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The Love That Brought Him

The love of Christ never ends, is personal, and sets us free.


One of the greatest Georgians who ever lived was Bishop Arthur Moore, the beloved Methodist bishop of our state. Bishop Moore once said that the supreme test of religion is in the revelation of God that it makes—the disclosure of God that it brings. And he said, related to that: "Having disclosed God, can we know him? Is it possible to have communion with God, to have fellowship with God?" Since the human family came into being, one of our most persistent questions has concerned God. As the biblical writer put it, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him!" And having found him, can I know him? And will he know me?

The speculation about God in the writings of the human family is almost without end. In Greek literature, Virgil wrote about the plight of humanity and how something new needed to be done to help man out of his predicament. In Greek thought, God was removed, a mere spectator, like someone observing a play in an amphitheater or a stadium—sometimes interfering in a helpful way, sometimes interfering in ways that were harmful. There have been all kinds of weird notions about God expressed in the writings of humankind. Shakespeare, for example in King Lear, gave expression to some of this kind of thinking when he cried out: "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport."

It is the Christian belief that Jesus of Nazareth fully disclosed God—who he is and what he is and what motivates him. That disclosure reveals itself in love. And further, we believe that this loving God has a desire to have fellowship with you and me. He not only wants to know us, he wants us to know him.

Karl Barth, a most profound theologian of our century, put it this way: "Either Jesus Christ was actually God, or he was not, or we do not have a full revelation of God yet." Before the coming of Christ, no one could write words of comfort such as we can find almost at random in the writings of Christian writers. Tennyson, for example, said: "Be near us when we climb or fall. Yea, watch like God the rolling hours, with larger other eyes than ours, to make allowance for us all." You see, God is interested in us and he wants us to be interested in him.

Here on Christmas Eve, we find a comforting word in the Book of Revelation, a book shrouded in mystery—little understood, seldom read, and often the subject of great curiosity. John, the beloved disciple, was an old, old man. Scholars tell us he was probably in his nineties when he wrote this book. He was the only member of the disciple band who would die a natural death. The others were martyred, according to history and legend. John, himself, was now forced into exile. He had to leave home, and he found himself on the island of Patmos because there was a raging persecution back on the mainland of Asia Minor. The Roman emperors had decreed that it was to be the policy of the state to eradicate, to destroy, the Christian movement.

So this aging follower of Jesus Christ, a powerful symbol to his generation, a symbol of continuity because he had walked and talked with Jesus, wrote back to his friends and to his fellow Christians on the mainland. He told them all that Christ had meant to him and all the things he had experienced and was experiencing of Christ. And as he began to put down what Christ had meant to him, the words gushed from his heart like an anthem of joy. And so he wrote: "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."

Now, the phrase that leaps out at us is, "unto him that loved us," and that's what Christmas is about. It is about love, the love of God that we are to exemplify in our relationships with one another. It was love that made Christmas. It was love that brought Christ, and as we celebrate together this Christmas Eve, I want us to remember three things about the love of Jesus Christ.

The love of Christ never ends.

First, remember that the love of Christ never ends. It's eternal. He never lets us off, but he never lets us go. This babe of Bethlehem has some stringent requirements in his love. "No quiet child," said Thomas Carlyle, "whose gentle cradle sways promises of peaceful dreams for all who love him. He rocks the stable. He scatters the proud. He helps the lowly rise. His sword cuts through the deceitful. His cry unsettles the victimizers. No quiet child." There is no peace apart from justice. As the prophet Isaiah put it, "He will rule with justice and with righteousness." So while Christ's love never ends, it never lets us off.

One of the most touching stories concerning Pope John XXIII is about the day after Christmas several years ago when he visited one of the worst prisons in Rome. It was the first time in 90 years that a pope had gone to a prison, and in greeting the prisoners, the Pope said, "You could not come to me, so I have come to you." And that, I commend to you, is the spirit of Christ's love. He came to rescue us because he loved us, and his love never ends. It's important for us to realize that whatever comes in life, however hurt we may be, however lonely our lives might become, that in this world of the transient and the temporary, Christ's love is for keeps. It is forever.

Norman Vincent Peale tells a story of the early days of his ministry. He was in Brooklyn, New York. One Christmas Eve, he was out visiting some families, and he walked by a doorway. He noticed that on the door was the red ribbon of Christmas and a black wreath of mourning. While the people who lived there were not parishioners of his, he decided he would call on the family. So he knocked on the door, and the father of the family came to the door. Dr. Peale introduced himself and was invited in. He sought to give condolences to the family, and he saw in the sitting room a small casket where a 6-year-old girl was lying in state. He expressed his sympathy to the father, and this father said, "Dr. Peale, it's going to be all right, for she is with God, you know." While they were talking, Dr. Peale could hear the mother of the family reading the Bible to two little boys of the family, and he heard her read these words: "Because I live, you shall live also." Christ's love is for keeps, whatever comes.

In the early days of my ministry, one of the most poignant moments of my experience came on a Christmas Eve when I had a funeral for an 18-year-old girl. After the service was over, I went home with the family. I never will forget sitting with her father. He said to me: "I am so alone. I have no one to turn to, nothing to live for now. I am so alone." Friends, we are never alone. His love is for keeps. It's forever. You can count on it. He came because he loved us. He still loves us, and his love is forever.

That's important, because human love is not always trustworthy. It quite frequently fails us; it falters and sometimes forsakes. We need to remember that reality when the storms of disappointment sweep over us. We need to remember that when dreams are broken and promises are made but not kept. Somewhere, God is keeping watch over his own.

I remember some words my mother taught me: "It fortifies my soul to know that though I falter, truth is so; that howsoever I stray in range, what e'er I do, thou dost not change. I steadier step when I recall that though I slip, thou dost not fall." It's important to remember at Christmas that his love is eternal. It never ends.

The love of Christ is personal.

But also, secondly, his love is always personal. His love is forever, but it's personal. At the 7:00 service, a little girl came out and pulled on my robe, and I said, "What can I do for you?" She said, "It's for you, Dr. Harrington." I said, "What?" and she had a little note. I opened it up, and it said, "I love you." Well, it made my Christmas Eve. "It's for you"—very personal. While the love of Christ is for the world, it's also for you and for me. Isn't that a comforting thought? Every person all over the world tonight can say with assurance, "God loves me."

Karl Barth was invited to deliver one of the distinguished lectureships at a theological seminary in the East, and while he was there, a group of ministers and theologians and dignitaries of one kind or another sat down with him in a kind of question-and-answer period. Someone asked the question, "What is the most profound thought that you know, Dr. Barth?" This is what he said: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." His love is very personal, and his love for you personally is stronger than anything that can happen to us. It's stronger than our sin. It's stronger than our sorrow. It's mightier than death. It undergirds all of life in all of its flux and fury.

John Greenleaf Whittier said it this way: "I know not what the future hath of marvel or surprise, assured along that life and death God's mercy underlies. I know not where his islands lift their fronded palms in air. I only know I cannot drift beyond his love and care." His love is personal.

Some years ago, the Gallup organization conducted a poll about Christmas. They asked a wide variety of people to respond to the question: "What does Christmas mean to you?" The results were interesting, if not astounding. Thirty-five percent of those interviewed said they considered Christmas to be a religious festival. Another 26 percent said it was merely a holiday, a few days off. Twenty-three percent considered it a prime opportunity to meet with family and friends. Five percent looked at Christmas as a time for indulging in eating and drinking, and 11 percent had no opinion about Christmas at all. In other words, 65 percent of those interviewed did not associate Christmas with anything religious whatever.

Now, I hope that if Christmas means nothing else to you, it will remind you that God loves you and me in a very personal way, and because his love is personal, it requires a personal response.

One of the most appealing Christmas stories is that of Amal and the Night Visitors. You will remember that it is in an operatic setting by Menotti. The three wise men are on the way to Bethlehem, and they come to the home of a poor woman who has a little boy named Amal. Amal is crippled; he could not walk without a crutch. One evening, their humdrum existence was interrupted by a loud knocking at their door, and his mother said to Amal, "Go see who is at the door." He went, and he came back and said, "Momma, a king is there." She lashed him with her tongue for exaggerating so much and sent him back to the door, and he came back the second time. He said, "There are two kings out there." He was in big trouble by then. So for a third time she sent him to the door, and he said, "Momma, there are three kings out there."

Eventually, after all kinds of conversation, the three wise men came in, and she was impressed with them, particularly with the gold they carried. She tried to steal some of that, but in all the uproar of her attempted theft, one of the wise men said to her, noticing her plight of need, "You can keep the gold. The babe we are going to worship does not need it." But she was caught up in the spirit of generosity by then, so she said: "I would never keep that gold. Take it to the baby king, and if I had anything to send myself, I would do it."

Then comes the most poignant moment of Amal and the Night Visitors. Amal, sensing what was happening all around him, sensing he had nothing at all to send but wanting to send something, decided, "I will send my crutch." The one thing that was indispensable to him, he was going to give away. So he lifted up his crutch and gave it to the wise men. He gave what he had; he gave it personally; he gave it completely. And then a miracle occurred. His mother noticed first that he could walk now. He could stand alone. He was healed. He did not limp anymore.

"Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings"—it's true. He comes to bring light and life to you and to me, personally. His love is eternal, for keeps, but his love is also personal, and it requires a personal response.

The love of Christ completely frees us.

Then thirdly, his love completely frees us. Our text says he loosed us from our sins. His love emancipates us. I read a story the other day that appealed to me a great deal. A little girl got home from Sunday school, where she had been taught the verse, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven." She asked her mother, when she repeated the verse, what it meant. Her mom said, "Well, it means that when you are good and kind and thoughtful and obedient, you are letting Christ's light shine in your life before all who know you."

The very next Sunday in Sunday school, the little girl got into a bit of a fracas with another student and created somewhat of an uproar—to such an extent that the Sunday school teacher had to go and find her mother to get her settled down a bit in the class. Her mother was concerned when she got to the classroom and said, "Sweetie, don't you remember about letting your light shine for the Lord before men?" The girl blurted out, "Mom, I have blowed myself out."

Many of us have done just that. In our relationship to Christ, our light has gone out. We need not live in the darkness of our own wrongdoing, because Christ has set us free from our sins. In the words of Moffatt's translation, "He has loosed us from our sins." As the German poet Goethe was dying, he was heard to cry, "Light! Light! I need more light!" That is really the cry of this world of ours at Christmas. We need more light, and Christ has said, "I am the light of the world." He has loosed us from our sins. His love is emancipating.

You remember Tennyson's treatment of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. There comes a scene in the writing of Tennyson where Arthur is parting from his queen, who has been unfaithful to him. She lies at his feet, beautiful but shaken by the shame of her degraded womanhood, not even daring to look into Arthur's face. He blesses her and says to her that they will both meet again before God in the next life, and as he passes from her presence she cries out: "Gone, my lord, gone through my sin to slay and to be slain. And he forgave me, and I could not speak; his mercy choked me."

The mercy of Christ does not choke us. It emancipates us and sets us free. It was love that brought him, and his love is eternal. It never ends. His love is personal. It's for you; it's for me. He knows his sheep by name; he is a good shepherd. His love emancipates us. A child asked me the other day, "When will Christmas be over?" I told her when it would be over, but upon reflection I should've said to her, "Christmas is never over."


A teacher of a young adult class in our church asked her class members to answer the question, "What do you want most out of life?" and nine out of ten replied, "Happiness." The widely read magazine Psychology Today took a poll of 40,000 readers, and 83 percent responded that life's main question was, "Where can I find happiness?" I believe we best find our happiness by walking in the way of Christ and responding to his love. Christmas is always a high spiritual moment. It is a time when feelings are accentuated, when things long forgotten are stirred within us once more, and we resolve that things are going to be better and different. I pray that will be true.

I had an Uncle named Van, who was given to many rash statements, and one of the things he said was, "There ain't nothing as over as Christmas." What he meant was that when all the poinsettias are removed and all the candles are put up and the tree is taken down, there is a kind of emptiness, because our feelings are accentuated. But Christmas should never be over. Things long forgotten, stirred in us once more, ought to be kindled and kept.

The tests of our lives, however, come not in the high moments of inspiration but in the moments and hours and days and weeks when that inspiration has passed. That's when we need to keep Christmas, when the high road has given way to the common road. For there is no heroic in the humdrum, no royalty in the ruts of life, no appreciation given for the usual. There's little camaraderie in the commonplace. What happens when we find ourselves in the enterprises of every day—that's the test of Christmas. That's when Christ should make a difference.

Again, in Tennyson's treatment of King Arthur, the final scene comes when Guinevere takes leave of Arthur and she says, "It was my duty to have loved the highest. It surely was my profit, had I known; it would have been my pleasure, had I seen. We must need love the highest when we see it, not Lancelot, not another." It is our duty in the common road of life to love the highest. But Christmas adds a new element. The highest loves us. That's why we sing "Joy to the World."

Joyce Kilmer penned the famous poem called "Trees." Many of us can recite the lines, recalling that only God can make a tree. But for me he wrote something far better. Listen: "Because the way was steep and long, / and through a strange and lonely land, / God placed upon my lips a song / and put a lantern in my hand." That's what Christmas does for us. It puts a lantern in our hand to light the way of life. The lantern is centered in the love of Christ, which is for keeps. It's personal, and it sets us free to be all that he wants us to be. May it be so for you and for me on this Christmas Eve.

© 1987, W. Frank Harrington
A resource of Christianity Today International

W. Frank Harrington pastored Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and wrote several books, including First Comes Faith: Proclaiming the Gospel in the Church (Louisville, KY: Geneva Press, 1998).

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Sermon Outline:


I. The love of Christ never ends

II. The love of Christ is personal

III. The love of Christ completely frees us