Every Christmas there is that one toy that everyone wants and that creates all sorts of craziness.
In 1983 it was the Cabbage Patch Doll! The infamous 1983 Cabbage Patch smackdown in Pennsylvania culminated with a store manager warding off crazed parents with an aluminum baseball bat. To date it’s sold over 100 million dolls.
The next huge Christmas toy was Tickle Me Elmo in 1996. In Canada, a Walmart clerk almost met his doom when three hundred customers stampeded at the sight of the Elmo he held. The clerk suffered a broken rib and a concussion.
Here are a few other examples:
Xbox 360 (2005))
Zhu Zhu Pet (2009)
Frozen Dolls (2014) Hatchimals (2016)
L.O.L Surprise! (2017)
Some of this makes us disgusted at the consumerism and loss of perspective for some people. But this toy craze shows how much parents love their children and are willing to do almost anything to show them that love.
In this Advent series we are trying to get back to the basics and remind ourselves why we celebrate Christmas. We were reminded to “Worship Fully.” The truth is we all worship something. Christmas is first and foremost about bowing down to Christ the King and giving him our worship, attention, and focus.
We then encouraged everyone to “Spend Less.” Consumerism that leads to debt is one of the great enemies at Christmas. 25% of us will go into debt over Christmas partly because we are not content with all that we have.
We want to spend less, so that we can “Give More.” We looked at the Doctrine of the Incarnation. The truth of God coming in the flesh to be with us. God gave us his presence, we ought to give our presence to others as well. It was a challenge to give more time.
Today, we will consider why Christmas is ultimately a challenge to “Love All.” So, let’s first look at God’s love for us. Then we’ll consider what we are supposed to do with God’s love.
Confused About Love
To help us, we are going to look at a book in the Bible called 1 John. The Apostle John, the last living apostle, and one of the early disciples of Jesus, wrote several letters to the churches in his area. He did that because they needed to be encouraged and strengthened.
(Read 1 John 4:9-10)
We live in a world today that is so very confused about love. We say things like, “If you love me ... then ….” That’s not love. Some of us believe love is a feeling. But, if you live long enough, you know how fickle and wrong your feelings can be! We also confuse lust with love.
There’s lots of confusion around God’s love for us as well. At some point in everyone’s life we will eventually wrestle with the question: Does God really love me? Have you ever been there? I have. Especially when life gets hard and I’m going through something difficult or when I really mess up, I wonder, Does God still love me?
You can believe in God, go to church, and have some understanding of his love but that belief will be tested. God’s love is put to the test by the problems and trials of life. Someone close to you gets in an accident, you lose your job, or your child walks away from the faith. It’s in those moments you’ll wrestle with God and wonder where this loving God is when all that happened. We’ll wonder, If God really loved me, he wouldn’t allow that to happen.
But, to believe that God loves you personally, just as you are, right where you are at, can be life transforming. That’s one of the reasons why the Apostle John is reminding us that the Christmas story is all about a God who in his love, came himself, to show us exactly what his love is all about.
Love Came Down for You
How do you know when someone loves you? Because they tell you they love you? No! Love is most clearly seen in action and in truth. One of the reasons God sent his Son, was to show us what love looks like. The reason we know God is love is not because he said he is, but because of what he did in history.
So, what did God do? John tells us two things God did to show his love.
God showed you his love by sending his only Son.
We celebrate Christmas because the greatest gift in all the world was given by God to humanity. That’s why the Apostle Paul calls Jesus, “God’s indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15). Jesus is indescribable because he is completely unique. Jesus was fully God and fully human at the same time. And God has no other Son but Jesus so there was no other way to bring people back into a relationship with God. There was no greater gift God could give the world other than his Son. It was a gift of love. But God did more than just send his Son.
God showed his love by allowing Jesus to die for you.
God’s gift was sent to die for you. I know for some of you that doesn’t make any sense. So let me explain. The Apostle John says Jesus was an “atoning sacrifice for our sins.” The Christian message at its core is a message of love. God, in his love, sent his Son, Jesus, to do what we could not do for ourselves.
Since the dawn of time, humanity separated itself from a holy God. In our hearts and at our core, we really want nothing to do with God. If you are like me, you have habits you can’t break, thoughts you don’t want, emotions you don’t like, fears you can’t hide, regrets you can’t let go of, and you say things you wish you didn’t say. That’s called sin.
So, how does a holy and perfect God, who can’t tolerate sin, have a relationship with the people he created and loves? In the Old Testament, God set up a sacrificial system where the High Priest, on behalf of God’s people, would kill a perfect lamb. The killing of that lamb would “atone” or cover all the sin of the people. Fast forward to Christmas. God sent his Son Jesus to be the perfect lamb and final sacrifice. Jesus lived a sinless life and died on a cross to both satisfy God’s wrath over sin and reconcile us to God.
Christianity, unlike any other religion, is the true story of Jesus taking all of our sin, and giving us all his righteousness. And it’s free, we call it grace. There’s nothing you can do to earn God’s free gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Like any gift, you receive it, unwrap it, and say thank you. This is why Christmas is called the “good news of great joy for all people”! This is how God proved his love for you.
But sadly, some of us have never experienced what it means to be loved by God. We believe he’s out to get us and punish us. We think we’ve messed up so much that we are not worthy of his love. We think, How could God really love me when I’m so unlovable?
That is the power of the Christmas story. It’s a love story. The greatness of God’s love is seen in who it is God sent his Son to die for. God loves those who are unworthy of his love and deserve his judgment. Christmas is all about God’s love not just for the world, but for you. Almighty God coming down into this crazy world as a fragile baby. God became innocent and breakable. God became someone we could hurt. Why would God do this? Because he loves you. God wants you back in relationship with him.
