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What Jesus Wants For Christmas: Ignite Love
December 10, 1995

ISAIAH 11:1-10, ROMANS 15:4-13, MARK 12:28-31

Two boys were talking about Christmas. One said, "We bought an artificial tree this year." The other said, "Doesn't artificial bother you?" The first replied, "No, not as long as the presents are real." I suspect we all prefer to receive real presents. I believe Jesus does too. It is Jesus' birthday we are celebrating. Let's give Jesus a gift this Christmas. Through the sermons, I am spelling out GIFT. The G in gift stands for Get ready--wait for God's time by taking time to Get ready. The I in gift stands for Ignite love.

What Jesus wants for Christmas is for everyone to love God and one another. Remember the popular song a few years ago?

Come on, people now,

Smile on your brother.

Everybody get together,

Try to love one another right now.

A few weeks ago, I suggested that we eliminate try from our vocabulary. Jesus didn't command us to try to love one another. Jesus said, Love. A scribe asked him, "Which commandment is the most important?" Jesus answered, Mark 12:30-31,

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.

How Jesus must weep for all the hurting, abused, hungry, abandoned, mistreated people. The suicide rate has tripled in the last decade. 25% of all children in the United States go to bed hungry each night, and who knows how many children do not have a bed to sleep in, or even a home. The leading cause of death of children under age four is abuse. How Jesus must weep when a world leader is assassinated by a deeply religious person.

What Jesus wants for Christmas is for us to love God and one another. Did you hear the visions for the world read in the Scripture lessons this morning? In Romans, Paul visions the breaking of the wall that separates Jew and Gentile, that together we may with one voice glorify God, that we may live in harmony with one another. The prophet Isaiah was more poetic than Paul. What a vision of peace and harmony Isaiah had for the future, Isaiah 11:6-9,

The wolf shall live with the lamb,

the leopard shall lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling together,

and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox...

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.

What Jesus wants for Christmas is for us to ignite love; not just spread love around, but ignite it. Love is like a fire; contagious, catching. What did Jesus mean by love when he said, "Love God and love your neighbor?" Our culture loves to use the word love! Jesus did not command us to love ice cream. Nor was Jesus talking about gushy, romantic feelings. Love in Jesus' teachings is not a feeling; it is an action. Jesus' commandment to love begins with the Ten Commandments.

Jesus was summarizing the Ten Commandments. How do you love God? The minimum definition of loving God begins with the first four commandments.

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.

In other words, we love God by putting God first, first in our worship, first in our language, first in our priorities.

How do you love your neighbor as yourself? Look at the next six commandments. Honor your father and your mother (not humor your parents, as one little boy understood, honor, respect), and love your neighbor by not murdering, committing adultery, stealing, bearing false witness, or coveting anything that belongs to your neighbor. Imagine the kind of world it would be if people loved their neighbors. Let's ignite neighbor love!

But, Jesus went further than the Ten Commandments. Jesus went beyond the "You shall nots" to the "You shall do's". Jesus taught:

Love your enemies (Matthew 5:44-48). Do good to those who hate you (Luke 6:27)

Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).

Not only do not murder, but watch your anger as well (Matthew 5:21-22). Forgive others their trespasses, so your heavenly Father will also forgive you; if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses

(Matthew 6:14-15).

Reconcile differences (Matthew 5:23-24).

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12).

Albert Schweitzer, the famous physician and accomplished organist who gave it all up in order to go to Africa to be a medical missionary, was once asked to name the greatest person alive in the world at that moment. Schweitzer replied thoughtfully, "The greatest person alive in the world at this moment is some unknown individual in some obscure place, who, at this hour, has gone in love to be with another person in need." Let's ignite love!

Jesus also taught that loving neighbor means: do not retaliate or seek vengeance (Matthew 5:38-39). When Jesus began his ministry, he went to the synagogue in his hometown, Nazareth, and announced his ministry by quoting from Isaiah 61:1-2,

The spirit of the Lord 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;

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

It is interesting how Jesus omitted the next line from Isaiah, and the day of vengeance of our God. Some scholars argue that the storm of protest against Jesus was because Jesus selectively stressed grace rather than vengeance, love and forgiveness rather than retaliation. In fact, three times Jesus quotes Isaiah passages, intentionally eliminating phrases of vengeance. Downplaying vengeance angered the religious and political leaders. Salvation was not what they expected. Salvation for everyone, especially the poor and oppressed; forgiveness rather than retaliation was not what people expected or wanted. Our culture is also strong on vengeance. Build jails rather than schools. Put them away rather than rehabilitate. Blame. Get even. What Jesus wants for Christmas is for us to ignite love throughout the land--love of God and love of neighbor that leads to salvation, redemption, and healing, rather than getting even.

The world fell apart for Frank and Elizabeth when Ted, their only child, was killed by a drunk driver. Ted was 18 and had been the light of their life. From then on Frank and Elizabeth had only one purpose in life--to haunt the driver who had killed their son. All they could think of was vengeance. A few days after they buried Ted, they went to the preliminary hearing for the driver, Tommy, who was just a few years older than their son. They hated him, and they wanted to see him punished severely and quickly.

But, Tommy was not sent to jail as the grieving parents had hoped, but was put on five years' probation. The terms of probation required him to work as a volunteer in the hospital emergency room where he would see the victims of drunk drivers. And, on every other weekend, he had to spend one night in jail. Frank and Elizabeth were enraged over what they considered a light sentence for the man who killed their son, and they made certain that he carried out the judge's orders. They drove by the emergency room to make sure Tommy was there. They went to the jail to be certain that he spent the night.

Then Tommy was caught by his probation officer for drinking, and he was sentenced to jail for ten years. Frank and Elizabeth began visiting Tommy in jail, and their hearts began to soften. They received permission to have him released two nights a week so they could take him to church. At first it was awkward and uncomfortable for everyone, but one night Tommy broke down and asked their forgiveness for killing their son. A few months later, he was freed on probation, and this time Frank and Elizabeth were in court to tell the judge they would help Tommy rebuild his life. They discovered that hatred which pulls life apart must give way to love which holds life together.

Let's ignite love! What a gift for Jesus' birthday!

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris