, if we become obstacles to others seeing God and experiencing His love because we refuse to love. In this way, we can begin to understand why love is such a central theme to John and why he presents it as the key to knowing God, being faithful to Him, and showing Him to others.
God is love, but God is invisible. How can we and others see Him? By being love, as He is love. By having His love, the love of Jesus Christ, be incarnated in our lives.
How can we make Christmas last longer? By worshiping Him who was made one of us, for our sake, out of love. And by loving others as He first loved us. God became man in the Body of Jesus Christ at Christmas, but whenever Christians learn to love as He first loved us, the Body of Christ is visible again and God’s love is visible again, and every day is a Christmas of God’s presence among us.
Prayer: Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we, being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
- Meditate on the love of God He has expressed through His Creation.
- Meditate on how much love God has shown to you. By this, meditate on and measure how much you should love others (4:11.) Continue practicing practical ways to show love to others today.
Resolution: On this holy day that often resembles a bacchanalia of riches, I resolve to find one way to love someone one today by seeking what is best for him.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson