Hello! Merry Christmas! Here is this week’s Living Water! It’s a remix of Sunday’s message. Please remember to listen to Walk With Me, Wednesday night, 8 pm on yfnradio.com. And if you’re in the North Jersey area, please join us on Christmas Eve, 5:30 pm at First Reformed Church of Saddle Brook. Blessings, Christopher
An Uncommon Love
So I typed “the need to be loved” into Google and it registered 362 million results. Not surprising right?
Just a quick survey of conversations with family and friends as well as today’s popular songs, television shows, movies and books reveals that many of them revolve around this quest to love and be loved.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. To love and be loved, well, those are good things. It’s the kind of loving though that is presented through these media and more importantly, the loving that many of us experience in life that is concerning. Because with reality and in media, we don’t often see loving that is healthy, life-giving and whole. And yet it is driving a significant amount of behavior and decision-making – ranging from well-intentioned to foolish to destructive to even worse.
Unfortunately, much of the love we experience and witness is based on appearances and surface, self-serving, often manipulative, convenient, and safe; in other words not really love at all. In addition, what adds to fuel to the fire with all of this is the strong connection between self-worth and loving.
And yet, at the heart of all the sentimentality of Christmas is a great, wonderful, powerful, transforming truth: God’s uncommon love is made visible in the birth of Christ. Let me show you…
This uncommon love has four characteristics. First, it’s a faithful and promised love. It’s hard to find good examples of faithfulness and kept promises today. When Jesus was born, it was the fulfillment of a promise God had made to His people, that their redemption, the whole world’s redemption would come through David’s lineage. “I will maintain my love to him (the promised descendant of David – Christ) forever, and my covenant with him will never fail (Psalm 89:28).” When Jesus was born that never failing love was nearer than ever before and remains as close and promised today for us through the new covenant in His blood and through the Holy Spirit.
The second characteristic of God’s uncommon love is that it is unconditional – meaning there it is a free gift – we don’t earn it, keep it or remove it. Why? Because God loves us uncommonly because it is about Him; it’s His character. Much of the love we experience is based on our behavior, expectations, agendas and more. That’s not God’s love. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10).” God’s love as made visible in the birth of Christ was about Him and was His initiative. In our lives today, He loves us…just because. Unconditional love is so liberating – it frees us from who were were, from the past, it upholds us in the present and allows us to step confidently into the future.
The third characteristic of this uncommon love is that it is sacrificial. Loving sacrificially is not too popular today. We want to love and be loved…conveniently, safely and without any pain. That usually doesn’t work out anyway. But God’s love in Christ is very different. “Who, being in very nature, God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness…(Philippians 2:6-7).” He was and is the Son of God and He completely condescends to us – Creator taking the form of one of His creations – to live, suffer, die and be raised for us – out of love. It wasn’t a mistake or random event that He came here. There is truly nothing like this.
Finally, the fourth characteristic of God’s uncommon love is that it is daring. Jesus coming into this world as a human, as a child – think of the vulnerability, the risk. This is what moves us we about romantic love – a hero or heroine risks and dares to love when it doesn’t make sense, in ways that do not make sense or are unconventional. As well, Jesus enters this world not just as a vulnerable child – God dwelling in the flesh, so close, but then He dares to and actually does reach and transform human hearts, while at the same time challenging the religious establishment and turning social conventions upside down. He loved and still does love the unlovable among us and sheds His grace upon our unlovable characteristics – this is a daring, risky, nonsensical love – but it’s true and it’s ours.
You’ve heard Garth Brooks, Adele and others sing this song. I ask you to listen to it as if it were coming from Jesus, “When the evening shadows and the stars appear and there is no one there to dry your tears, I could hold you for a million years to make you feel my love…I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue, I’d go crawling down the avenue, know there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to make you feel my love…Go to the ends of the earth for you, to make you feel my love.” This song echoes all of these God love characteristics. When you think about all of these together – faithful, unconditional, sacrificial, and daring – this uncommon love of God is, for many of us, barely believable – too good to be true. It’s inspiring and breathtaking and adds such meaning to what Christmas is really about: the revelation of God’s love in Christ – powerful, transforming, healing and ultimately saving…in other words, a miracle, a visible demonstration of God’s love and power.
It’s the love you’ve been searching for, the love of which you’ve dreamed, the love you’ve been thirsting for…and it’s the love that doesn’t have to be sought after or found; it finds us…it has found us – that’s the baby in the manger! Please hear me today. Loving and being loved never should have been and no longer has to be a distorted, fearful, manipulated, or pretentious experience. Oh, when we awaken to find and behold the gift of God’s uncommon love for us in our hearts and lives – it’s better than even the best Christmas morning gift opening! Then all the fear and self-serving and confusion can disappear as fast as the wrapping gets torn off presents. And then when you and I, depending on God, start to try to love others in these ways – loving spouses, children, family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, fellow church members, everyone faithfully, unconditionally, sacrificially and daringly…what’s possible is this amazing, uncommon love of God becoming more and more visible so that while it may not be a baby in a manger or a man on a cross or an empty tomb; but it will still be His body. Christ in and through you and I – loving, reaching, restoring, liberating, lifting up, and embracing right here, right now for all the world to see and know.
May the gift and miracle of God’s uncommon love truly become yours this Christmas.
Rev. Christopher B. Wolf
Christopher B. Wolf is the author of Giving Faith a Second Chance: Restarts, Mulligans and Do-Overs (2007) and With You Every Step of the Way (September, 2011); and the host of Walk With Me, Wednesdays 8 pm on WYFN 94.9 FM-NY and on www.yfnradio.com.
“It is a matter of sharing and bearing the pain and puzzlement of the world so that the crucified love of God in Christ may be brought to bear healingly upon the world at exactly that point.” N.T. Wright