Xmas: Keeping Christ in ChristmasPastor Jerry Gillis - November 29, 2015
We keep Christ in Christmas when the incarnation changes the way we live everyday.
Community Group Study Notes
- What does the incarnation of Jesus teach us about how God has loved us in Christ? Why does this change everything for us?
- Since we have been changed by this love, why is it important that we show this same kind of love to others through Christ? How do you know if this is happening in your relationships?
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9)
So, you know, sometimes irony can be a great teacher. But sometimes it takes a great teacher to help us see the irony in certain things.
When I was a self assured twenty-six year old - and I do remember back that far, in case you're wondering - I remember a song coming out on the radio at that time by a lady named Alanis Morissette. For those of you who are anywhere near my age, you'll know who Alanis Morissette is. For those of you who are younger, and who watched the American Music Awards, she's the old lady that performed with Demi Lovato. So, Alanis Morissette had a song called "Ironic", and she said a number of things in the song, you know, it's like rain on your wedding day. It's the - do you remember that song? Yeah, some of you are going yeah, yeah, yeah, it's like ray-e-yain on a wedding day. It's a free ride that's already been paid. It's the good advice that you just didn't take. It's that kind of song.
And I remember thinking as a twenty-six year old, do you know what? I'm glad that someone of intelligence has actually tackled in a song the concept of irony. And so I felt rather self assured that my intellectual acumen had picked up on that, and probably a lot of people didn't get the song because they weren't as smart as me. Until of course, someone pointed out to me, who is smarter than I am, that actually no lyric in her song is actually ironic. That, yeah, o.k., so it rains on your wedding day. That's not irony - that's just a bad day. It's the free advice that you didn't take, right? It's the free ride that was already paid. None of that is actually ironic. It's just a bummer. In the strictest sense of the word it's not actually irony. So I kind of had to get set straight a little bit. Now, if you're a smart aleck, and I'm not, but if you are, there's always a way out of that, right? Because ultimately the way out of that is this, that if Alanis Morissette wrote a song called "Ironic", and none of the lyrics actually in the song are ironic, that in and of itself is ironic. So there is a way out of that, all right?
Now, the reason I tell you that is because irony can be a great teacher once it's pointed out to us and about this time every year from pulpits or from chairs and tables, or from everywhere in the context of a church gathering, we hear a similar refrain all the time, and it's this: we've got to keep Christ in Christmas. Now, you hear this no matter where you go to church, how many years you've ever done that. Maybe some of you are new, and you're kind of like, o.k. And it's this idea of keeping Christ in Christmas.
Now, I would suggest to you that not only in that statement, but in the way that we obey that statement's exhortation, there is plenty of irony to go around. For instance, it's kind of funny that we fight to keep Christ in a season that Christ himself never commanded us to celebrate in the way that we do. Just saying...
Or, it's kind of ironic that we, believers in Jesus who are known to be people who are showing the love of God, are less concerned with proving his love and more concerned with proving a point when we go to the coffee shop that just has red cups and we turn into a smart aleck who, when they ask us what our name is, we tell them "Merry Christmas". Write that on the cup since there's no Christmas on the cup, since you people hate Jesus, apparently. Write that on the cup. Bam! I stuck it to the man! Like the headquarters in Seattle is going, whaaa. Right? Way to go. It's ironic, isn't it?
I could go on. I will. It's ironic that some people won't even think about shopping in a particular big box retailer because their employees have been instructed not to say "Merry Christmas" but to say "Happy Holidays". So I'm not even going in there. Even though the word holiday is a compound word from the old English that is the combination of two words - holy and day. So in other words, what they are wishing you in saying "Happy Holidays" is "Happy Holy of Days" to you. So you're going to really show them by trading out one holy greeting for another holy greeting that you will not listen to. Congratulations on that. And it seems a bit ironic because we think that they are doing something silly when in fact it's actually a holy greeting.
