What’s Love Got to Do With It?
Rev. Brian Bill
I love those words that Dan just sang: “What kind of King would come so small, from glory to a humble stall? That dirty manger is my heart, too; I’ll make a royal throne for you.”
I want to begin this morning with some group interaction. Turn to the person next to you and answer this question: “What kinds of things have disappeared in the last ten years?” Or to ask it another way: “What every-day-kind-of-stuff has become extinct in the last decade?”
Here are six things that have disappeared in the last decade…
* Big phone books – people are using the web for phone numbers now.
* Lick-able stamps – this is a good change.
* Foldable maps – thanks to MapQuest and GPS, they are mostly a thing of the past.
* Floppy disks – this one disk can only hold about half of one mp3 song.
* Cassettes – sales have gone from a high of 442 million in 1990 to just 274,000 thousand in 2007. I was going to bring up one of my old 8-Track tapes but then you would know that I’m a child of the 60s.
* The Chicago Bears – ok, that was a low blow, but I couldn’t resist.
With Christmas less than a week away, retail analysts have identified one sector of the market that is emerging this shopping season. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, 80% of adults say they intend to purchase some type of technology as a gift this year, the highest number ever.
That ties into an article on Pantagraph.com this week called, “Ten Years from Now: When iPhones will Be Antiques.” I’m going to read part of the opening and the closing paragraph: “Ten years ago, we would have been blown away by a cell phone with far more computing power and memory than the average PC had in 1999…Ten years from now, the iPhone and its ilk will be antiques. Over the next decade, the evolution of computing and the Internet will produce faster, increasingly intelligent devices…The 2000s saw Google become one of the world’s most powerful companies because it helped us get a grip on the sprawling content of the Web. What we will need next, however, is a company that doesn’t just organize data. Google, or the next Google, will have to synthesize all that information and help us understand what it all means.”
While there’s no way I can even come close to synthesizing all the information that’s out there, I do want to take a stab at synthesizing the story of Christmas. The Children’s Choir captured it well: “His love will last for all eternity.” At its heart, Christmas means that no matter what else will disappear in the next decade, God’s love will last forever.
Angels Out in the Field
Because the Christmas story is saturated with the supernatural, some of us miss the meaning because we just skim by this season on a superficial level. While it’s a stretch for those of us who know John and Nathan to think of them as angelic, what they portrayed helps us to consider what Christmas may have been like from an angel’s perspective.
The news about Jesus becoming an “eerthling” is so incredible that only angels could be entrusted as the appropriate messengers. No earthly channels of communication or even technology could be relied upon to get this amazing message out because no human person could possibly be persuasive enough.
I want to draw our attention for a few moments to three activities of angels – I don’t think they make it snow but here are some things we do know.
1. They love praising the Savior. Luke 2:8: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” In the midst of the mundane, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared. Into the darkness of a silent night came the brightness of the glory of the Lord. I’m sure the shepherds were rubbing their eyes and shaking in their sandals. In fact, the word “terrified” means that they were alarmed and agitated. The angel in our drama was on to something when he said, “When they get a load of His holiness they’re just gonna keel over by the millions!”
“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.” The reason they did not need to be afraid is because the messenger was bringing “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. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’”
As the shepherds are trying to handle the message from this one messenger, they are taken aback again in verses 13-14: “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.’” The word “suddenly” tells us that the heavenly host came unexpectedly and without warning. The phrase “great company” means there were so many that it was impossible to count. The phrase “heavenly host” refers to the Lord’s army in other passages of Scripture. The shepherds watched as heaven opened up and they literally saw an entire militia of messengers, hundreds and thousands of angelic warriors worshipping God.
First, angels love praising the Savior and second, they love peering into salvation.
2. They love peering into salvation. Did you know that angels are very curious about Christmas? In fact, they have studied salvation and are stunned by it. 1 Peter 1:12 says that “Even angels long to look into these things.” It’s like they’re on the edge of their seats, or peering over a railing to see the drama of how the sacrifice of the Son solves the sin problem for people on this planet. And this phrase is in the present tense, which means that they are still studying salvation right here and now. There’s an audience of angels watching to see what your response is going to be today.
