Let Love Fill You With Christmas Joy This Year

Here we are, just about a week away from Christmas. Dreams of mistletoe and presents tickle the mind as wafting smells of Christmas baking and sounds of holiday singing mingle through the air. The thought of a couple days off from work build with excitement as plans to head home for the holidays receive their final instruction.

For some however, in fact, most, there can be some anxious thoughts surrounding the holidays as well. While this might not be the case for everyone, I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we all experience a degree of anxiety when approaching the many family reunions around Christmas time. Because of this, it can be hard to feel the joy of the season; to rejoice as the shepherds did with great delight when the very first Christmas had finally arrived.

As we search for and try to maintain the essence of joy this holiday season, we would be wise to consider the role that love plays in bringing about such season’s greetings. In order to address love as a means of Christmas joy, we must look at Love itself and His first appearance on that oh so holy night.

Based on the December 13, 2018 article by David Mathis, here are three truths to keep in mind this Christmas season.

the first Christmas.

Philippians 2:6-7 says that Christ, ‘being in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man.’

We don’t often consider this passage as one to be read during the holidays, but Philippians 2:6-7 is probably one of the most ‘Christmas-y’ passages in the Bible. Not only is this an account of Jesus’ birth, thus reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas, but it also gives us a look at the heart behind Christmas; at the actual essence of that which we are celebrating.

It was not Christ’s impulse to maintain his own rights and privileges as God that brought about the first Christmas, but rather it was His humbled mindset to inconvenience himself and sacrifice his own comfort for the greater gain of mankind (David Mathis).

Instead of grasping for privilege, Christ emptied himself of his own rights.

Therefore, if we are to be of the same ‘mind’ or ‘disposition’ as Christ, we must start by ‘looking not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others’ (Philippians 2:4-5).

The call to love begins here, for love does not insist on its own way (1 Corinthians 13:5), but desires to serve, love, and benefit those around them. This kind of love then, when grounded in Christ Jesus who is the true centerfold of Christmas, is displayed in us when we get outside of our own interests, comforts, desires, frustrations, rights, and/or preferences and look beyond ourselves to the interests of others, thus sparking the truest kind of Christmas joy in our hearts.

spend and be spent…joyfully.

2 Corinthians 12:15 says that ‘I [Paul] will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?’

In this passage and in his ministry to the people of Corinth, Paul is gladly displaying his love for them by spending and being spent on their behalf.

Do you ever feel spent? Do the holidays leave you feeling utterly exhausted and in need of a vacation from your vacation? Are there times when you wonder if it is all truly worth it; worth the stress, the exhaustion, the irritation, the effort…?

Such feelings of exhaustion and ‘being spent’ are in fact precious in God’s sight and honoring to Him as we image forth His Son, but only when we do so out of a strength and love grounded in Him. It is when we start serving and striving out of our own strength and for our own self-glorification that we draw the attention away from Christ and dishonor Him.

If we look not only at Paul’s ministry, but at the ministry of Christ as well which Paul was imitating, we see such an example of how we are to embrace costly and inconvenient personal losses of time, energy, attention, possessions, money, comfort, and peace of mind for the sake of others. We can only do this well and in a way that pleases the Lord if we do so out of a deep love for Him and an understanding of His sufficient love for us.

This made me think of an article by Bonnie McKernan that reminds us of what it means to look like Christ. ‘It might be letting others lead when I feel the most equipped, or leading when I feel most unable, because God’s power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It might be keeping quiet when I feel like shouting, or loudly proclaiming when I feel too timid to even whisper. It might be serving others when I most want to be served; it might be resting when serving draws people to me rather than to Christ…’ all of this to the glory of Christ and for the benefit of those around us, including those that are hard to love.

As we look to the glory of God and the interests of others, we imitate the humility of Christ, which in infinite wisdom and love, was displayed for us on the very first Christmas. As we gladly spend and be spent for others, we can remind ourselves of the truth and encouraging words found in Acts 20:35 – ‘for it is more blessed to give than to receive.’

remember your great and eternal possession

Hebrews 10:34 says that ‘we know that we ourselves have a better possession and an abiding one.’ Abiding in this passage is synonymous with ‘lasting’ or ‘eternal.’

When God is our heavenly treasure, the foundation on which our ‘right’ as His sons and daughters rest; when our source of love, energy, compassion, provision, comfort, and peace of mind are in Him, our wells will never run dry and we will be enabled to love without fearing being loved any less, because His love is perfect, unfailing, and sufficient (Jeremiah 31:3, 1 John 3:1).

