Advent Reflection (22) – God of Love

Introduction

We have reflected on the themes of ‘Peace’, ‘Hope’ and ‘Joy’ several times over our journey through Advent. A simple exploration of some of the words of the prophet Isaiah – namely excerpts from chapter 9, 40 and 61, remind us of these beautiful themes. Let these ancient words have poured life into our hearts once again:

Isaiah 9: The Prince of Peace

There will be no more gloom for those who were in anguish…The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined…for a child has been born for us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually and there shall be endless peace.

Isaiah 40: The Bringer of Hope

Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God, speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that she has served her term and her penalty is paid…in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up and, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

Isaiah 61: The Giver of Joy

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

In this reflection, we turn to what is, for me, the source of all of these wonderful promises – the gracious, compassionate, unbounded love of God and its cost.

As I have journeyed through Advent this year, I have found myself becoming increasingly hushed in the presence of God. The chatter of my soul has been stilled by the wonder of God’s sacrifice for me. I have been a Christian for almost 34 years now – through that time I have become more and more awestruck by the reality of the message of Christ’s coming to us. I feel as if, year by year, the Lord has peeled back layer after layer of meaning of Christ’s coming. I barely understand this act of love – how can any human being? How can we put into words the glory, the beauty, the wonder, and the love of God for us, but I know this beyond any doubt, it was love that led God to us and that love cost him everything. All I want to do is invite you to reflect with me on some the passages of Scripture that point us to the deep Love of God shown to us in Crist.

How do we explain the inexplicable?

The Cost.

Traditionally on the fourth Sunday of Advent, the Church reflects on the example of the Virgin Mary as a symbol of love. Here, I want to reflect on both of the Lord Jesus’ parents – his mother, Mary and his true Father – God himself.

His Mother

We cannot ever comprehend the cost to Mary and to God the Father of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. We do not worship Mary, but we mark her example and her willingness to be obedient to the purposes of God. In the reading from Luke 1 we heard earlier, we noted that the angel came to her and told her she was to bear the Son of God. Her journey of trust is powerful:

29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 34Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 38Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1)

But Mary treasured all these words and pondered the, in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother, Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed to that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.(Luke 2: 33-35)

Consider also these additional passage: Jesus family look for him – Luke 2:41-52; Mary and her children went looking for Jesus – Matthew 12: 46-50; Mary watching her Son die – John 19:25.

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister….

How do you capture the wind and the water

How do you count all the stars in the sky

How can you measure the love of a mother

Or how can you write down a baby’s first cry

Candle light, Angel light

Firelight and star glow

Shine on his cradle

Till breaking of dawn

Gloria Gloria

In Excelsis Deo

Angels are singing, ‘The Christ Child is born’

Shepherds and wise men will kneel and adore him

Seraphim around him their vigil will keep

Nations proclaim him their Lord and their Saviour

And Mary will hold him and sing him to sleep

Candle light, Angle light

Firelight and star glow

Shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn

Gloria Gloria

In Excelsis Deo

Angels are singing, ‘The Christ Child is born’

Find him at Bethlehem laid in a manger

Christ our Redeemer asleep in the hay

God held incarnate and for our salvation

A child with his mother that first Christmas day

Candle light, Angle light

Firelight and star glow

Shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn

Gloria Gloria

In Excelsis Deo

Angels are singing, ‘The Christ Child is born’

His Father.

God loved the world so much that He sent his only Son that whosoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life.(John 3:16)

God is Love but love is not God.

‘God is love’, in the words of 1 John 4:8 but love is not God. How does the message of God’s love shine out for a broken world at Christmas time? What does love look like in our communities today? How can we show love?

There can be no greater demonstration of love than that which is displayed in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus, speaking to his disciples shortly before his betrayal and crucifixion said, as recorded in John 15:13:

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Paul, reflecting on the death of Christ, wrote to the believers in Rome and said (Romans 5:7)

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.(1 John 3:16)

John Stott (The Cross of Christ)

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that God’s love is the source, not the consequence, of the atonement. . . . God does not love us because Christ died for us; Christ died for us because God loved us. If it is God’s wrath which needed to be propitiated, it is God’s love which did the propitiating.

Sinclair Ferguson (Grow in Grace):

When we think of Christ dying on the cross we are shown the lengths to which God’s love goes in order to win us back to himself. We would almost think that God loved us more than he loves his Son! We cannot measure such love by any other standard. He is saying to us: I love you this much. . . . The cross is the heart of the gospel. It makes the gospel good news: Christ has died for us. He has stood in our place before God’s judgment seat. He has borne our sins. God has done something on the cross which we could never do for ourselves. But God does something to us as well as for us through the cross. He persuades us that he loves us.

What other evidence do we need?

The cross convinces us of the Father’s love because it is here that the voice of the Father says to us:

  • I will crush my Son under the full fury of my righteous wrath for you. In the Garden of Gethsemane, my Son will cry out for this bitter cup to pass from him. And I will remain silent. Why? Because I love you that much.
  • And when my Son utters that shriek on the cross, unlike any other protest in all of history, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I will again remain silent. Why? To convince you that I love you.
  • Behold the supreme demonstration of my love—the cross—the death of my Son. What more can I say? What else do you require to be convinced of my love for you?

Behind the death of the Son for us stands the love of a Father toward us. And there is no more effective way to persuade your church of God the Father’s love than to remind them of the cross, the supreme demonstration of the Father’s personal love for them.

The Son:

For the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2)

Father, Forgive them (Luke 23:34)

1 Cor 13:4-7

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

As you reflect on this love, read Isaiah slowly:

Isaiah 53:1-7

1 Who has believed what we have heard?
   And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
   and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
   nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by others;
   a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
   he was despised, and we held him of no account.
4 Surely he has borne our infirmities
   and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
   struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
   crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
   and by his bruises we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
   we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
   yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
   and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
   so he did not open his mouth.

Let us worship Him who loved us so much.

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