I could go on. And but... O.k., I will. Just as I'm thinking about it. It's kind of ironic that when we're putting up all of our Christmas decorations, and having conversations while we're putting up the Christmas decorations that range from everything, right? They could be about sports or they could be about politics. You're putting up the Christmas decorations and talking about, we better keep all those refugees out of here, while you're putting up a nativity set on your mantle of a Middle Eastern born baby who became an Egyptian refugee. Some of you are going, that doesn't really sound in line with the particular presidential candidate that I'm supporting. Maybe you ought to think biblically before thinking politically. Start there.
Now, some of you are getting all concerned. I'm not running for anything so I don't care what you think about me. I know I walk around and shake hands and kiss babies, but I'm not running for anything. Here's the thing. By the way - just about that particular issue - don't let media portray the fringes of the issue, the opposite poles, and give you the idea that there's only one of two choices. That there's either the choice of security, or there's either the choice of compassion. That is a false dichotomy. You don't have to say it's one or the other.
In fact, there can be lots to debate about how our country should do it's due diligence for people that are coming into the country legally and all that stuff. Those are things that can be debated and should be. Compassion shouldn't be debated by the people of Jesus. That should not be debated because that's who we are. How we do things from a security perspective, that can be debated. Who we are as the people of God and showing compassion, that should not be debated. Because this is who we are, and by the way this is who Jesus was - a Middle Eastern born child who became an Egyptian refugee, just as a reminder. Now, again, I'm not running for anything so you don't have to - you can vote me off the island if you want. I don't really care.
So, there's plenty in the Christmas season that is somewhat ironic, isn't it? In fact, even the title of this message series - "Xmas". Some of you already when you saw that are just like, pfff, there it is. The Chapel going to.... I don't know what they're doing. We sing all these good songs about Jesus, and then all of a sudden they just leave him out. Pfff - he's gone. Well, just as an aside here, the greeting Xmas is actually maybe not what you think, because the letter X is actually the Greek letter chi. And that's the first letter, in the Greek, of the name Christos, Christ. It was an ancient symbol to show people without writing it out, Christ. So in fact, instead of Xmas being about leaving Christ out, it's actually about keeping Christ in. Try that at a party.
So, there are plenty of things that give a person like me much material and much fodder during this particular season, where we have a number of people that claim to be followers of Jesus that are going about this idea of keeping Christ in Christmas in all the wrong ways. They're too busy trying to prove points instead of trying to prove God's love. And that, for us, should not be the case. We are the people of Jesus and that's who we ought to be. So, even though I've kind of just, with a smile on my face, mildly rebuked a number of people already, to start. You're like - you didn't wait for anything. It's like, hello - welcome to church - start busting on us. I want to encourage you, actually, with the teaching, even if I stepped on your toes just a moment ago, and that's o.k. It wasn't an accident. I intended to do that. But I do it lovingly, because I want to help us understand how we actually do keep Christ in Christmas. As opposed to some of the silly things that I've already demonstrated, that are frankly just silly and make us look silly as a people.
What is it that we can do to keep Christ in Christmas? Well, here you go. You can write this down. We keep Christ in Christmas when the Incarnation changes the way we live every day. We keep Christ in Christmas when the Incarnation changes the way we live every day. Now, I realize some of you may be writing that down and going, hey, that's really cool, but I have no idea what incarnation means. Could you explain that to me? Is that a milk product? What is that? Could you help me? Yeah, I can help you. Here's what it means: the word just simply put, incarnation, means to inflesh. To put flesh on. That's the idea of what incarnation means. To incarnate means to put skin or put flesh on, o.k.?
When I write that with a capital I, as I have done for you, it is teaching us about how the preexistent eternal Son of God, who was also called in the Scripture the Word, actually came, born of a virgin, and was infleshed, put skin on, born into this world as fully human and fully divine at the same time and was given the name Jesus. That's what I'm talking about when I talk about the idea of capital I - the Incarnation. The preexistent eternal Son of God putting flesh on and coming to be with us.
You see, this is really, ultimately, the story of what Christmas is all about. And there's lots of places in the Scripture, by the way, that talk about this idea of the Incarnation, and it may not just be the usual suspects of places where you think. Absolutely two of the gospels - Matthew's gospel at the very beginning, chapters one and two, and Luke's gospel in chapter one and two, tell us what we say is the Christmas story. But you need to understand something. The Christmas story is all through the New Testament. Because this is about the Incarnation. This is about God coming to us in the person of Jesus. God with skin on.
In fact, of all the writers in the New Testament to talk about this idea of the Incarnation, probably one of the foremost that talks about it is the apostle John. And John not only has a gospel that he writes where he talks about it, but he also has letters that he writes that are toward the back of your Bible - right before you get to Revelation. If you're with our series in Revelation, just back up a couple of books and you'll be there. He wrote First, Second, and Third John.
Now in his gospel, he opens his gospel, even though you don't think it's the Christmas story, he actually opens his gospel by talking about the Incarnation. Listen to what it says in verse number one and two and then verse fourteen. It says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning." And then verse fourteen says, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."
So right when John begins his gospel, he's actually talking about this idea of the Incarnation, that the preexistent eternal Son of God known as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In fact, when John later on writes his epistles - and we're going to be camping out in First John here in just a moment - when he writes his epistles, he begins First John chapter one by reiterating this idea of the Incarnation much as he did in his gospel. Listen to what it says in 1 John chapter one. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ."
So he opens his epistle by talking about this idea, but then as you move forward in 1 John, particularly in chapters four and chapter five, he actually talks about the doctrine of the Incarnation, God putting flesh on, and actually shows this to be a doctrinal confession to help you understand whether or not you're following the right Jesus or not.
Listen to what he says in chapter number four, beginning in verse one. "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world."
You see, this became somewhat of a doctrinal confession. Now, John's writing out of his context, and in his context there's no doubt a heresy that's been brewing called Gnosticism which makes this dualistic kind of Jesus - that there's one that spirit, and he's divine, and there's one that's earthly and fleshly and he's just human, and it makes this craziness. And John says in there if you want to know if you're following the true Jesus, it's very simple: you have to believe that Jesus came in the flesh, that he is fully man and fully God. One hundred percent human being and one hundred percent God at exactly the same time. Doesn't make him two hundred percent anything. It makes him one hundred percent God-man. He's not fifty percent man, fifty percent God. He's one hundred percent man and one hundred percent God. This is what John says we need to embrace to understand if we're following the true Jesus.
Now, Paul does something similar by the way, when he gives a doctrinal confession about who Jesus is. It's different than the one John gives. The one that Paul gives, he says in 1 Corinthians chapter twelve, verse number three, he says this: "Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, 'Jesus be cursed,' and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." If that doesn't make sense, he reaffirms that in Romans chapter ten, verses nine and ten. Listen to what Paul says. "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess and are saved."
What is it that Paul is saying here? Listen carefully. Paul is saying that in the context of the place that he lives in, the empire - the Roman empire - right? He's writing to the Romans right there. In the Roman empire there's really only one phrase that helps you out at all and it's this: Caesar is lord. This is what the caesars did. They believed themselves to be the leaders and lords and gods of the people that they were overseeing and that they were domineering. And so unless you were saying Caesar is lord, you were in big trouble. Paul says, if you want to follow after the true King, the true Emperor, the one whose kingdom will never end, then you will say "Jesus is Lord", and you will only do that by the power of the Spirit because you know in our context that if you say something other than that, if you say something other than Caesar is lord, you might well die. So this is going to come by product of the Holy Spirit, and he basically said if you want to know if you're following the true Jesus or not, it's whether or not you can acknowledge him as Lord over all, over every lord including Caesar.
And John, on the other hand says, if you want to know if you're following the true Jesus, in addition to what Paul said, you also need to understand that Jesus is God come in the flesh. And to believe something different than that, is not to follow the true Jesus. So he gives us these ideas right here in the very beginning of 1 John about the Incarnation itself.
But what's so important about the Incarnation is this: is that it shows us God's love. It shows us God's love. So what I want to do for a moment is I want to unpack that in our text in 1 John chapter four, and I'm hopeful that you're going to be able to be encouraged by this and transformed by this, and that ultimately we're going to land in a way that shows us how the Incarnation can change the way we live every day.
This isn't just...sometimes man, we get inspired at Christmas, right? And we're like man, just tell me the Christmas story, the baby, and the ahhh....oh I love it. Love when I get the cards and everything - we just get inspired, right? And while you're inspired, it's easy for you to give, and it's easy for you to love, and it's easy for you to serve, and it's easy for you to go. But we act as if the parameters on that are basically in a month time period. We might make it a month and a few days because right after Thanksgiving, we're ready to go. So we might make it a month and a few days. It's bigger than that. The claims of the Incarnation affect our very lives, in fact affect our whole lives, and a few verses into 1 John chapter four we see that.
In fact, look in verse number thirteen thru sixteen, it says this: "This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God." Here it is, verse sixteen. "And so we know and rely" - I want you to say that with me - and so we what? Know. And what? Rely. And so - let's do it again. "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us."
You see, this is how John summed it up. He basically said this idea of the Incarnation, God putting skin on and coming to be with us, here's what he says: You can because of that event, you can know and rely on the love God has for us. Now, the word know in the Greek language is the word gnosco, and that gives us the idea of an experiential love, an intimacy of love that we can fully experience for ourselves. And the word rely comes from the word pistuo in the Greek, which is where we also get our word believe or trust or depend upon - rely, right?
Ultimately, what this chapter is doing is it's summarizing this idea of the Incarnation. God coming into the world in the flesh in the person of Jesus, and he's saying that when that happens, we can experience the love of God. We can know the love that God has for us and we can rely on it. We can depend on it. What I want to do is just talk about this idea of knowing the love of God for a moment and then we'll come to the idea of relying on the love of God for us in just a minute.
So, let me start it this way. The Incarnation allows us to know a love, first of all, that is initiated by God. In other words, what God has done in Christ in coming and putting flesh on and coming to be with us, this idea helps us to know a love that is initiated by God.
Listen with me if you will or read along with me as you see it in verse number nine and ten of 1 John four. It says this: "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us." Man, this is the heartbeat of the gospel, and when we start to see the Incarnation of what God has done in Christ, we see a God who has initiated love.
I know that most of the people in this room are adults at least in age, possibly in behavior. Not everyone is. How many of you in this particular room where I'm at, or in the East Worship Center, just do it anyway, or watching online or any of our other campuses. If you are married, just put your hand up in the air. O.k., cool, you're married. If you're not married, but you've ever been in a dating relationship that's reasonably serious, then put your hand up in the air. All right, cool. Some of you are going, uh, like right now, Jerry. So what's going on? You want to tell me before you start ...
Well, here's the thing. When Edie and I were dating it took me a while. I was working through this idea of if I was ever going to get to a place where I said to her, "I love you". Was I going to be the first one to say it? Who was going to be the first to say it? Right?
Now I'm not talking about you just met him, right? And on date number two, you're like, o.k., see you later. That was fun, it was good pizza. I love you! I'm not talking about that, right? Because let me tell you what that smells like - desperation, that's what that smells like, all right? So don't do it. That's just silliness. I'm not talking about acting like you're in middle school. I'm talking about real world, real people, who are mature and who do these things.
So you kind of wonder, like, what's going to happen, you know? And so I remember, I was careful with that, because you want to be careful with the person's heart, right? And if you're a single man, you be careful with the heart of a woman. Be careful with her heart. You show respect to her heart. You don't play with her heart. You don't mess with her heart. You show respect. Now, listen, some of you need a man.
Listen, with that heart, I was trying to think to myself, o.k., I'm not saying I love you until.. Like, I might love her, like that's for sure. But I'm not saying that until I know this is on a pathway where we're going to be getting married and that kind of thing, because I don't want to, right, you just don't want to do that. So I remember being able to say I love you to Edie and her, you know, saying to me "I know". No, she didn't say that. She didn't say that. You've been groveling for this many years, what's the deal? No, her being able to say I love you back. And that was awesome.
