Summary: The coming of Christ at Christmas was God's most extravagant declaration of his love for us, a love that should change each of us and the way we love.
One of the most profound and lasting lessons I learned in seminary was in my Systematic Theology class, as we were “unpacking” the meaning and significance of the Holy Spirit. I can remember so vividly my professor saying, “There are many ‘spirits’ in this world. There’s American spirit, and school spirit, and the pioneer spirit, and Spirit airlines…But,” he said, “There is only one divine Spirit. There is only one Holy Spirit.” And I think the same could be said of love. There are many kinds of “loves” in this world. There’s familial love, and passionate love, and love of sweets and treats.
I think you all know what I mean. I love chocolate. I love chocolate so much I could eat it three times a day or more. And I love my parents, too, but the love I have for them is different than my love of chocolates. And I love my husband in yet another way. I also happen to love reading and music. I have recently discovered that I’m a decent sketch artist, so I’ve started to love spending time doing that, too. I’m sure you all have a variety of “loves” as well, everything from sports, to gardening, to travel, to pets, and beyond. We fill our time with all the things we “love.”
Yet there is a greater love, a love which should shape all other “loves” in our lives. There’s only one divine love, only one holy love, and that love was shown to us for the first time at the very first Christmas some 2,000 years ago. “Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine!” the hymn says. And that’s what that baby was and is. We call him Jesus; we identify him as the Savior, the Messiah. But at his very core, he is the embodiment of the greatest love that ever was or ever will be; a divine and holy love, because it is God’s love for each of us and all of God’s creation!
That’s why the passage we heard this morning from Luke’s gospel is so significant. It is the story of the angel’s announcement to the shepherds about Christ’s birth. We talked a couple of weeks ago about how shepherds were “nobodies” in that day and age. Yet, they receive the first announcement of the birth of their Savior, a Messiah who has come for them. This is a sign of God’s great love for ALL people, not just the privileged or accomplished! The love that is revealed in Jesus reaches out unconditionally to the least, the last, and the lost, with a promise of forgiveness and salvation. The gift of God’s love was first offered to the shepherds, and it is a gift that has been offered to people like you and me ever since.
God created us to give love and receive love. Our very faith grows out of the belief that in Jesus the Messiah the one true God has revealed himself to be love incarnate. This is a love that should change us; and once we receive the gift of God’s love offered to us in Jesus Christ, we are to offer that same gift to others. Love incarnate must be the badge that the Christian community wears, the sign not only of who we are, but also who our God is. The shepherds experienced God’s love incarnate as they entered Bethlehem and saw the divine child swaddled and lying in a manger under the watchful care of his earthly mother and father. But Christ no longer lives on this earth, so if the people of our day are going to experience God’s love in the flesh, it has to happen in and through each of us who have already been transformed by that love! Just as Jesus unveiled God before a surprised and unready world, so must we. Love is that important!
As you think about what it means to receive Christ’s love and be transformed by it, I want to share with you a story about some little boys who loved baseball, but who let God’s love guide their own “loves.”
Chush is a school that caters to learning-disabled children in Brooklyn, New York. At a Chush fundraising dinner, the father of a Chush child delivered an unforgettable speech. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he said, "Where is the perfection in my son Shaya? Everything God does is done with perfection. But my child cannot understand things as other children do. My child cannot remember facts and figures as other children do. Where is God's perfection?" The audience was shocked by the question. "I believe," the father answered, "that when God brings a child like this into the world, the perfection that he seeks is in the way people react to this child." He then told this story: