Good morning everyone, and blessings on this the fourth Sunday of Advent. This is the Advent of love. May the love of the Lord be yours to shared with others this week and in the weeks to come.
A short video featuring the lighting of this fourth candle of Advent with associated readings by Beverly Mount Pleasant and Linda Lewis, accompanied by Pastor Bob Muir is given below. Click on the link to view.
LOVE IS OF GOD – 4TH CANDLE OF ADVENT
The four Sundays preceding Christmas day are termed the season of Advent and are accompanied by the lighting of candles, one for each Sunday. These candles remind us of four attributes of God we celebrate during our anticipation of Christ’s coming: his first coming for Christmas and his long anticipated second coming. As a summary, these candles represent Hope, week one, Peace, week two, Joy, week three, and this Sunday the forth candle, the candle of Love. Also, during this fourth week of Love, many churches light the ‘Christ candle,’ on Christmas Eve. This fifth candle represents Christ and it is placed in the center of the Advent Wreath signifying that Christ is indeed the center of our faith. Also the four Sunday celebrations signify the following: Week One – Hope – concerns the prophecies about the coming Messiah, week two – Peace – the place of Jesus’ birth, Bethlehem, week three – Joy – the shepherds who came to see Jesus, and week four – Love – the angels proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ birth.
Accompanying the candle lighting there are also specific Bible readings associated with each Advent theme. These can be reviewed by the reader by referring to the short videos that were supplied with the previous three Sunday messages.
Love – Advent Four
We know the story – at least we think we do. We’ve heard it over and over again, every Christmas season since we first learned to walk. Pastors have preached it, authors have penned it, singers have sung of it. Every Christmas season the words go forth carried by a variety of methods and modes until many of us have become insulated and vaccinated against the words taking root much as our immune systems guard us against unwanted invasions. “Yeah, I’ve heard it all before, I wonder what time the game is on TV?”
The mystery of God has been wrapped up like so many plastic Christmas toys, and set aside. The awe of God has been shrugged off as so much superstition. The fear of the Lord has been declared nonsensical. Bethlehem does not now even belong to the Jewish people, let alone to any of us. And most don’t own Bethlehem and its story anymore than they own the gift that it offers. You see, the love the world presents is a far cry from what love truly is. And the love OF the world has become a god worthy of worship. Our malls refuse to play the true Christmas carols, and echo instead with the irrelevant and irreverent jingles that set my teeth on edge. So, what is love? More songs, and stories, poems and novels have been penned giving opinion but only one tome carries the true definition – the Bible. Consider the following. 1 John 4:7-8
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that loves not knows not God; for God is love.”
This passage is truly amazing! It says, in fact, that true love is an attribute of the Living God. And not only an attribute of the Living God but also true love is “of God” meaning that it has its origin in God and comes (‘ek’) out of God. Everyone who is born of God – undergone the born-again-new-birth – has this love within them. And having this love within them they thereby “know God” experientially! Any who do not know God in this intimate manner can therefore never express this level of love because they know not God who is love.
So, let us not be surprised when the world does not love us. Let me draw your attention to the entire section of 1 John 4 from verses 7 through to the end.
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that loves not knows not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwells in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby we know that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he has given us his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him, and he in God. And we do know and believe the love that God has toward us. God is love; and he that dwells in love, dwells in God, and God in him. Hereby is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love. We love him because he first loved us. If a man says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment have we from him, ‘That he who loves God love his brother also.’”
The passage begins by addressing its message to the “beloved.” It’s a personalized letter to the church: to all born again believers, who possess the Spirit of the Living God. It is not addressed to the world, for the world resides in darkness still and cannot therefore understand the love spoken of here. As mentioned earlier, God is love and to know this kind of love requires that one know God. This occurs through the new birth that when one is born again they become possessors of His love. The passage continues to reveal to us that love is not just a feeling or emotion but it is actually an action! We are told that God demonstrated His love by doing something.
“In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him.”
The sending of His Son was an act of His love. The expressed manifestation of God’s love was for the purpose of saving us and giving to us new life. This Scripture goes on to add further detail to this Heavenly, Holy love.
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
True love can never be initiated in our flesh – it is initiated by God. God first loved us, then demonstrated His love for us through action, then planted this self-same love within each believer by His Holy Spirit. Listen to Romans 5:8.
“But God commended [to set in place] His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
Notice that love initiates with God and not with us. God commended His love towards us. Commended how? He ‘set in place’ His Son upon the cross to be the propitiation [the means for appeasing] for our sins. We also learn that God’s love requires a response.
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”
So, here’s the rub. But remember we are not responding with fleshy love, for we are now possessors of His true love. Therefore we have been equipped to express this gift of heavenly love with others. In fact in the final verse of the given passage God commands us to love one another.
“And this commandment have we from him, ‘That he who loves God love his brother also.’”
God has equipped us to be able to fulfil this commandment. Do you recall Jesus’ words to the people in Matthew 22:36-40?
“Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou shall love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself.’”
The listeners would have found His answer absolutely impossible to fulfil! As would the world today. But those of us who are part of the beloved, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit (Romans 8:1), can and do in fact have this fulfilled for us by the indwelling Spirit. Is not this heavenly love part of the packaged fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22)?
