Christmas is definitely a “Gotta Have It” type of holiday. The Christmas story reminds us of a God who was willing to go to all of the trouble of sending his only Son into the world to be our Savior.
And if we really want to appreciate the true meaning of the Christmas story, we also need to keep in mind the bigger story of what God did for us by sending his only Son. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus offers us four eternal gifts that we have been exploring during this Season of Advent. Jesus offers us hope, peace, joy, and love. God went to great lengths to offer us these eternal gifts.
During this holy season, it’s important for us to pause and consider the costly love that God poured out for us by sending us Jesus. In our Gospel reading for today, Joseph is visited by an angel who explains to him that he is to name Mary’s son, “Jesus” for he will save his people from their sins. This costly love led Jesus to go so far as to die on a cross so that we might have the hope, peace, joy, and love, that God intends for us to have.
This is exactly why Mickey Huber, an EMT did what he did so heroically during the recent wildfires that destroyed Paradise, Californi. Those fires the deadliest in state history, and the worst in the U.S. in a century, with 86 persons lost; it spread so fast that the people couldn’t escape it.
A woman 8 months along in a high-risk pregnancy did survive, thanks to fleeing but compassionate neighors, a retired police chief and EMT Mickey Huber. He knew she’d never make it if her contractions continued, so he put together a caravan of emergency vehicles who somehow got her to a hospital where her labor could be stopped, and held her hand all the way.
She lived, the baby was born healthy a month later, and there’s a picture of him holding this new baby, who they named after him, Noele Mickey Skinner. He still has a thousand images of that nightmare fire in his head, all the survivors do, but that desperate mother and the people who risked so much to help her is what stays with him the most.
He got to hold that tiny bundle in his arms when it was all over, and little Noel Mickey will growing up knowing who he is and what he did for Paradise – and for her family.
God’s love is a costly love, a giving love for the sake of others.
God’s love is a “Got to Have It” kind of love. It’s a love that accepts us just as we are. It’s a love that assures us that death is not the end. It’s a love that reminds us that with God, new life can begin. It’s a love that reassures us, especially during the dark times of life. It’s a love that reminds us that we are never alone for God is our Emmanuel, our God who is always with us.
Christmas is about love. The word that the bible uses to describe God’s love is the Greek word, “agape.” Agape love is an unconditional love. It’s a love that is offered with no strings attached. It’s a love that is offered to us regardless of who we are or what we have done.
When we receive the love of Christmas, we can’t help but to want to share this love with the people around us. This love is so wonderful that we just can’t keep it to ourselves.
During this Advent season, we have been focusing on the meaning of each candle around the Advent Wreath. The first candle stands for hope. Hope is what helps us to remember that with God, all things are possible.
The second candle stands for peace. We remember that Christ offers peace to the whole world. Through Christ, we can build bridges with each other and appreciate our many differences.
The third candle, the pink candle is the candle of joy. Joy is what helps us to get through the tough days and the difficult challenges of life. Whenever we begin to wonder if God is really there, that’s when it’s even more important to be alert to those signs posts from God that help us to see God’s presence in the midst of our darkness.
And then there is today’s candle of love. Love is why God sent Jesus to become both fully human as well as fully divine. God was willing to risk everything by sending his only Son because that’s how much he loves us. That’s how much he loves the world. He gave his only Son.
And so all of these candles, the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love are candles that we are called to light and share with others.
Earlier this week, I had a bad dream. It was a strange dream. I was driving my car late at night through a narrow dirt road in a remote area. I was scared, because for some reason, I couldn’t get my headlights to turn on.
I was beginning to panic because I was afraid that I was going off the side of the road and would crash. All of the sudden, I woke up, noticed that my heart was racing, but so thankful that it was only a dream.
That dream has stayed with me this whole week because I’ve been thinking about how important it is for us to have the light we need to see our way forward.
The candles around the Advent Wreath might not seem like they give off that much light during this daylight hour, but just think how dark this sanctuary can be at 2 or 3 in the morning. That’s when we would really notice how much light these candles of hope, peace, joy, and love can provide. That’s why candlelight services on Christmas Eve are always so special. When we lift our small lit candles up into this darkened sanctuary, this place looks so beautiful. Even one candle would easily show up, but when you add all of our candles, I don’t think there is anything more beautiful to see.