Now we've all maybe been in those positions where we've said I loved you first and you're kind of nervous about it, like, I put it out there man. I put it out there and I'm not talking about date number two. Right? I'm not talking about that. You put it out there, and then you get love back and you're like, man, that's awesome. But how about this? How about saying "I love you", and someone responds back with oh. Wow. Um... I don't love you at all. Oh, o.k., I get it. You want to be friends? No, actually I don't want to be friends either. I don't love you, and I don't want to be friends. Has that ever happened to anybody? Do not raise your hand. Do not raise your hand. We do not want that happening in your life.
That, though, when you start understanding it, ladies and gentlemen, if that were to happen? No, I don't love you. No, I don't want to be your friend even though you initiated love, that gets you a little closer to the gospel. Because that's what God's done. He has initiated love to people that weren't even loving him back, weren't giving him a forethought, weren't even willing to love him back, and maybe even knew he existed and didn't care. And the Incarnation says to us, his coming in the person of Jesus and putting skin on says, God has initiated a love. It is not that we loved him. It is that he loved us and showed us love even when we were unlovable.
Now, I've got a few of these that I want to help us understand how we can know and experience the love of God more deeply. The Incarnation allows us to know a love, not only that's initiated by God, but also it's a love that gives us life. Listen to verse number nine again. It says, "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him."
Now, one of the difficulties in talking about the idea of actual life itself, is that we have various definitions of what that looks like. Some of us try and make our lives look really good through the highlight reel of our social media. That's not real. That ain't real, right? You're showing yourself on vacation. You're showing yourself at the concert. You're showing yourself at the ballgame. You're showing yourself when you're made up. You're showing yourself in the mirror. It's not real. Right? You're not doing it when like your breath stinks and you got dandruff, right? Hey, right? This is awesome. Right? You're not doing that. Here's a little snapchat, vine. Here you go. What's up? I can't get this stuff off my shoulders. Nobody's doing that. This is about a highlight reel of our life, because we need to somehow ascribe to our lives some sense of significance where we're kind of saying to people, man, look at what I got going on. Even though you may feel like you don't have not anything going on. But you want to show people you've got something going on, and so you've got a highlight reel to show them, and that's not even the real world.
I mean, sometimes we feel so insignificant that we - that's why we impose ourselves in pictures where the actual caption of the picture says something different, but we got in the picture. You know, isn't that a beautiful sunset? But it's not anything to do with the sunset, because you're standing in front of the sunset taking a picture of yourself with the sunset in the back. The caption should say, doesn't this sunset make me look awesome? Because that's what you're really trying to do.
You're trying to give significance to yourself through giving a highlight reel when in fact, let me tell you something, you want to know what life is? It's Jesus. That's it. That's it. There's actually no definition of life outside of Jesus. Everything else is existence. Jesus is life.
You see, the Incarnation teaches that because it says that he came into the world, he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. The assumption there is that we don't live without him, that we only live in him.
In fact John, in his gospel, actually said that in the very opening lines of his gospel. Listen back to chapter one verse one of John's gospel. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind."
In fact, John went on. I didn't put this in there, but John went on later on in chapter fourteen. Jesus said, I'm the way, the truth and what? Yeah. A life? The life. In other words, this isn't an option on living. This is life itself. Jesus said, "I am life". Period. Me. End of story. I'm life. So, we've got to understand, ladies and gentlemen, that the Incarnation changes everything for us, because it is God demonstrating to us a love that gives us life.
Now, let me give you a third thing. I want to keep progressing here. The Incarnation also allows us to know a love that identifies with us. Listen to verse number ten. "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice." Phew. An atoning sacrifice. To atone means to cover. So he came so that he would cover our sinfulness. He came to identify with our frailty. To identify with who we are, and in taking on all of that stuff upon himself to satisfy the just and righteous wrath of God, he identified with us. That's startling. We're not talking about a God who's standing way back here. We're talking about a God who identified with us.
I was on a flight within the last couple of weeks. Was trying to get home, and I was like travel armageddon trying to get home. And I finally - I had to, man, I had to fly like to Baghdad to get home. It was great - no, not really, but it's crazy. So I'm flying - it's terrible when you have to fly over your own city into somewhere else in the United States and so you can fly back to it. Part of me wanted to just go, ding, yeah - can I get off here? Because this is where I'm supposed to be. This is where I live. Could I get off? No, no, no - we're going to Burma. O.k. All right. And then we're coming back here? Yes. Sounds logical.