This love we celebrate during Advent not only requires a response, it also entails a cost and a consequence. One’s response needs be as outlined above.
“Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him, and he in God. And we do know and believe the love that God has toward us. God is love; and he that dwells in love, dwells in God, and God in him.”
Our response begins with our becoming a part of the beloved. This gives us access to the gift of the Holy Spirit and with Him the fruit of the Spirit – love. And this access to membership in His family is accomplished through confession. Romans 10:9
“That if you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus Christ, and will believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Besides a needed response and a confession there are also blessed consequences.
“Hereby is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is so are we in this world.”
Our love is now made perfect, because He is perfect. And as a result we can have boldness (confidence, assurance) on the day of judgment. Because, as we read in Romans 8:1:
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.”
This is our confidence – a consequence – of being in Christ Jesus and being recipients of His Spirit and His love.
However, as good as all this sounds there is also a cost. To express God’s love calls for a response – a confession, resulting in consequences, but there is also a cost.
“For Christ also once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18)
God’s love cost Him mightily. Christ’s love cost Him greatly. We can never fully comprehend what the separation between Father and Son during the hours of the cross cost each of them. Love costs! Christ was put to death “in the flesh.” So, what cost to us? What cost to us in expressing and demonstrating this heavenly love to a lost, darkened world? What cost in loving our brothers and sisters? We have Christ as our example. As He died in the flesh so must we. We are called to work out what God has worked in us. And the place we must start is within the beloved – with our brothers and sisters.
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”
“And this commandment have we from him, ‘That he who loves God love his brother also.’”
We do this in much the same manner as did Christ – we die to the flesh.
“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and the lusts.” Galatians 5:24.
We are called to reckon this as so, but there always remains a choice to be taken on a daily basis. Paul termed this the “putting on” and the “putting off.” (Gal. 3:27; Eph. 4:24; 6:11; Col. 3:10, 12,14)
So, how do we express this love to one another? 1 Cor. 13 beginning at verse 4 guides us. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (NIV)
The candle of love reminds us of the love of God – that God is love – and that this love is given to the beloved. Given to those of us who are called after His name. This is certainly cause for celebration! And this love of God was demonstrated by the “putting in place” of His Son upon a lonely cross. The Father took the initiative to express love. Jesus did not wait for another to bridge the gap of hostility – He “first loved us.” And the love which we have been given is not solely to warm us as we huddle about an Advent candle, but is given to us, in all its fullness, so that we can give it to others. Christ loved us first, and so must we first love our enemy; Christ died in the flesh and so must we die to the flesh. Remember if you will this Advent season the three “c’s” mentioned here: God’s love calls for a confession, God’s love carries consequences, and with God’s love there is always a cost. But as Paul once said in Philippians 3: 7-8,
“But what things were gain to me, [in his flesh] those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and to count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”
You see, Paul knew that everything he once held so dear in his flesh was all worthless. In this statement of his he confesses his Lord, and accepts the cost upon himself, yet, oh such a consequence – gaining the excellency of knowing Christ!
Let us love this season as Christ loves – as the Father loves. A simple whispered prayer may help at those moments when we are confronted by the unlovable. “Father help me to see her as you see her; Father help me to love him as you love him.”
Let us this Advent season strive to love as we have been loved of Him. Let us love the unlovable. Let us even love the one across the aisle or in the next pew; the one in the next church or the one at the coffee shop. The new year approaches let our new birth flourish. Let’s throw caution to the wind and dare to love each other. Let us be willing, as did Christ, to lay down our lives for our friends. Amen.
Heavenly Father, the whole meaning of Christmas can be explained in one little four-letter word…LOVE. You sent your gift of pure love to us that first Christmas. Love descended from heaven to be born of a virgin. Love lay in the scratchy hay of a manger in a meager barn in Bethlehem. All of your love, God, was robed in the delicate skin of a baby and wrapped in swaddling clothes. This final week of Advent helps us to reflect on the magnitude of love that was made manifest in Jesus.
You are King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Messiah, and Ruler of All, yet you came not as a lion but as a lamb. You came as an innocent baby whose purpose was to walk this earth in complete love and then to sacrificially give your life as an atonement for the sins of your children. Emmanuel. God with us. Love in the form of a man.
There is no greater gift than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends. You willingly gave the gift of your life because of your love. Your righteous blood covered our sin. You redeem and restore us when we confess you as Lord and Savior of our life. In that moment, you give us the gift of your love for all eternity. We receive grace upon grace and mercy upon mercy in that moment.
The greatest gift of all came that first Christmas. It wasn’t wrapped in a beautiful package and set under a decorated tree. The greatest gift came wrapped in the flesh of baby Jesus and laid in the rough wood of a manger. Our perfect gift would later be rewrapped in the scars of our sin and nailed to the rugged wood of a cross on Calvary, all because of love.
Father, this final week of Advent, fill our hearts and minds with the significance of that truth. Thank you, Lord, for loving us enough to send Jesus. In Jesus’ precious name we pray. Amen