Love Came Down at Christmas, part 3
Jan 05, 2020
Today we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord, a festival of the church that actually is tomorrow, January 6. Epiphany means “the manifestation of God,”; so today we celebrate the manifestation of God in Jesus. And, we are reminded that this revelation of God’s love in Jesus is not just for the Jews, but also for people of other nations and even other religions, a reality made clear in the Magi of today’s account.
During this Christmas season, it’s becoming more and more clear what it means that love came down on Christmas. That’s not the garden-variety infatuation, but sacrificial, unshakable love. It’s love that in some mysterious way beckoned Zoroastrian priests, who paid particular attention to stars and read messages in the night skies, to leave their home in Persia and seek out a new King of the Jews. Love directs them to a poor child named Jesus, but the Magi view him as royalty and honor him and his parents with expensive gifts. Then, led by love, they go home by an alternate route and bypass making a report to King Herod, who knows nothing about love but only deals in cruelty. The Magi then proclaim the love they experienced far and wide.
Decades later, in a letter to a church in conflict, the Apostle Paul wrote about the love revealed in the stories we’ve shared this Christmas season. First Corinthians 13, which happens to have 13 verses, is called “the love chapter.” In the first three verses, our focus on Christmas Eve, Paul describes the primacy of love; love is the value-giver to all we do or say.
Spiritual gifts are great, sharing our talents and sacrificing our possessions or even ourselves can be a blessing, but if doing so is not motivated by love, people and their gifts amount to nothing, Paul writes.
The Church in Corinth needed to hear this because many of them had spiritual gifts, but instead of using them to praise God and serve others, that is, to love sacrificially, their gifts were status symbols, ways to elevate some Christians over others. They are lacking love.
So, Paul, wanting them to understand what love is, continues his letter and describes how sacrificial love looks and acts, which is a fairly reliable gauge of who is striving to follow Jesus and who may say they are but are falling way short. For example, is he or she focused on being patient and kind; do they reject being arrogant and rude? Those are the marks of love and discipleship.
Then, we come to verses 8-13 of Paul’s letter, which begins by stating the reality that love never ends. Spiritual gifts will end; they are secondary; love is primary. Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, who wrote the book, Love Came Down at Christmas, writes that when Paul says love does not end, he uses a Greek verb that means to slip or to fall. Love does not slip and fall. It is steady and reliable. It endures.
In contrast, all that we have, know, can do will end, will slip away, will fail. No matter how important it seems to us, it’s imperfect, especially when compared to the perfect love that came down in Jesus.
That seems obvious, we may say, but Paul notes that he is writing to people who are spiritually immature; they are enamored with spiritual gifts (with what they know and can do). He’s telling them to grow up.
They, and all of us, see God’s will and way dimly, unclearly. The arrival of Jesus clears our vision some; he helps us to grasp the significance of love. But, one day, it will become totally clear as we see Jesus face to face. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know only in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Did you catch that? We are fully known and yet are loved. Faith and hope are vital, but love is the greatest fruit of the Spirit.
The way to make Jesus known is the way of love. Commentator Stan Mast tells a story about visiting a church in Cuba, which, amazingly, was thriving under Castro’s nose. They had just built a beautiful church building, and as the group toured it with the pastor, someone asked if the building would attract people to the faith. The pastor responded, “No. It might get them here once or twice. But they won’t come to Christ because of this building.” So, someone asked if the preaching of Christ would do it. He said, “No, even that won’t do it. They won’t believe unless we show them love.”
And, indeed, it was true. That little group of poor Christians loved their community. They had an out-sized impact on their town because they fed the poor, gave medicine to the clinic, visited the sick, helped educate the children, and did countless small acts of kindness to the non-Christians. (2)
When Paul introduced his chapter on love, it was with these words: “And I will show you a still more excellent way.” That way is what was happening in that Cuban town; the way of love.
Love came down at Christmas. Love guided the Magi to Jesus. Love does not slip away, but endures; it never ends. Listen to this poem by John Donne:
Never forget, the Son of God, Jesus, was born for us in order to die for us. That’s love, the love that came down at Christmas. AMEN