So, I'm on one those flights. I got on - I'm sitting on the aisle. It's a small plane. I've got a seat next to me, and I'm thinking it's going to be empty which is always decent news to me if I'm really tired. And then come running on, a lady comes running on to the plane late. She's all out of sorts. She kind of looks over and says, I'm right there and I'm like, oh, sure. O.k. So I got up, stood in the aisle. She got in and she was a mess, trying to get her stuff all together. Very, very sweet lady. Just trying to get herself all together. And she was trying to hustle, and I could tell she was kind of juggling things around and I was like, hey, hey, hey - they're not taking off if I'm standing up, so everything's cool. I'll stand up as long as you need me to. Just take your time. Glad you made the flight. I know - I thought I was going to miss it. Nah - everything's cool. Thank you. I said, no, no problem. So she got herself together. I sat down and started talking to her. Very, very nice lady. She was asking, you know, are you coming or going. Is this home, or whatever. And I was like, no, headed home. And she's not from here.
So, she had a book sitting on her lap and I just said, hey, is that leisure reading or is it professional reading? And she's uh, kind of professional reading, but it kind of speaks to my heart a little bit. And I was like, oh, o.k., cool. The book was about counseling and mental therapy and those kind of things. I was like, o.k. So what do you do? And she said, well, I'm a clinical counselor, you know, just finished my PhD last year and now I'm in a practice and blah, blah, blah. And I was like, oh, that's great. And she said what do you do? And I said, well, similar to what you do, but let me ask you a couple of questions.
See what I did there? Yep. Not my first rodeo. Because you know I tried the whole hey, I'm a Christian pastor who loves Jesus and people are haha, that's awesome. Put their ear buds in like right away, as fast as they can. Start faking a stroke. I mean, it's crazy. I'm like, don't do that! I'm a man, not an elephant. So I said, yeah, I just want to ask you some questions. She said, yeah, o.k.
I started asking a bunch of questions and you know was just asking her about what she does and the style of what she does and she said to me, you know I'm trying to figure out maybe a way to incorporate spirituality into what I do, because I know people are asking like big questions. And I went yeah. She said so what do you do? I said, I'm a pastor. She went what? I said, yeah, I'm a pastor. I said so these questions are important to me. Because the people that I talk to and deal with - even though I'm not really a great counselor. We have other pastors on our team that do a great job with that, but they're asking transcendent questions. She's like, yeah.
And she had said a little bit earlier that she really likes to get in there with her patients and really feel what they're feeling and go there with them. And then she just kept going or whatever. And I said, can I come back to something you said a moment ago? And she said yeah. I said because it was really beautiful. You said, that you like to enter in with your patients. She said, yeah, I do. She said I just think that's my responsibility. And I said o.k. I said what if, what if this God that we're talking about that seems so far away, what if I told you he entered into our mess, too? I said, would that change anything? And she went, yeah. Yeah. And I said, it would change the way we even counsel people, right? She said yes. For sure. And I said, well, here's the good news. We don't have a God who just sits back while we were in a bunch of trouble and messing our lives up and go, oh, come on. We have a God who in the middle of our mess and in the middle of our sin, and in the middle of our trouble - he shows up. He came.
And I said to her, I said, you probably read the Christmas story. She said, yeah, yeah. I have a background with that. And I said, o.k., cool. I said do you remember what they called Jesus? She said Emmanuel. And I said, yeah. Do you know what it means? She went I forgot. I said God with us. We have a God who identifies with us. That's what the Incarnation does. It changes everything. And I had an opportunity for the entire plane ride to just unpack the gospel with this woman, and be able to talk to her about the beauty of a God who shows up that while we were yet sinners, Christ still died for us. That he initiated love himself, and that he entered into our pain and to our sorrow and to our shame and to our mess, and he walked our ground and he identified with us. That is a beautiful picture of the heart of God and that is what the Incarnation teaches us that he identifies with us.
