What do you love about Christmas? That’s kind of a dumb question, isn’t it? What’s not to like about Christmas? We love the stories, The Story, the lights, the music, the food; it’s all good! And it doesn’t really seem to matter why a person celebrates Christmas, whether as a winter festival of lights or the celebration of the birth of Jesus, whether a person believes in God or not; it seems that everyone loves Christmas!
But what do we really love about Christmas? Is it the celebration of the holiday or the reason for the holiday? It has become a point of pride among us believers that we remind the world that there’s a Christ in Christmas, but it also seems that we’ve slipped past the glorious truth of the birth of the Son of God in Bethlehem and have landed on a cliché. Don’t believe me? How many “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season” ornaments, wall-hangings, sweatshirts, mugs, and Facebook posts do you see every year? (How many are yours?) No, there’s nothing wrong with those things, and it’s important that we remind the world (and perhaps each other) that we celebrate the birth of Christ and not a season. But maybe the celebration of the birth isn’t enough.
Maybe I’m putting too fine a point on this, but we ought to be more focused on the One who was born, beyond his birth. Yes, we know that Jesus grew up to be a man and that he lived among us for a while to preach and teach and heal and that he died on the cross and rose again, but sometimes it seems that even we who believe those statements are content to acknowledge the truth of those historical events, like his birth, and even celebrate them but stop there. We love the celebrations and we love the fact that we celebrate the truth behind them, but do we really love Jesus?
Sure, many Christians go beyond simple celebrations; many have re-ordered their lives based on the teachings and example of Jesus and the teachings of the New Testament. We have organized our calendars to accommodate the holidays and even weekly and daily schedules for worship, Bible study, and prayer. We have changed our habits – our speech, our actions, our spending. But do we really love Jesus? The fact is, it’s not love simply to go through the motions.
This is the accusation leveled at the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2. In his words to the seven churches of Asia Minor, Jesus directed John to write these words to the Christians at Ephesus:
“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love” (Revelation 2:2-4, NIV).
The modern church is actually pretty good at saying and doing things that sound and look right, but it struggles at love. Yes, we gather every week and profess our love for God, and we even do things that are done in the name of God and his love, but day-to-day life doesn’t reflect true love.
John defines love in his first letter: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10, 11, NIV). And he amplifies his statement a few verses later: “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:19, 20, NIV). John reminds us that God’s love for us is reflected in our love for others, and if we have “lost our first love,” he’s telling us that we’re not reflecting his love to others.
Celebrating the birth of Jesus is important, but if it’s all focused on the birth and not the love that prompted the birth, the One who loved us to send Jesus, nor the ones to whom we ought to be reflecting that love, we’re missing the point. So, what do you love about Christmas? Whom do you love at Christmas? Do they know it? Do you show it? Love God! Love People! Celebrate Jesus!