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The Essence of Christmas 1 John 4:7-16 Christmas Eve Reflection

by on December 27, 2013

Thanks to my children, I’ve been having a really wonderful Christmas season. As I’ve been observing my children, I’ve been thinking how challenging it is to balance the gift-giving tradition of Christmas with the Christian festival of the Nativity.

My four year old boy has begun to understand some of our traditions of Christmas, like cutting down our own tree and especially the train around the tree. He’s been looking forward to these since last year. I don’t think he yet fully understands the tradition of gift-giving at Christmas. I also think that’s about to change.

My eight year old daughter understands gift-giving quite well. Back in October she prepared a list to help us organize the twelve days of Christmas gift-giving that is a tradition in our home. She also created a post office box where we could put small gifts until the day. I’ve also observed her trying to balance gift-giving and Christ-receiving.

Watching my children, reading the Bible, spending time in prayer, and preparing for worship, I’ve gained an insight into Christmas which I believe will change not only this holiday, but my whole year.

It is this: Christmas isn’t essentially about gift-giving, even though our culture has completely hijacked the holiday to make us believe that. Nor is it essentially about church or worship, though many of us lament that these should be more a part of it than it is.

Christmas is essentially about one thing—it is about love. The pastor who wrote the letter 1 John had this figured out. Throughout the letter, the pastor uses two words to address the congregation. The first one is “Beloved.” So, for example, the passage we just heard begins with “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.”

By addressing the congregation as “beloved,” the pastor is reinforcing what he believes is their core identity. They are the beloved, they are the ones God loves. And how does this pastor know this? How does his congregation know this? How do we know this today?

The answer is that God’s love is revealed in Jesus Christ, whose coming we celebrate at Christmas. The whole letter revolves around the person of Jesus Christ. The pastor calls Jesus the “word of life” and our “righteous advocate” and the “atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.” He refers to Jesus as our guiding light in a dark world.

But more than anything else, Jesus is the evidence of God’s love for us, of our being the beloved. That God would provide the words of life, is proof of God’s love for us. That God would provide the answer to the world’s sins, and a light to accompany us in darkness, is proof of God’s love for us.

This is hard for many of us to understand and accept. As we make our way through this dark world our thinking also becomes darkened. It is no longer enough to be loved by God, we look to be loved by others more—at school, on the athletic field, at work, among our peers.

We also forget that we are God’s beloved because we discover how hard it is to love others. After a long day at the office or a year struggling with our health, we’re exhausted and it’s difficult to generate the energy to love others.

Even harder, when we’ve been neglected or underestimated, or even intentionally hurt and abused, we find it much easier not to love. Eventually, since it is so hard for us to love, we have a hard time imagining that God could love us.

A new parent once said to me, “I thought I understood what God’s love for me was like, but it wasn’t until my child was born that I realized—as much as I love my child, God loves me that much and more.”

I’ve almost nine years to think about that myself, and there’s some good truth to it.

But I’ve also discovered something else. The love children have for their parents, especially young children, is a love that hasn’t been blemished. It’s a generous, forgiving, joyful, abundant, hopeful, eternal love. I have no doubt that the love of a good parent reflects divine love and even has a share in it. But I am certain that this is the case in the love children have for their parents.

Which brings me the second word the pastor uses to address the congregation of 1 John. It is “little children.” Not only are they God’s “beloved,” they are God’s “little children.” I suppose the pastor is remembering that Jesus said, unless we become like little children, we cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven.

I also think the pastor is remembering that before he was a Rabbi, a healer, a preacher and a teacher, before he was crucified and resurrected from the dead, before he ascended to heaven where he prays for us until his return, Jesus was God’s beloved little child.

Jesus, from his birth, through his life, and beyond, is proof of God’s love for us.

His life of loving others is also the model we are to follow, if we want not only to receive God’s love at Christmas, but to experience God’s love throughout our lives.

“Beloved,” the pastor wrote, “let us love one another. For those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” Let us pray.

God of Love, your gift to us in Jesus Christ is the reminder that we are, like him, your beloved children. Send into our lives the same Spirit that gave life to Christ, from his birth to his baptism to his resurrection from the dead, so that we, like him, may live as ones who receive your love and share it with others. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

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