SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 9:2-7; 1 John 4:9-16; Luke 2:1-20
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4
What Christmas do you remember as your best Christmas? Was it a Christmas when you were a child? Or, was it one with your own children? Will it be this year’s, or perhaps a Christmas yet to come?
One of my best Christmas holidays took place 20 years ago. After Christmas we – my family – drove from New Hampshire to New York City to spend a few days with friends who had recently moved there. As we drove in snow was gently falling, and the early winter drabness of the city was transformed. Everything shone with a beautiful, pristine white, and decorations and lights sparkled. We visited the World Trade Center, and its lobby was beautifully decorated with Christmas Trees; wreaths; poinsettias; and many other baubles; and smiling faces and the sound of Christmas carols filled it. Our three day stay in NYC was a very happy and enjoyable Christmas holiday!
It is a beautiful memory. But, Christmas isn’t just about memories. It is also about the present and the future.
The apostle John writes: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9) So that we might live: in the present; embracing the past; and looking to the future.
To truly live, with peace and joy in our hearts now and with eager anticipation of our future, we need more than good memories. We also need more than our own good desires and efforts, because they fall far short.
- Two weeks ago I had something good in mind: to get a gift for my wife that I knew she would enjoy. I was in northern CT visiting our prison inmates, and after seeing Albert I had a couple of hours before I could see Aaron. So, I found the gift that I knew would please Lorayne and bought it – at a Target store; with a credit card; the information of which, along with that of millions of others, was hacked and stolen.
Oh, what long term headaches may come with that well-intended purchase! So it is with even our works of love. We have many unloving and selfish deeds, many sins we regret and which we wish we could remove from our memories. God knows them very well, and that is bad enough. May He, the holy and righteous Judge of all, not remember and condemn us for such sins! But, even the most loving of our actions fall short of what they should be. God expects us to live in love, and not occasionally but always. He expects of us freely given, sacrificial works of love. For, God is love, and those who would live with Him must live in love. If we do not live in love – gladly and completely and constantly, as He does – we cannot look forward to living with Him.
Thanks be to God that we have the news, the true and eternal memory, of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem! Christmas is about God enfleshing and sending to us His love. Jesus is not just a good man; He is the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9) He shares God the Father’s nature, His love and infinity and holiness and so much more. And now, He also shares our nature, for out of love His Father sent Him to us in our weak and mortal flesh. He sent Him that we might share in God’s nature and live, confident of God’s love and blessing and certain of our future, with our memories and into eternity. But, for this to be, for us to live with God now and forever, God sent His Son to be a very unique and special gift of love: to be, as it says in 1 John 4, the “propitiation for our sins.”
Propitiation: that’s a big word. What does it mean? It means sacrifice; but a greater sacrifice than you could ever imagine.
Think of it this way: a father has an alcoholic and drug-addicted son who is abusive and steals from him. His son’s loveless and hurtful actions rightly anger him; but even more, they grieve him. Out of love for his son he endures the loss. He does not have his son arrested and jailed, as he could. And then, he goes on to sell all he has and impoverish himself to pay for hospitalization and treatment for his son, so that he might become a new person, healthy and no longer in bondage to alcohol and drugs. This is propitiation. It is costly love. It is sacrifice.
“In this is love,” 1 John 4:10 says, “not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Christmas is about propitiation: God’s sacrificial love for you made flesh in the person of Jesus. His love is about Jesus not only coming to bear your flesh but also to bear your sins and give His life to forgive them. His love and life is yours if at Christmas you look back, well beyond your own Christmases, and see God’s love enfleshed for you laid in the wood of a manger. “For to you is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” His love is yours if you see Jesus nailed to the wood of a cross, and believe that He died for you to pay for and heal you of the punishment and grief your sins deserve. This is why the eternal Son of God took our mortal flesh and was born: to be the propitiation, the sacrifice, for our sins.
May our own gifts be reminders of this. Whether you spend money buying gifts for others, or spend time making gifts, or simply take the time to say, “I love you,” our Christmas celebrations reflect God’s love when they are given out of love and with thanks for the love we receive from God. “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him” says 1 John 4:16. Love in Christ received, love in Christ confessed, and love in Christ given is a beauty far greater than any snowfall that covers up winter’s drabness.
Christmas at the World Trade Center in New York can now only be a memory. God’s love in Christ is far more, for Jesus forever lives as our propitiation. God’s love in Christ covers our sins, so that we can live in peace and joy. Since Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, we have no past sin to be remembered with shame. God has forgiven them! In Christ we are covered with God’s loving care and protection in the present, so that we can live joyful and peace-filled lives, no matter what our situations. And, as God is eternal, so is His love and those who live in it. When our Christmases on this earth end He will raise us from death to live forever in His eternal home in heaven. There, every day will be better than the last, and they will never end!
So, a blessed and merry Christmas to you in Christ Jesus our propitiation, our love from God! In Him we have more than just memories. The best is yet to come!