We all remember Christmas mornings. Coffee is brewing and gifts are wrapped and under the tree. Then, gifts are opened and smiles abound. Prayers are said and delicious meals are eaten. These are the memories that remain in our minds and in our photo albums. These happy images adorn Christmas cards, carry the melody of Christmas songs, and bring Christmas movies to a happy, hopeful end.
It is easy to feel and show love in these times. Truly, few environments are more suited to love and good cheer. These Hallmark moments stand out in our memories, but we know that life around Christmas is made up of much more than this. The cutting-floor scenes of our lives comprise the majority of our days, and these days provide many challenges to loving those around us.
A Christmas to Forget
Cut to the family as it prepares to go to a Christmas party. Husband/Father doesn’t really want to go, but he is too grown-up to throw a tantrum and too Christian to be overtly mean to Wife. Instead, he makes his displeasure known through snide comments about the other people who will be there and by wearing a demeanor which says, “Everyone knows I don’t want to do this, but I’m doing it anyway because it’s important to her.” Timeliness is important to him (doesn’t promptness show respect to the host?), so he yells at the kids to hurry up and help their mother (it is, after all, taking a long time to decorate the cookies).
Wife/Mother hurries to finish dressing the kids (which includes vigorously scrubbing a hot chocolate stain on Middle Child’s sweater and verbally scouring him for his carelessness), packaging up the cookies (yes, Honey, they’re supposed to be that color), and wrapping the gifts. She recognizes Husband’s not-so-subtle-sarcasm, but she is also too Christian to openly snap back at him it or put him down for not helping her. Instead, her visible exasperation and rushing unmistakably conveys that she does the lion’s share of work around the house. Perhaps they wouldn’t always be late if more people helped her. Maybe her panic will convict them and bring them to repentance.
Oldest Child obviously would rather not go to the boring party, much preferring to hang out with friends. She is not quite as polished of a Christian, so her displeasure comes from both her words and demeanor. Middle Child and Youngest Child argue about something, but neither Father nor Mother (nor either child) are sure what it’s about anymore.
On the way to the party, Father makes statements of fact (but not judgments, mind you) about the other drivers which leave no doubt that they fall short of the universally recognized standard of good drivership. Wife is silent, inwardly applauding herself for following the maxim “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.” Middle and Youngest Child continue bickering and Oldest Child tells them to shut up because she can’t hear Friend on the other end of the line. The family arrives at the party (six minutes late), makes final adjustments to apparel (the stain is barely visible if you stay away from bright lights), and walks inside (now amiably sharing the load of cookies and gifts). Like the icing which covers the burnt parts of the cookies, their Christmas sweaters and smiles cover their frustration, annoyance, and discord…at least until they get back to the car.
The tense, snippy, loveless behavior of the family is almost comical, but we must confess that we have all seen (or been) at least one of them. Perhaps your situations look different, but the stress, obligations, and expectations of the holidays often reveal a disconnect between the external cheerfulness of the season and the internal rottenness of our attitude. Too often the cheerful, peaceful times are the anomaly rather than the rule. The Christmas card moments are exceptions, whereas the I’d-rather-forget-it moments are the norm.
We naturally do not act as we should. We naturally think about ourselves, and as everyone does this, conflict ensues. Therefore, as we prepare for the Christmas season, we must not only prepare our gifts for giving and our cookies for eating, but we must also prepare our minds for thinking of others and our hearts for loving.
A Christmas Reminder
As Christmas approaches, we are naturally drawn to the passages of Scripture which speak of Christ’s birth (and rightly so). These passages tell us of the love of God which sent His Son into the world to save sinners (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9). But as we prepare our hearts and minds for Christmas, we would do well to also think of another passage which speaks of how we extend love to others.
