John 1:1-5, 9-12
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being 4 through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.
9 The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world. 10 The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light. 11 The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him. 12 But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children, …”
In this last week of 2019 I wonder if you would indulge me a bit? I want us to sing “Jesus Loves Me”. “Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.” Isn’t it interesting that the most profound theological concept is summed up best in a Sunday School song? That same concept is more eloquently stated in John 3:16 – probably the most recognizable and memorized scripture in the New Testament. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Yet with this amazing fact in front of us, we often struggle with a sense of unworthiness – either on our own or in comparison to others. It is this very sense of unworthiness that stands between us and the life that God has designed for us.
“Before we can love like Jesus, walk in the humility of Jesus, practice the servant lifestyle of Jesus, or say our big “yes” of obedience to Jesus, we must accept the full significance of God’s love. We must allow ourselves to be loved, so that, in turn, we will find ourselves compelled to do love. We must unwrap the greatest gift ever given by our down-to-earth God, accept it for ourselves, and then extend it through Christ to others.” [Mike Slaughter]
What would you say we need most in life? In preparation for the “Down to Earth” series, Ginghamsburg sent out folks for Man-on-the-street interviews. What came back most often as our greatest need was money. As if money could bring happiness or fulfillment … . It is interesting that God didn’t send an economist. Demographic studies that were done in Dayton, Ohio pointed to leisure, recreation and entertainment as the greatest needs in the area. As if leisure, recreation and entertainment would solve the inner needs of people. Again, isn’t it interesting that God didn’t send an entertainer down to earth. Many would say that Education is our most critical need. As if learning more would satisfy that deep inner longing. On a practical level, if we were practicing what we already know it would make a huge difference. God didn’t send a motivational speaker or teacher. Truly, God sent a Savior! The single greatest need we have is God!
Think about it. Do you recall the account in John’s Gospel of the resurrection? Mary has gone to the garden tomb that resurrection morning. Finding the stone rolled away from the tomb where they had laid the dead body of Jesus, she was crying. Before she recognized Jesus, he asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” NOTE that he didn’t ask “what are you looking for?”
Jesus came as the Messiah to restore right relationships – the relationship between ourselves and God and the relationships we have with other human beings. Jesus came to show us how to be loved and how to love.
What blocks us from receiving God’s pure, unbounded love? More than anything else it is our own self-esteem. Then image we hold of ourselves. Truly that image is forged in childhood. The nurture of a parent or other adult can give us a great sense of security and well-being. Likewise, many children develop a poor self-esteem through the negative influence of an adult in their life. Peers can likewise affect how we see ourselves. As a first-year teacher of mathematics in the public school system, I was given the “basic skills” math classes. These were the ones who don’t get it, never were expected to get it. I found it interesting that they would give this group to a first-year teacher – still wet behind the ears. Why wouldn’t they give this group to the most gifted and experienced teacher? These students were labeled, and I doubt that they ever outgrew that label. Have you been labeled in some way? Have you found yourself limited by the opinions of others? “You are such a klutz.” “Not the sharpest pencil in the drawer, are you?” My sixth-grade teacher decided that the best way to motivate me was to read my grade aloud to the class. She recommended me for “basic skills math” in seventh grade. I ended up in advanced math before the first semester was over. In High School I was told by the guidance counselor that I was not college material. These self-images can really limit us if we are not able to outgrow them.
God’s gift at Christmas is to extend love to humanity. “But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children…” [vs. 12] The New Revised Standard Version says God gave us “the power” to become children of God. Christmas truly is God pursuing us! “Jesus came to down to earth to empower us with all the rights, blessings, and responsibilities of what it means to be God’s children. To transform us from a fear-based life to a confident, love-filled life.”
The biggest issue is that we have to accept it and make it our own. Salvation is the process of repenting, believing, and receiving. To repent is not to fix all our broken ways but to turn toward God. We do not have to be perfect before God will accept us and adopt us as hist children. Recall the story of the prodigal son. The son, when he realized the mess he had made of his life, turned back to his father. He didn’t have it all together yet. He was still rehearsing his speech as he went back. The father (God), however, didn’t wait for the explanation. He just welcomed the prodigal with open arms. He called for a party! Repent. Then we have to believe “Jesus loves me!” We are told over and over again in the scripture about God’s love for us. We are told about God’s extraordinary measures to redeem humankind. Our head has got to believe. But then we have to receive God’s love. You may feel unworthy, but Jesus says, “Who cares? I AM!” The “down to earth” God gives love – we just have to receive it. We are God’s children, and he loves us!
Being loved positions us to do love. Look around us. Our current world seems so broken. We are surrounded by mean-spirited politics. We are constantly assailed by the gods of consumerism. Reading or watching the news we are bombarded almost daily with terrorist attacks and violence. Sometimes we just want to fight back – “give ‘em what’s comin’ to ‘em.” If they are going to be vicious, we’ll just be vicious right back. In our struggle to understand our world and the deep needs of humanity, we need to understand the nature of the real enemy. One lasting learning from our study on the Armor Of God came in Ephesians 6:12, where we are reminded of the enemy’s true identity. “We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.” These very enemies can feed in us a selfish nature and keep us from receiving God’s amazing love. That will keep us from being bearers of the Good News in Jesus Christ.
We become vulnerable to the attacks of evil when we are spiritually complacent. Back in 1964 General Omar Bradley said, “Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace; more about killing than we know about living. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and have rejected the Sermon on the Mount.” A teacher knows that they need to be intentional about keeping their skills sharp in order to meet the challenges of inspiring young minds to grow. An athlete knows that it is through hard work and practice that they stay on top of their game. A Christian knows that in order to fully live they must continually feed their faith. As long as we point our lives toward God, God is faithful to strengthen us for every good work. It is God who works in us.
We have confidence in God come down-to-earth in Jesus Christ. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.” – Jn. 1:5. The victory has already been won. We have to claim it and live it. Jesus said in John 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” And again, in John 16:33, “I’ve said thes We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. e things to you so that you will have peace in me. In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.” With that kind of confidence, we can truly love with all of God’s love. We can love the unlovable. We can be a beacon of light and love in a darkened world. We do that by living the love we’ve been given and introducing others to the amazing love of God, who came down to earth at Christmas. BE LOVED. DO LOVE. It is God’s gift to the world.
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Pastor Paul Grossman