Angels don’t understand everything about forgiveness because they can’t experience it but my guess is that they’re dumbfounded when people deny and doubt or just get complacent about Christmas.
Angels love praising the Savior, they love peering into salvation, and finally, they love partying when a sinner is saved.
3. They love partying when a sinner is saved. When you turn from the path you’ve been on and receive all that Jesus has for you, Luke 15:10 tells us that “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels over one sinner who repents.” The angels are ready to throw a party on your behalf but you must first receive Jesus as your personal Savior.
At the heart of Christmas is a gift heralded by the angels. It’s a present that must be received; a gift that must be opened. And when it is, rejoicing breaks out in the heavenly places.
A Strange Love
The title of today’s service is “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Pastor Jeff toyed with the idea of having our two angels do a Tina Turner rendition but we decided against that. But friends, listen. Love has everything to do with Christmas because that’s what’s behind the sending of the Savior to the planet with the people. Love came down at Christmas.
Before I go much further, I want you to know how much you’ve been prayed for, even before you came today. PBC people have been praying ten minutes twice a week for each of you. We had people sign up for every day of the week and some have been praying every single day. I went through and counted the names and was weeping when I was finished. When I added it all up, 223 people have been praying for you! I see names of children, teenagers and adults, praying as early as 5:00 in the morning all the way up to midnight, each day of the week. One person even made his own time slot of 3:30 in the morning!
I want to share some Christmas truth that can revitalize your life. It’s really the back-story of the birth of the “baby people.” Are you ready for it? You may want to sit on the edge of your seat like the angels do. Here it is. There’s not one person in this auditorium today that is not loved by God. God loves you with an out-of-this-world kind of love – you can’t do anything to earn it and you can’t do anything to get more of it. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or what you’re thinking about doing because as we heard in the drama, God has this weird people-thing going on. 1 John 4:9: “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.”
Max Lucado says that “there’s nothing you can do to make God love you any more than He already does and there is nothing you can do to make Him love you any less than He already does.” God loves us unconditionally and absolutely, even though we’re odd creatures. There’s another quote that captures Christmas for me: “God loves you just the way you are, but He doesn’t want you to stay the way you are.”
No matter what else will disappear in the next decade, God’s love will last forever.
When Tim Tebow, the quarterback for the Florida Gators was playing in the National Championship Game a year ago, he had “John 3:16” written in the eye black under his eyes. Amazingly, 90 million people Googled this reference to find out what it says. This verse is “Pure Genius” so let it soak in as I read it slowly: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
I see two parts to this verse…God’s giving and our receiving.
1. God loved the world so much that He gave His Son. That’s the birth of Jesus. God loves, therefore He gave.
The second half explains the “why” behind the giving of the Son.
2. That whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life. That’s the second birth. We believe, therefore we live.
In the carol, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” (no, that’s not Harold the angel), one line really stands out to me: “Born to raise the sons of earth; born to give them second birth.” Just as each of us have been born once physically, so too, we need to be born spiritually as Jesus says in John 3:3: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
Listen. The angels praised when Christ was born and right now they are peering over the heavenly railing as they watch what will happen right here, right now, when some of you will receive the gift of salvation. When you do, they will throw a party on your behalf. They rejoiced at the birth of Christ and they still explode with joy when people today experience the second birth.
Let me ask you a question: Is it easier to give gifts or to receive them? Let me see a show of hands. It’s hard for some of us to receive a gift from God because many of us think we have to earn it or somehow deserve it. John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” You see, Christmas becomes truly Christmas when we truly receive what Christmas offers.
Allow me to demonstrate. I have a present here and I’d like to give this gift to one of you. Who wants it? If you really want it, you’re going to have to do something to get it. What do you need to do? That’s right, you need to receive it. You need to take the gift in order for it to really be yours. Do you like the gift? I gave what is close to my heart – a chunk of cheese! Don’t try to re-gift it either.
God’s love will last forever but you must respond and receive His love before you die or you’ll live without his love for eternity in a place called Hell. Let’s listen to John 3:16 again while I emphasize one phrase: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” You probably didn’t come to a Christmas service to hear about Hell but I must tell you about it instead of being silent and wondering if you’ll end up going there.