Let me give you a last thing. Not last total, but last for this. The Incarnation allows us to know a love that doesn't have a litmus test. Let me explain. Listen to what verse, look at verse ten again. "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
Did you catch it? Here it is. There's no threshold of goodness that you have to cross to make God love you. Here's what he said the threshold is. You're a sinner that can't save yourself, and so I showed up and I'm here to rescue you. Because I love you, and I've initiated my love in the giving of my Son who is God in the flesh putting skin on, so that he would live sinlessly, go to a cross, take your sin upon him, die to pay the cost for that and my just wrath would be satisfied as I poured it out on him when it should have been you. And he rose from the dead, conquering that so that you now could be reconciled to me because I love you! Because I love you! This is a reminder that there's no litmus test.
You see, there are too many of us that are trying to in some way, some fashion or another, trying to get God to love us when he said, look, everybody's in the same place. We've all sinned and come short of the glory of God. But God has demonstrated his love in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ still died for us.
You could also say it this way. While we were yet sinners, Christ came for us. That's the message of Christmas. The Incarnation. He can't die for us unless he came for us. This is why the Incarnation changes everything, and isn't this what the story of Christmas, even when we read it in Matthew's gospel, isn't that what it's saying to us? That we are sinners who need to be saved?
Listen to what Matthew says, chapter one. "This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together," (that means before there was sexual union), "she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.'" Why? "Because he will save his people from their sins."
You see, this is the very heartbeat of what the story of Christmas is teaching us. That we have a God who shows us through the Incarnation a love that doesn't have a litmus test. We've all sinned. We've all come short of the glory of God, and we all need a savior, and God has initiated his love in the Incarnation so that we could be reconciled to him. It's a beautiful picture.
You see, this kind of love, ladies and gentlemen, this kind of love is not just stuck over here on being sentimental. It's the kind of love that's sacrificial. It's not just a love that's passive. It's a love that initiates. It's not just a love that you could describe with a noun, as if it's just a thing. It's a love that's described with a verb because it's an action. And it's not just a love that can be romanticized, it's a love we can rely on. Remember what John said. He said this Incarnation is going to help us to know, to experience, and to rely on the love that God has for us.
How do we rely on the love that God has for us? Well, you need to rely on the love that God has for you when you're afraid. When you look around at the world that we live in and you think this place is going to hell. This place is crazy. This place is unsafe. What you need to be able to do is look at the Incarnation and recognize the love that God has for us all. No matter where we come from, no matter what our background, no matter how bad we are, this is God saying to the world I love you. And we need to rely on that love when we feel afraid.
We need to rely on that love when we feel abandoned or alone. When we've got a broken relationship, when we've got a spouse that checks out, we need to rely on the love of God. When we've got kids who grow up and they get married and they move away. We've to rely on the love that God has for us. When we have a tragedy that happens in our lives, and when the holidays come around we're thinking this is the first holiday without so and so, or I really miss so and so from years gone by, because I loved celebrating the holidays with them. We've got to rely on the love God has for us when we find ourselves face to face in those exact kind of moments.
Or maybe you're really aging. And you're scared about it. Because you're thinking to yourself, I don't know if this is maybe one of the last holiday seasons that I have, and you're getting really upset and you're getting really nervous about it. You've got to rely on the love that God has for you in Christ that he's demonstrated in the Incarnation. This is what helps to walk us through.
You've got to rely on the love that God has for us when you fail. I know that I need God's love when I fail. More than I need it maybe at any other time, at least in my own mind. Because if some of you came from a background where you had people love you when you did good and when you performed and you had people that didn't love you when you didn't.
You need to be transformed by the love that is God in Christ which says I love you. Period. What about when I...? I love you. Period. What about when I...? I don't think you're hearing me. You can't somehow make me love you more because you're so impressive and awesome. You cannot make me love you less when you fall down. I love you. This is what God has said to the world in the Incarnation. I love you. I want you to know me. This is why we have to rely on that, because I'm just glad that when I think things I shouldn't think, when I say things I shouldn't say, when I do things that I shouldn't do, that God still loves, and I can point back to the fact that God is not standoffish, but he has initiated his love in Jesus putting skin on, identifying with us, dying for us, saving us, rescuing us, and that's what I need to wash over me. I need that kind of love.
