Summary: God’s love for us is a sacrificial love, shown in Jesus giving up all for our sake.
I was watching a show on TV a couple of weeks ago and they were asking school children what Christmas was all about. There were two common themes that came out as they gave their answers. The first was "Presents." Not that you think of Christmas as being about presents, I’m sure! (How many people opened up their Christmas presents before they came to church today?) The second theme was love. God’s love for us, our love for each other. Showing our love by giving and receiving presents!
So I thought we might think about love for a little bit today. It might be good to think about love before we go home and have that traditional Christmas family row that so many people end up having on Christmas day. Perhaps if we’re clear about the nature of God’s love for us we’ll be less likely to fall into that trap this year.
We have a slight difficulty in thinking about love because it’s one of the most overused and least understood words in our vocabulary. We use it in so many different ways: "I love Italian food." "I love James Bond movies." "I love my shiny new BMW roadster." "I love lying by the pool on a hot summer’s day." "I love you." "I love God." We use the same word for all these different things as though they were all equal. And we use it in lots of different contexts. It can be used in the context of warm, fuzzy, close, feelings; it can be used of ecstatic, exuberant sexual passion; it can be used of an unconditional commitment to a relationship: "I’ll love you for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish as long as we both shall live"; and it can be used of a conditional commitment: "I’ll love you as long as you keep on meeting my personal needs." - never said quite that crassly of course, but nevertheless the meaning is sometimes there.
So to say that Christmas is about love isn’t necessarily enough is it? We first need to be clear what sort of love we’re talking about. You might like to open up your bibles to John’s first letter. That’s down the back of your bibles on p230. John’s big on love. It’s one of the major themes of his gospel and also of his letters. It’s probable that John lived longer than any of the other apostles and this letter was probably written at the end of the first century, so it’s interesting that after all that time of living as a Christian leader, the two things he concentrates on in this letter are love for God and for one another, and the obedience to God which flows out of that love. Those words of Jesus must have made a great impact on him "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." This is the great hallmark of the Christian: that we love one another. In fact he says if we don’t love one another, we can’t be born of God, because that’s the very nature of God: "God is love." That should be a dire warning to us when we’re tempted to ignore someone who seems unlovable shouldn’t it? Remember that God loves everyone, even those who seem unlovable.
So when John tells us to love one another, what does he mean? Well he actually gives us a clue in the way he puts it: "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God." The clue is this: to know what it means, first look at how God loves us. "God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him." That sounds easy enough doesn’t it? God loved us by sending his Son to live among us. Nothing unusual about that. All of us are born into the world the way Jesus was. So how does that show love? Well, of course we know, don’t we, that even if Jesus was born the way we were, his birth was a lot different. It’s what he was before that makes it such a remarkable example of love. We’re told in Philippians 2 that though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited or hung onto, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross. This is what John has in mind as he thinks about God’s love for us.