The candles around the Advent Wreath might not seem like they give off that much light during this daylight hour, but just think how dark this sanctuary can be at 2 or 3 in the morning. That’s when we would really notice how much light these candles of hope, peace, joy, and love can provide.
That’s why candlelight services on Christmas Eve are always so special. When we lift our small lit candles up into this darkened sanctuary, this place looks so beautiful. Even one candle would easily show up, but when you add all of our candles, I don’t think there is anything more beautiful to see.
This is why our Advent theme has been “Light the Candle.” When we shine even a little bit of God’s hope, peace, joy, and love, it can make a huge difference in our homes, in our community, and even beyond.
In our Romans scripture this morning, the Apostle Paul explains that he has been called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel, the good news of God, concerning his Son, Jesus. Why would a small group of people located on a tiny sliver of land in the Middle East even think about risking their lives to share the good news of Jesus with the wider world?
It was because this news was too good to keep to themselves. This news was so good that they just had to share it with everyone around them. God’s love becomes more special to us when we share it with others.
In a world that would have us believe that the true meaning of this season is “What’s in it for me?” our scripture readings remind us that the true gift of Christmas is when we share the gift of God’s Son with others. That’s what brings us the most joy and happiness. A “Gotta Have It” kind of Christmas love is a love that is always meant to be shared with others.
Every year, pastors meet with the District Superintendent to go over our annual evaluation. In one of the districts I was serving, I was meeting with my District Superintendent and in the course of my evaluation she said to me, “I don’t think you know this, but my husband and I visited your church for worship not too long ago.”
Now, when pastors hear that, we panic and we just hope and pray that it was one of our better Sundays.” And then she told me which Sunday it was.
Of all the luck, she came during one of our lowest attendance Sundays because it was in the middle of the summer and then there were a lot of people who were on vacation including myself and only one person from our praise band was there. The air conditioner had broken down earlier that week so it was uncomfortably hot in the church that day. It was also a Sunday where a couple of people became ill during the services that Sunday which brought in the emergency squads during worship.
And so I said to her with a bit of a shaky voice, “Oh, you came on that Sunday.” I braced myself for what she was going to say next.
And here is what she said about her experience at our church that Sunday morning. She said, “We weren’t really that familiar with the church but when we got to the door, someone was there to greet us and welcome us with a smile. The person introduced himself to us and asked if we were new to the church. When we said that we were visiting, he invited us to pick up a gift at the information desk in the parlor and said that they would be able to answer any questions about our church.”
“When the person fainted during the service, one of your members immediately jumped out of the pew to be of assistance and helped care for this situation in a loving way. And during this whole time, the person you had leading the service, was calm and invited the congregation to be in prayer for this person. It was all handled very well. I just want you to know that we were really impressed with your congregation.”
Inside, I was saying, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus!”
Friends, thank you for being a church that welcomes people even though things might not go as planned on Sunday mornings. Thank you for being a church of hospitality. And thank you for being a congregation that doesn’t want to just keep the love of Christ to yourself, but you also want to share it with others. Thank you for being that kind of congregation even if the sermon is below average and the coffee maker is broken.
Christmas is a “Gotta Have It” kind of love. It’s a love that led God to send us his only Son to free us from our sins and offer us the wonderful light of hope, peace, joy, and love.
And when we can’t help but to share these gifts with others, that’s when we truly know that we have received them as well.
Light the Candle of Love!
Sermon Discussion Questions
Romans 1:1-7 & Matthew 1:18-25
December 23, 2018
The 4th and final candle of the Advent season reminds us to receive the gift of love this Christmas. The Greek word for love is agape which means an unconditional and no strings attached kind of love. It’s a love that motivated the Apostle Paul to become an apostle and share this love to as many places and people possible.
Share a time when you felt led to share God’s agape love with someone. When has someone shared God’s agape love with you?
During these four weeks of Advent, we have been encouraged to do some “fridge journaling” where we keep a notepad next to the refrigerator and each day write down how God has helped us get through a difficult and challenging time in our lives.
Share one of those times when God helped you through a challenging situation in your life.
During our Advent series, we have looked at the importance of receiving hope, peace, joy, and love.
Which of these gifts stands out to you the most especially with Christmas just a day or two away? How will you receive this gift anew and how might you share it with others?