The great preacher, Haddon Robinson, once shared a story about a couple in his sermon titled, “The World’s Best Love Story.” He writes:
There was once a young man from Chicago who went down to the bluegrass regions of Kentucky where he met and wooed a young woman who ultimately came back to Chicago as his bride. They enjoyed three lovely years of marriage, and then one day in the midst of a sickness in a seizure of pain the young woman lost her mind. When she was at her best, she was a bit demented. At her worst, she would scream, and neighbors complained because the screams cut the air and it was hard to live with. And so the young businessman left his home in the middle of Chicago, went out to one of the western suburbs, built a house, determined that there he would try to nurse his wife back to health and sanity again. One day the family physician suggested that perhaps if he were to take his wife back to her Kentucky home that something in those familiar surroundings would help her restore her sanity, and so they went back to the old homestead. Hand in hand they walked through the old house where memories hung on every corner. They went down to the garden and walked down by the riverside where the first violets were in bloom. But after several days nothing seemed to happen. So, defeated and discouraged, the young man put his wife back in the car, and they headed back to Chicago.
When they got close to the house, he looked over and discovered that his wife was asleep. It was the first deep, restful sleep she had had in many weeks. When he got to the house, he lifted her from the car, took her inside, placed her on the bed, and realized she wanted to sleep some more. So he placed a cover over her and then just sat by her side and watched her through the midnight hour, watched her until the first rays of the sun reached through the curtain and touched her face. The young woman awoke, and she saw her husband seated by her side. She said, “I seem to have been on a long journey. Where have you been?” And that man, speaking out of days and weeks and months of patient waiting and watching said, “My sweetheart, I've been right here waiting for you all this time.”
And if you ask me, “Where is God?” the answer is very much the same. He’s right here, right here waiting for you to respond with love to love, waiting for you to respond with trust to promise, waiting for you to cast yourself with a reckless abandon upon the grace of God, and waiting for you to discover what it means to be loved by God.
Love came down for you. So what? Why does this matter today?
(Read 1 John 4:7, 11)
The Apostle John tells us that since God loved us and sent us his Son, we also, like God, ought to love one another.
We Are Called to Love All
God’s love becomes the motivation to love others. Some of you are thinking, Of course we should love others! But it’s not that easy is it? It’s easy for me to say I love everyone but then I gossip about them, assume the worst in them, or refuse to help them, all pointing to the fact that I don’t really love them, no matter what I say or believe. It’s only easy to love people who are lovable. But, it’s much more difficult to love people I don’t really like. Not to mention Jesus said things like, “Love your enemies!”
Christmas is not just a story about God’s love, it’s also about God giving us the power to love others deeply. We need God’s help to love God and love people.
We often don’t get to choose who we love and who we don’t. Some of you are in a hard marriage and it’s painfully difficult to love your spouse right now. Maybe you have a son or a daughter who makes it difficult to love. Some of you are forced to work closely with someone who tests you in every way and the idea of loving them seems ridiculous. Maybe you are dealing with a family member or friend that sucks the life out of you and you want to avoid them.
This is why we need to remember the power of the Christmas story. It’s first a story about God’s love. But it’s also about our love for others.
The Apostle John is saying that once we are immersed and overwhelmed by God’s love, our natural response is to share that love with others. In fact, John says that you will know the difference between a Christian and someone who is not a Christian by looking at how they love others.
When Jesus was asked to boil down the Christian message into one tweet, he said, “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength AND love your neighbor as yourself.” See John knew that you can be Mr. or Mrs. Spiritual here on Sundays and say you love God all day long, but if that love of God does not result in love of people, then it’s religiosity and not following Jesus.
I was reminded about the power of loving all people from a wonderful lady in our church, Maybelle. She has been encouraging me for a long time to join her at the monthly birthday lunch and celebration she holds at the Safe Harbor Homeless Shelter in South City. Finally, I was able to go.
Once a month Maybelle, along with a small team of volunteers both from our church and from the community, put together an incredible brunch for the entire shelter and celebrate anyone who has a birthday that month. Because it was December, Maybelle also managed to get a gift for every resident that wanted one.
Maybelle knows exactly what it is like to be alone and homeless. She was once a resident there herself. Now, she leads a ministry of our church to love everyone in that shelter. She was so happy to have me there that she forced me to pick names out of the hat for the Christmas presents. But, to get the present, she wanted each person to share something about themselves to the whole group. It was beautiful to hear some of the things they all shared.
I’ll never forget what one guy said though. A guy came up, and said something like, “Just a few days ago I was going to throw myself in front of a bus, but something told me not to. Then I found Safe Harbor Shelter. And now I am meeting wonderful people from New North Church that are loving me. Maybe I should consider figuring out the whole God thing?” I was blown away. Here was a guy who wanted to end his life and now he’s seeing a tangible expression of God’s love in bacon, eggs, a gift, and handshake.
As I left, I realized how simple and yet powerful the message of Christmas is. God is love. God showed his love in Jesus. God now calls all his followers to show the world his love. As we love others, we’ll experience God’s love over and over again.
Bob Goff is a New York Time bestselling author of both Love Does and Everybody Always. Listen to what he says,
Jesus talked to His friends a lot about how we should identify ourselves. He said it wouldn’t be what we said, we believed, or all the good we hoped to do someday. Nope, He said we would identify y ourselves simply by how we loved people. It’s tempting to think there is more to it, but there’s not. Love isn’t something we fall into; love is someone we become.
What kind of person are you becoming this Christmas? Who are you becoming? My hope and prayer is that you will sit in the wonder of God’s love for you and it will move you to pour out his love to others around you.
Rob Hall is the Lead Pastor at New North Church, located in the San Francisco Bay Area.