But you know when else you need it? Let me land this plane here in just a minute. You know when else you need it? You need to rely on God's love when you're trying to love other people. Listen, man. I know that if I would've walked into some of your Thanksgiving gatherings, you'd be going, now Jerry, I don't know if you picked up on it, but those people over there are very difficult to love. Oh, really? Yeah, I would've never known. I've never noticed that. Right? We've all got that in our families, in relationships, we've all got that.
Listen to what John says about how the Incarnation changes all that. Verse number eleven. "Dear friends, since God so loved us in this way, we also ought to love on another." So in other words, when we begin to understand and we begin to process the way in which God has shown us love in the Incarnation, that is what empowers us with love to be able to love other people.
Let me give you this before we go. I want to give you a couple of questions to think about because you're going, o.k., Jerry, how do you get at this idea of actually really being able to love others the right way? I want you to ask yourself two questions during this Christmas season. Just go over and over and over and over them.
Here's the first one. How did God love me in Christ? How has God loved me in Christ? I want you to sit on that question. And then here's question two. Am I showing the same kind of love to others through Christ? How has God loved me in Christ? And am I showing the same kind of love to others in Christ?
Now, here's the thing. Some of you are already stuck on question two. You're going, o.k., man, I'm definitely not showing the kind of love to others the way that God has shown me love in Christ. So what do I do about that, Jerry? Very simple. If you have a problem with question two, just go back and sit on question one. That's it. If you've got an issue with question two, just go sit on question one. What has God done for me in Christ? Are you serious, Jerry? I'm dead serious. Because if you think you're going to somehow be able to work yourself up for love, you've missed something. You are not the manufacturer of love. God is. You're just the distributor. So until you learn to understand his love and what he has done and the lengths he has gone to love you, you'll never be able to love people rightly. So if you've got a problem with question two, go back and camp out on question one until that is washing over you like a tidal wave, and then question two becomes irrelevant, because it is the overflow of your life into the life of other people.
I wanted to encourage you with that and this is why. Because this, what we're talking about, knowing and relying on the love that God has shown us, this is how the Incarnation changes our lives every day. Every day. And if we'll begin to live like that, you know what will happen? We won't be the terrible billboards for Jesus that are really, really sad ironies in these kinds of seasons. Instead, we will help others. Instead of trying to prove a point, we will prove God's love by what the Incarnation has done to transform our everyday living.
Let's bow our heads together. Before we walk out the door, if you're here and you've never before entrusted your life to Jesus, you've heard the gospel through the whole of this message. That God loves you so much that he sent His son to die for people like you and like me who've sinned and come short of the glory of God and that you can't save yourself, so stop trying. And there is no such thing as life outside of him. It's just existence. So if you want to know real life and real forgiveness and real love, that only comes in Jesus. And so I encourage you when we dismiss in just a moment to come by our Fireside room out in the Atrium. If you're in this room or the East Worship Center, there's pastors there and some prayer partners that would love to be able to talk to you for just a few moments about what it means to entrust your life to Jesus. And I'm not talking about, you say I've heard of Jesus or I've gone through some religious exercise. Anyone can do that. That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that you've been transformed, you've been born from above by turning from sin and putting your faith and trust in Jesus. And maybe for those of us that say we know Jesus, I would really ask you during this season to take those two questions and to really sink into them. Particularly question one. How has God shown me his love in and through Christ? Because when that begins to take hold of us, man, it changes the way that we live and love other people.
So Father, you've said much to us through your word and for that I thank you. I thank you that this is your word, not mine. That what we rely on is your love, not our conception of it but the reality of it. That it's expressed in the Incarnation with the preexistent eternal Son of God, putting skin on and coming to save us. Thank you that you said I love you first. Thank you that your love can be depended on. And thank you that your love changes everything. Help us to be a people who in this season are not so concerned with proving a point as a culture warrior but are concerned about proving your love to the people that we intersect with so that they could see Jesus. Make us billboards for Jesus, not just in word but in action and in life and deed. We pray this now in Jesus' name. Amen.
Love you folks - have a great week.