December 23, 2011

The Advent of Love

Originally published in the Union Springs Herald on December 21, 2011.

Christmas is a time when our thoughts turn easily to love. We think of those we love as we prepare for family gatherings and purchase gifts. Christmas is also a time when we think a little more carefully about God's love for us demonstrated in the sending of Jesus at his birth in Bethlehem. The truth of God's love revealed through Jesus has been on my mind as I've read several times through the stories of his birth in the gospels this Advent season. As I read these stories once again, though, I was struck that the word "love" doesn't appear in them. In recounting the stories of Jesus' birth, the gospel writers never describe that event in terms of God's love. So, that got me to thinking: Where do you turn in the Bible when you need help thinking about the revelation of God's love in the advent of Christ?

It wasn’t long before I remembered 1 John 4:9, "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." On the surface, this verse may not look like a Christmas verse. Remember, though, that Christmas is about the coming of Christ, and this is a verse about the coming of Christ. In fact, any verse that talks about God's purposes in sending Jesus to be with us and offer himself for us is a Christmas text, because those verses are about the coming of Christ.

So what does 1 John 4:9 tell us? It tells us simply and beautifully that God sent Jesus, his only Son, as an expression of his love. God sent Jesus so that we could experience his love in a way that no one had ever experienced it before. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he was not like any other baby. He was the unique expression of the Father's love for us. Jesus came to fill the world with the love of God, and after the birth of Christ, love could never again be reduced to an abstract concept. With the birth of Mary's baby, love had come, and love had a human face.

But that's not all. This verse not only explains that the coming of Jesus is the revelation of God's love, it also tells us about God's purpose in that expression of love. And that purpose is to give life. Christ came so that we might have life through him. You don't have to look far to see that the world is lost in a sea of darkness and death. Just watch the evening news. Jesus came to infuse this tired world with the life of God. He came to take what was broken and restore it. He came to take what was dead and dying and give it life. And that's good news. That's the good news of Christmas.

As Christmas morning arrives, my hope and prayer for you is that you experience God's love and life in a way that you never have before. May the Christ, who is the perfect expression of the Father's love, make his presence known to you and fill you with his life this Advent season.

2 comments:

Shamby said...

As Advent has the twofold purpose of remembering Christ's coming in His historical incarnation AND anticipating Christ's coming again, I've been thinking about the inner tension of Advent. Obviously we celebrate the full realization of salvation in this second advent, but that coming can only be joyful and peace-bearing for those whose hope derives from faith in Jesus Christ. How shall we hope for the haste of Christ's coming, in the knowledge that this victory over sin includes judgment upon those who animate and personify sin? This reflection hopefully provides context for my real question to you, which is:

Revelation 19:11-21 is about Christ's coming. Shall we call it an Advent text? Or if you like, how Merry should Christmas be?

Been thinking a lot on this lately. Would be grateful for any insight. Great to interact with you, as always.

Matt O'Reilly said...

Hi Shamby,

Apologies for the delayed reply. You rightly note the tension that fills the Advent season, a tension I've tried hard to draw attention to in my own preaching during Advent this year.

With regard to your question, I suppose Rev 19:11-21 is a legitimate Advent text. If I recall correctly, Dr. Mulholland takes it to be about the first coming of Christ rather than about the second (contra most commentators). So, it might also be a Christmas text, though not a particularly warm fuzzy one. I'd be curious to hear how that text might be treated in an Advent/Christmas context. I wonder whether it was made use of in such a way by the Church fathers or during other periods of Church history and whether it might have ever appeared in a lectionary for preaching during Advent.