I love John 3:17 because it shows us that God doesn’t want us to be condemned this Christmas: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” God’s all about saving people – that’s why He sent His Son. And John 3:18 reinforces the necessity of belief as the way to avoid condemnation: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Friends, that means that in order to go to Hell, you simply do nothing. The gift of a Savior is for sinners. Look at the person next to you – he or she is a sinner. And the person sitting next to him or her is a sinner – that’s you.
The sweet baby in the cradle came to be our sin substitute on the cross and it’s the love of God that made all this happen – Jesus came to die for you, in your place, to pay the price for your sins. At the center of Christmas is a bloody Cross.
There’s a wonderful word found in both John 3:16 and John 3:18. It’s the word “whoever.” After all, who here is not a whoever? (That sounds like a Dr. Seuss question, doesn’t it?) Jesus can save you no matter who you are or what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter what your denominational background is or if you’ve never really gone to church before.
I’d like to talk heart-to-heart with you right now. Try to forget about the person you came with or anyone else sitting around you. Just as the angels wanted good seats, in a similar way you are in a good seat today because you are here by God’s design. This is between you and God. If you know that you’re a sinner and you can’t save yourself and if you’re ready to not just believe in Christmas but to actually receive the Christ of Christmas, I would love to lead you in a prayer. It’s time for some of you to welcome Him to your world. I like to think of it as A-B-C.
Admit that you’re a sinner.
Believe and receive Jesus Christ into your life.
If you’re ready, pray this prayer silently with me right now. If you’ve already received Jesus, would you pray for those around you who haven’t yet? “God, thanks for demonstrating your love by sending Jesus at Christmas. As great as that gift is, I feel so unworthy. I admit that I’m a sinner and with your help I want to turn from the way I’ve been living. I understand that Jesus came in the cradle in order to die on the cross for my sins. I thank you that He was raised from the dead to give me new life. I now transfer my trust to Him, and ask you to forgive my sins. I believe and I want to receive Jesus Christ into my life. And if there’s anything in my life that you want to get rid of, please do it. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
The “C” of the ABCs is to confess Jesus Christ to others. If you prayed that prayer and meant it, I wonder if you have the courage to stand right now as a way to identify yourself with the Christ of Christmas. We want to have the opportunity to cheer you on, joining in the party that the angels are now throwing for you.
Biblically understood, love is not just a feeling that fades in and out. Rather, love is an action, or more specifically, a commitment. As we wrap this up, it wouldn’t be right for us to just soak up God’s love and not be moved to action. 1 John 3:23 says, “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” God deserves, desires and demands our best, therefore this Christmas let’s be conduits of His compassion to those around us.
How many of you have ever “re-gifted” an item? I want to encourage you to “re-gift” the gift of Jesus. Once you believe and receive, then give the gift of Him to others. Here are three ways we can do that.
1. Love the unlovely. Love all. Who do you just walk by? Is there anyone you’re ignoring? Step out of your comfort zone and cross your clique to reach out to someone who needs your love.
2. Forgive the unforgivable. If we ignore the unlovely, then we try to avoid the unforgivable. Is there any friction going on in your family? Is there any one you need to forgive? You say, “They don’t deserve it.” You’re right. They don’t. And neither do you because no one deserves forgiveness from God. Set them free this Christmas. You can give forgiveness because of what God has given you.
3. Lift up the down and out. It’s time for us to lift up those who are down and out by reaching out to the hungry and the thirsty and the cold and the sick and the imprisoned. In Matthew 25, Jesus says that He takes these acts of compassion very personally, for when we minister to the least of these, we minister to Him. It’s been thrilling to see what’s happening at PBC as people worship fully, spend less on themselves, give more to those in need and love all unconditionally – now that’s what I call a Christmas Conspiracy!
* What if we started a countercultural movement to care for those in need that stretched far beyond a few days in December?
* What if we resisted the empire of consumerism and became content with what we have this Christmas?
* What if the story of Jesus coming down compelled us to love those living on the margins of life?
* What if we really cared for the widow, the orphan and those with AIDS?
* What if we lived out our faith in our families?
* What if Christmas was no longer about stuff but about the Savior?
Are you guys up for this challenge? I believe you are. Because no matter what else disappears this next decade, God’s love will last forever.