In this the second week of Advent our reflection topic is love. So much of the time when we hear the word love ideas of romance or puppy love take over our thoughts. And while that is one kind of love, the love we focus on in Advent is even more grand. Word studies on love abound in Christendom, we preachers love to teach and preach on love quite a bit, and we should. Love is, after all, the reason for our creation, the reason Christ came. Love is the reason for Christmas.That being said, love has to be a part of the Christmas conversation. To talk about God without talking about love is presenting only half the picture, to talk about love without talking about God tells only half the story.
Traditionally Christians have used gift giving as a way to symbolically share their love for each other just as the Magi did when they gave the Christ child their gifts. But maybe we have put too much emphasis on gifts. Each year Americans spend, spend, spend (to the tune of $450 billion) for Christmas presents. Considering that $450 billion is almost two and a half times the Gross Domestic Product of the State of Missouri, that’s a lot of love... or is it?
How many of the gifts you or your children received last Christmas played a significant role in your life in the last month? I really loved those gift cards I received, I bought a kayak paddle... I don’t own a kayak yet but when I do get one I have the paddle. My kids can’t remember the gifts they got for Christmas (sorry Grandma’s) but I seem to recall they had the most fun with the cardboard box those forgotten gifts came in.
Of course getting presents is always exciting, I like getting them and watching others enjoy the gifts I give. But as I grow older I am finding out that the old cliche is true, it is more blessed to give than to receive. What I am also finding to be true is that the things that I hold to be most dear in life aren’t material at all. They are friendships, memories, and the common bonds we share of son or daughter, husband or wife, father or mother. These gifts are relational at their core, the reason that these hold the highest value in our life is because we were created as relational beings. Maybe that is why Jesus said:
John 13:34-35 - “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Love is a great gift, but it's hard to wrap in a nice little package. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. One of the great aspects of the Advent season is that we are reminded in our reflections to slow down and take time. Maybe some of that time can be spent building those relationships that we so deeply want to honor by playing games, baking cookies, singing Christmas songs, or even watching those classic Christmas movies that seem to dominate TV at night. But don’t stop there, focus a little love in your gift selection too.
One of our family’s favorite Christmas traditions is picking out gifts from the World Vision Gift Catalog. It is fun to imagine a little child in a third world country receiving a bunch of chickens or a goat because my little ones thought that would be a cool gift to give. There are many such giving opportunities that can make a lasting impact not only on a stranger in a far away land, but they can make an impact in your home as well when we give those gifts intentionally. A great way to do that is through prayer, asking God to guide your decision making process. Loving this way has a transformative power associated with it, and we all need it's ongoing transformation. Arthur W. Pink wrote this about love:
“Not only do we need to get our love firmly rooted and steadily increased, but it also needs to be continually exercised. All religion is in effect love. Faith is thankful acceptance, and thankfulness is an expression of love. Repentance is love mourning. Yearning for holiness is love seeking. Obedience is love pleasing. Self-denial is the mortification of self-love. Sobriety is the curtailing of carnal love. If love is not activated and kept working, it will atrophy. The affections of man cannot be idle; if they do not go out to God, they leak out to worldly things. When our love for God decreases, the love of the world grows in our soul. Love’s constraining influence keeps us from living to and for ourselves.”
Love is powerful and when we practice it in tangible ways the impact is great. I have included some links to this article on how to help grow generosity in your children at Christmas as well as to the World Vision Gift Catalog. Our church is also raising money for the Haiti Water Project. There is literally no end to the good we could do for so many during this season. So I ask you to take some time to ask God to guide your giving, spending, and shopping this Christmas. How far can your love go? Love was the great gift of Christmas. Love is still the great gift of Christmas. Spend Less. (on junk) Give generously. (out of love)
Grace and Peace,