So often the reason we fail to love others well is because we feel violated in some way; we feel wronged, misjudged, unfairly critiqued, and the victim of malicious intent. However, when we boil these feelings down to their truest belief, what we will often find is fear. We fear exposure. We fear being loved less because of what someone might rightly or wrongly believe about us. We fear the pain of feeling like a failure or a disappointment, and we fear humiliation.

There is no fear in love though, because perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). And there is no love that is perfect apart from the love of Christ Jesus who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself on our behalf by taking the form of a servant and being born in the likeness of man.

When our love for others is found in, grounded upon, and sustained by the love we receive from the Father, we will be enabled and strengthened to endure beyond the point where we’ve just about had enough, and love others from a place of true Christmas joy.

The Road to Emmaus

Sometimes I really miss the old flip phones.

They were so much simpler than the iPhone; offering a lot less distraction and time wasted sifting through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

My favorite part about the flip phone though is that whenever I was frustrated at the end of a call, I could dramatically slam my phone shut.

Seriously, I know I’m not the only one who found that incredibly satisfying.

Furiously pushing a button on a touchscreen just isn’t the same.

This is how I felt that day after getting her voicemail for the third time in a row. I had a few spare moments in my day and desperately needed to talk to my friend and get her advice on something that had be plaguing my thoughts all day long.

I just needed to talk.

I needed to vent.

I needed wise counsel, guidance, and a listening ear.

Yet all I got was her voicemail…over and over again.

I wonder if this is how the two disciples in Luke 24:13-35 felt.

The events of recent days past must have been plaguing their thoughts, dreams, and memories. They had just seen their Teacher, their Master, their Lord, and their friend murdered.

Beaten before their very eyes.

Hung from the cross like a criminal they knew he wasn’t.

Helplessly standing by.

Afraid.

Unsure of what the next couple of days, weeks, months, or years held for them in this disrupted, corrupt, and divided land.

Can you imagine the amount of grief, confusion, questioning, and venting they needed to get off of their chests?

Thus we find them; these two disciples of Jesus walking down the road to Emmaus.

Verse 14 describes them as being deep in conversation with each other; discussing all that had happened.

As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him (Luke 24:15-16).

I think it’s easy for us to read this passage and think to ourselves, “well gosh, how did they not even recognize Jesus? How, if they had spent so much time with him, did they not know his face?”

How, if we have Jesus living and breathing in and through us, do we not recognize His voice?

Consider that.

Consider how many times we, with all good intentions, seek the godly wisdom of others before Wisdom itself?

I will be the first to admit that I do this all the time.

In fact, I did this just the other day.

With confusion and uncertainty looming in front of me, rather than going straight to the only One who could offer any kind of consultation or understanding, I desperately grasped for the advice of others.

Now don’t get me wrong – God puts amazing, wonderful, and very wise people in our lives for this very purpose – to receive wise counsel.

He even instructs us on the importance of seeking this wise counsel on many different occasions (Proverbs 12:15, 11:14, 19:20-21, 15:22) (2 Timothy 3:16).

So I am not saying that seeking the advice, guidance, and wisdom of others is not important.

It is very important, but even the most important things can be misprioritized.

We live in a day and age where constant input is the norm. We are persistently feeding our minds with discussion, news feeds, music, podcasts, information, and the opinions of others that we are often kept from recognizing the voice of Jesus.

Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, even though the input they sought from each other as trusted friends was good, it was noise nonetheless.

It’s not just that the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus, they were actually kept from recognizing him; meaning there was something actually hindering their ability to hear the voice of their Teacher.

We often get so distracted and so hung up on getting the advice of others; on hearing their opinion and what they would do in our certain set of circumstances that we end up preventing ourselves from hearing the still, small voice of Jesus.

We end up filling our hearts and minds with others’ interpretation of who God is rather than seeking to know God for ourselves.

When we constantly subject ourselves to these outside sources, two things happen:

  1. Our minds become numb; and
  2. We override our ability to be still.

We lose the ability to really listen to what we are taking in and truly digest it and understand it. The voice of God can so easily slip into the background; into the mix of input that we are constantly feeding our minds that we either mistake other voices for that of God’s or miss God’s voice altogether.

We become numb to the awesome and very distinguishable power of His voice while we quickly lose our ability to quiet our thoughts long enough to hear Him.

It wasn’t until these disciples were in communion with Christ; until the bread was broken and the wine passed around, that their eyes were opened (Luke 24:30-31).

This isn’t to say that we necessarily need to partake in eating the bread and drinking the wine to hear God’s voice – though that is a sure way to cleanse the heart and soul.

This is more to say that we need to seek communion with Christ; intimacy, relationship, and time of one-on-one union with Him to train our thoughts to dwell on His still, small voice.

Daily intimacy with Jesus Christ, seeking His guidance and His direction above and before all else, is the first and only true way to cultivate a spirit after God’s own heart.