December 18, 2022 (The first day of the fourth week of Advent 2022)
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will be me blessed. The mighty One has done great things for me. Holy is His name.” (Luke.1.46b-49)
The God who dwells within us makes us His people!
The God who dwells within us reveals Himself in Word and Action!
The God who dwells within us will not forsake His Word of Promise!
The God who dwells within us will do great things in us, for us and through us to His glory and the benefit of His people everywhere.
The beloved disciple, John, caretaker of Mary the mother of Jesus, wrote late in his ministry “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4.8) As if John needed any further evidence of the love of God, its power to change lives and transform the culture and climate of sinful humanity that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, God’s only begotten Son, His Christ and our Savior, he had the opportunity to live in the very presence of Mary. At the cross where John had brought Mary and the “other women” there to see Jesus, Jesus spoke in his last breaths “John, behold your mother; mother behold your son.” (John 19.26-27) Even Jesus understood our lives were not all spirit but contained the elements of the flesh which bind our hearts, mind and souls to one another through the greatest affect called love. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I have to wonder if John the disciple claimed to be the beloved of Christ based on this singular truth. It was not because he was Jesus’ favorite or that he was the runt of the disciple litter who needed special attention and protection that he was the beloved disciple. I believe he took on the title assigned to Him by the Christ of God and man at the cross because John showed both sides of the coin of authentic love.
One day Jesus was asked by the teachers of the Law sent to gather evidence against Him so that He could be denounced “What do you say is the greatest commandment?” His response was to return them to the knowledge they already possessed. The “granddaddy” of all commandments given by God was the Shema. The Shema taught both sides of the coin of authentic love. One side of the coin was inscribed with “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.” (Luke 10.27a; Deuteronomy 6.5) You can read this command in various expressions twenty-seven times in the Old Testament. It is the most defining commandment and accountability statement of all. John spoke of the very nature of God to be love (1 John 4.8) Those who know God know the affect and effect of authentic love. They know it because God is love. Knowing God is love and whatever He does in the world is the expression of the presence and desire for love to be known as affirming and transforming, our response should be intentionally as loving. At least we should do so to the very best of our ability which is defined as “with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.” The challenge for us, which is not possible to complete without the Holy Spirit leading and directing us to do so, is to avoid loving God and loving the world in any way proportionately. Our love for God first, foremost and unequivocally, defines, refines and confines our love for anything else. The opposite is not and cannot be true. It is because Jesus as the Christ so loved God, His Father, to the fullest degree of self-sacrifice, that He was able to then confer upon John the caretaking ministry for Mary. It is not because Jesus so loved His mother, Mary, to the fullest degree that He took on the cross, so then He could say “I love God.” In all things God is, and we should endeavor to do so as well, that God is put first in word and deed, in intent and content. We do fall short. Sometimes we fall short in a big way. Thank goodness that God is love. Because God is love, He is able to extend mercy, grace and forgiveness in order to grant to us the gift of reconciliation. Reconciliation is the objective of Immanuel: God with us and within us. And when we fall short with the intent to love fully, then the full love of God is engaged to save us, redeem us and set us back on the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
The other side of the coin is inscribed with “Love your neighbor as yourself [you who are loved as God is love.]” (Luke 10.27b; Leviticus 19.18) Because of Immanuel, we are best able to love others. This call to love others is different than the one which Christ added as the additional greatest commandment that says “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.” (John 13.34-35) The command to love the “neighbor” as God loves us is tantamount to loving “the stranger and the enemy” with whom we have no familiar relationship. It is loving those who are “different” than us but, perhaps unknown to them, are themselves granted the opportunity to be loved by God and brought into the whole community of faith. They are not intended merely to be the receivers of philanthropic endeavors but gifted so as to know the affect and effect of authentic love, agape. Strange that when the command to love God and neighbor was given, we might assume the call to love those within the community of faith already was a given, too. We do not need to assume so. “To love one another,” those within the family of God, I believe is included in the command to “love God with all we have” because that would be the best expression of Immanuel. The call to celebrate the “God with us as the God within us” focuses greatly on US. The “us” are the ones directly relating to the God who made us, blessed us and called us to be His people as He is our God. By the time we enter into the season of Jesus’ ministry, the “us” had become so limited and falsely defined that the “community of faith” was more like a “country club” than a ministry to the nations being “the light of the world and the salt of the earth.” If we were to follow a venn diagram with God as one circle and neighbor (the stranger and enemy) as the other circle, then the people of God (Old Testament) and the Church (New Testament) would be the “shaded intersecting area.” It would be Immanuel: God with us and God within us. We would be bringing the neighbor into the circle of God’s love where we, as God’s people live daily.
Now at the end of Jesus’ earthly life, He expressed His love 1) for God in surrendering His life to God for all of us and 2) His love for his mother, Mary, by surrendering His duty to care for her to John as He knew of John’s love for Him. It might not be too far different than that commitment which Mary sang about as recorded in Luke’s gospel speaking of her understanding of God’s love for her and the world. It reflected her love for God in becoming obedient to surrendering herself to become the place where God’s love and humanity’s need coincided in the conception and birth of the Son of God and man whom we call Jesus, Immanuel. And in our preparing to remember that day when “Jesus was born to us as a Savior” which is granted to us on December 25th as a time of special worship, is it not because we love God so much we would surrender our lives fully to Him as well as surrender our care for the world to the “US” His love has transformed us to be? Can we be so intentional in our words and works, our gifts and gifting, that we see the fullest affect and effect of authentic love as more than just a “one day a year” opportunity? And if so, are we not challenged then to the rubric of accountability to “love with all our heart, mind, strength and soul” as the measure of the true joy which the season of Christmas is intended to invoke? It isn’t easy being Christmas, Christian or Immanuel but it certainly deserves our best effort and fullest attention if we truly believe it is real!
Father, may Your love be so overwhelming and so transforming that we want it 365 1/4 days a year so that the whole world will know how great a love can be and is in Jesus’ name. AMEN.