Recently I’ve watched a few Christmas movies – comedies, dramas, classics – and I noticed a common thread that wove its way through each one of them…love. Even though some of the characters were so focused on making sure their Christmas traditions were followed to the letter, or they became obsessed with outdoing their neighbors’ decorations, or went “on strike” because they couldn’t get family members to help with holiday preparations, in the end they all realized that spending quality time with their loved ones and friends was treasured above everything else.
As I’ve been reflecting this past week on lighting the candle of “love” today, it has made me think more seriously about why I place so much value on keeping certain traditions. I guess it has more to do with the memories that are associated with those customs and the warmth and love that radiate from them. For instance, I look at the decorations on my Christmas tree and I can tell you where almost every one of them came from...hand stitched teddy bears…Baby’s first Christmas…souvenirs from various countries…hand-me-downs…gifts from previous years - all evoke tender memories of times gone by. Is my decorating done simply out of tradition or because I want to express my love for those close to me?
While I was finishing my Christmas shopping on Thursday, I wondered if other people were contemplating their reasons for circling the parking lot searching for that elusive spot, wheeling their carts through throngs of frenzied customers, waiting in endless check-out lines, and weaving their way home through lanes of impatient drivers. Were they really hunting for that meaningful gift that says from the heart, “I love you!”, or just so they could cross another name off their Christmas list?
When we all gather as family on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will I be more focused on traditions and customs or on the joy of being able to spend time together? Specific ways of observing the season may change, sometimes out of necessity and other times by choice, but our love for each other should be the common bond that draws our hearts closer together. While this may not always be geographically possible, love allows our spirits to keep connected as we celebrate this very significant season.
Our love for each other is only possible because God first loved us. It is He who creates us with the desire to be loved and to love. As the apostle John wrote,
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (I John 4:7-8)
John was one of Jesus’ closest followers. He was known as the “disciple that Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 19:26) Jesus loved all people, but perhaps John’s heart was so devoted to his Lord that they shared an especially deep relationship. The profound understanding of God’s love in John’s writings is a testament to what He learned through the time spent with Christ during His earthly ministry. He also said in I John,
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (3:1); “This is the message you heard from the beginning; We should love one another.” (3:11); “Dear children let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (3:18); “And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us.” (3:23)
John also gives us the best description of love. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us…(3:16) “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 and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (4:9-10)
This demonstration of God’s unconditional love for us is what people need to see in those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ. John continues, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love each other, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us…We have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.” (4:11-12,14)
That’s why I, as a Christian, celebrate the birth of Christ. As we light the candle of love today and the Christ candle on December 25th, I am reminded of the Swedish carol, “A Thousand Candles”,
And all the beams will shine across the heaven’s grand display.
Yes over land and sea tonight the joyful message brings
The birth of Him, our Lord and Christ, our Savior and our King.
Dear brightest star o’er Bethlehem, O let your precious light
Shine in with hope and peace toward men in ev’ry home tonight.
In all our house so cold and dark please send your warmth sublime
The warmth that comes from Jesus’ love this blessed Christmas time.”
Merry Christmas to all of you!
See you in the New Year,