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4–7
True Christian love is revealed most when it is most difficult to love. This is in the midst of the mundane or challenging times of life. We show love not only on Christmas morning when we give the gift that we know our loved one will enjoy but also when we are patient with the other shoppers in the parking lot where we go to buy the gift. We show love when we are late for the Christmas concert, but we respond with patience and kindness to others as we rush to get ready (or, we show love by getting ready early so we can leave on time). We show love when we do not seek our own, but with true cheerfulness forego our own plan out of deference for another. We show love when someone is short with us, but we do not become provoked or respond with sarcasm or escalation. We show love when we not only respond in kindness, but we forgive the person immediately in our hearts.
Can you imagine a house filled with this kind of love? How different would the holidays look if we were to follow just these four verses! We would not tread through the holidays as though walking through a minefield, waiting for something to set us off. Rather, we would walk through the season as though through a hospital, recognizing the hurts, needs, and weaknesses of those around us, and looking for opportunities to show them love.
After all, are we not all weary travelers on this journey of life? Do we not all have cares that weigh us down? Do we not have sorrows and sins that nag and threaten to destroy our joy? Would it not be to the great rejoicing of the enemy if we neglected to build others up and instead became his tools to tear them down?
Christ came to earth to bring joy and peace. Oh, how shameful that we who bear His name should forget His cause in the very season which celebrates His coming! How near-sighted, self-centered, and forgetful are we that we should fail to love others! How greatly would His glory shine if we were to faithfully strive to reflect His love!
Sounds easy, right? We recognize that we must do this, yet we often fall short. What then must we do? How do we cultivate this love for others?
Encouragement and Exhortation
First, we must remember and dwell long upon God’s love for us. We love only because He first loved us.1 It is the experience of God’s love in our lives that enables us to understand love and extend it to others. What is God’s love like? God’s love takes the initiative. He sent Christ to earth, and He draws us individually to Himself by His Spirit.2 God’s love is unconditional. It is not based on what we do.3 God’s love is sacrificial. Christ endured hardship, humiliation, death, and the wrath of God for our sake.4 God’s love is personal. He loves us not as an object, but as a son or daughter.5 And lastly (although much more could be said on this topic), God’s love is enduring. No matter what happens and no matter what you do, Christian, God will never, ever love you less than He does right now, for His love for you is rooted in His love for His Son.6 Behold, the love of God! Oh how little we think of it! Let our first goal this season be to dwell upon His magnificent love!
Have you seen the demonstration of God’s love and yet not responded? Have you heard the gospel but not placed your faith in Christ? God’s love is manifested most clearly in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for you. You have done nothing to earn this, but you must respond to the work Christ has done by trusting in Him alone for salvation and reconciliation with God. Look for love nowhere else but in the loving arms of the Father! Surrender your life to Christ and look to Him alone for your salvation!
Second, remember to extend this love to others. Yes, Christ is more than just an example; He is Savior and Lord. But in Him we see the model of love we are to show to others. Take a moment and think through Christmases past when you struggled to have a good attitude toward others. What were the situations and circumstances that turned you from a glad person into a grump? Now think through the approaching Christmas season and the challenges it may have. Read through 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 again and think of how you could apply those verses to specific situations and people in your life. Those words are not just for weddings and walls. They are also for the kitchen, the car, and everywhere else we go. Loving like Christ will not happen naturally, but as you dwell upon God’s love for you, pray for His strength, and submit to His Word, His love will transform your life and overflow in your love for others.
This Christmas, may we rejoice in God’s love displayed through His Son, and may we extend that love to others throughout every moment of the season!
1 1 John 4:19. 2 Luke 19:10; John 6:44; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9. 3 Romans 8:29–30; Ephesians 1:3–6; Titus 3:5–7. 4 Isaiah 53:1–12; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 2:5–8. 5 Romans 8:14–17; 1 John 3:1. 6 Romans 8:31–39
Mike Engelsgjerd recently separated from the U.S. Army after 15 years of service. Towards the end of his service, Mike began to feel God’s call to full time Christian ministry. In following this call, He is pursuing an M.Div. at TMS with the goal of becoming a Chaplain in the U.S. Military and a Pastor.