This, you see, is how much God loved the world: enough to give his only, special son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost but should share in the life of God’s new age. After all, God didn’t send the son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world could be saved by him. [John 3:16-17 (NTE)]

While we’re busy decorating our homes, planning holiday menus, finding the perfect gift for everyone on our list, and stressed about supply chain issues and shipping delays affecting the receipt of those gifts, let’s not forget that we’re in the season of Advent. This is a time for us to prepare for the second coming of Christ and to ponder the gifts of hope, love, peace, and joy we received with His first coming.

Although the observation of Advent has no Biblical mandate and its traditions vary throughout various denominations and nationalities, many churches observe this season with an Advent wreath and candles. At our northern church, last Sunday’s candle was the Prophet’s Candle, the candle of hope. This Sunday’s candle will be the Bethlehem candle, the candle of love. It was on that holy night in Bethlehem long ago that God’s love for His fallen children took on human form. When thinking about this amazing gift of love, the words of Christina Georgina Rossetti’s beautiful poem come to mind. “Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine; love was born at Christmas, star and angels gave the sign.”

God is love and that baby born in Bethlehem so very long ago was God! When love was made manifest in Jesus, we saw that love is far more than an abstract idea or emotion. We not only saw how much God loved us, but we also saw what real love looks like, and it has nothing to do with expensive gifts, gaily wrapped boxes, beautifully decorated cookies, or wreaths, colored lights, and tinsel. It has to do with serving others, humility, patience, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, mercy, and sacrifice.

In a season marked by materialism, stress, shopping, over-eating (and drinking), travel, and entertaining, let us reflect upon the love of a God who, rather than giving up on his sinful rebellious children, loved us enough to sacrifice his only Son for our salvation. That Son was “love incarnate, love divine” as He put on the flesh of humanity, was born of a woman, suffered and died for us just so He could redeem us with His own blood! Born in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago, He loved us enough to become flesh and blood, not so that He could be with us, but so that we could be with Him!

It’s been pointed out that, while it’s easy to believe in Christmas and even easier to celebrate it, it’s much harder to live Christmas. “Love incarnate, love divine” is the true meaning of Christmas. As God loved us, may we love others in the same way, not just in this season, but all year long.

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign. [Christina Georgina Rossetti]

The one who does not love has not known God, because God is love. This is how God’s love has appeared among us: God sent his only son into the world, so that we should live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son to be the sacrifice that would atone for our sins. Beloved, if that’s how God loved us, we ought to love one another in the same way. [1 John 4:8-11 (NTE)]

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