Arise! Shine! Your light has come;
the Lord’s glory has shone upon you.
2 Though darkness covers the earth
and gloom the nations,
the Lord will shine upon you;
God’s glory will appear over you.
3 Nations will come to your light
and kings to your dawning radiance.
4 Lift up your eyes and look all around:
they are all gathered; they have come to you.
Your sons will come from far away,
and your daughters on caregivers’ hips.
5 Then you will see and be radiant;
your heart will tremble and open wide,
because the sea’s abundance will be turned over to you;
the nations’ wealth will come to you.
6 Countless camels will cover your land,
young camels from Midian and Ephah.
They will all come from Sheba,
carrying gold and incense,
proclaiming the Lord’s praises.
We light the fourth candle this week in our Advent Wreath. It is the candle of love as Mark and Joni shared with us. Recently I found a wonderful Mnemonic for the word LOVE:
L – listening when another is speaking
O – overlooking petty faults and forgiving all failures
V – valuing other people for who they are
E – expressing love in a practical way
But, oh how true that is. Janna and I met on October 3, 1997 at a friend’s house where we were both invited for dinner. We were both determined to take it slow. Fast forward (just a little) to December 20, 1997. We were sitting in my living room in Pueblo, when I said to Janna, “I can’t believe how much I can love you in such a short time.” In large part this rapid blossoming of love relates to the mnemonic. Janna was not just interested in being loved, but by loving me. Our relationship was mutual. We cared for each other, cared about each other. Love: the greatest gift!
The letters in the New Testament always had a purpose. The letter of 1 John was intended to solidify central themes of Christian theology in a community of believers where there were differences of opinion. The primary themes were: Incarnation, that is Jesus’ full humanity; sin and confession of sin; and forgiveness because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. These themes were essential to a full belief in Christ. Additionally, all this is all wrapped in the theme of love. In the New Testament love is mentioned in 228 verses. In the Gospel of John, which is naturally closely related to the letters, there are 40 verses in 21 chapters that speak about love. What is amazing is that in 1 John there are 25 verses in 5 short chapters including 45 references to love in those 25 verses. WOW! A good grounding in theology needs to be wrapped in love.
All this points to a dual trajectory in 1 John as well as in our passage. Frist, it is God’s love revealed to and for us. 1 John 4:9 says, “This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him.” Incarnation. Love is the Greatest Gift from God to us. Salvation is sent to us because he loved us so much! He understands what we are going through, and we know it because he was one of us – flesh and blood. He was indeed Emmanuel, God with us.
But there is a second trajectory. Love is the greatest gift we can give. First, we give love to God – our life, our love, our will, our actions. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength.” – this was the Great Commandment from Jesus, as well as the Old Testament Shema which was so important to the people of God, the Israelites. It had been their rock of belief – love God with all that you are.
Here is where 1 John presses us. God’s greatest gift to us – Love - needs a response. Yes, we are to love God who loved us first. BUT, additionally, we are to be God’s love poured out for others. We show our love for God by allowing God’s love to take root in us and emanate from us to others. Again, love is one of those fruits of the Spirit and is the first mentioned in that list in Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace … .”
“But how” is the first question that come to my mind. It starts with 1 John 4:19, “We love because God first loved us.” Notice how Jesus put it in the Gospel of John 13:34 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The key is becoming a conduit or pipeline for God’s love. God’s love flows into us and then through us to others.
Peter was famous for asking the questions that others had but were reluctant to ask. At one point Peter asked, “How many times should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Peter though that would be a rather extravagant gift of forgiveness. Jesus counters by saying, “Seventy times seven!” Remember, this is a reference to the perfection of the number seven. For me, this begs the question, ‘How far should our love go?’ To what extent do we press our love for God and our love for others? In 1 John 3:16 it says, “This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” If we are to love because we are loved, this should be the extent of that love. Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Our love needs to be as radical as God’s love for us – powered by that very love. Will we be perfect? No. But, when we allow God’s love to flow through us the power of that love will belong to God.
John Henry Jowett put it like this: “There is love whose measure is that of an umbrella. There is love whose inclusiveness is that of a great marquee. And there is love whose comprehension is that of the immeasurable sky. The aim of the New Testament is the conversion of the umbrella to a tent and the merging of the tent into the glorious canopy of the all-enfolding heavens … Push back the walls of family love until they include neighbor; again, push back the walls until they include the stranger; again, push back the walls until they comprehend the foe.” That kind of expanding love is the result of God’s love for us. We didn’t deserve it. God just gave it. When we receive it, love becomes the greatest gift we can receive. When we give it, letting it flow through us, it becomes the greatest gift we can give.
There is a story told of Oscar Hammerstein’s handwritten note. He had just been diagnosed with colon cancer and could not attend the opening of “The Sound of Music” on Broadway. He sent a note that was handed to the leading lady, one Mary Martin, that said, “A bell’s not a bell ‘till you ring it. A song’s not a song ‘till you sing it. Love in your heart is not put there to stay. Love isn’t love ‘till you give it away.” In so many ways this speaks to the essence of 1 John.
So … let’s ask ourselves some questions. ‘How am I being God’s love for others? What is one thing I can do this week to show God’s love to another?’ I pray that the love that was sent to earth on Christmas has taken root in your life, and that it is producing fruit in your life, extending out to all the world around you.
Pastor Paul Grossman