1 John 4:7-21The Message
God Is Love
7-10 My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.
11-12 My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!
13-16 This is how we know we’re living steadily and deeply in him, and he in us: He’s given us life from his life, from his very own Spirit. Also, we’ve seen for ourselves and continue to state openly that the Father sent his Son as Savior of the world. Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God’s Son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God. We know it so well, we’ve embraced it heart and soul, this love that comes from God.
To Love, to Be Loved
17-18 God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.
19 We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
20-21 If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.
The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.
It is ALL in the DOING!
John speaks directly to the heart of love as he writes, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.”
Loving is not an abstract, optional concept.
It originates with God,
and we pass along God’s love in our relationships with others.
Renowned Author, Ethicist and Theologian Lewis Smedes put it this way in his book Love Within Limits:
“God’s love song is in many ways like other great love songs. . . . Our challenge is to find ways to bring the heavenly rhapsody down into our own worldly realities.”
How true—and also realistically, truthfully how difficult! Only one person, Jesus, lived out perfectly the demands of perfect love, and he was crucified.
Living with one another gets messy, and people can be so difficult!
We live with family, friends, and neighbors who often seem determined to test even our desire to love.
But God didn’t command us to like one another. Jesus, after stating that the greatest commandment is “Love the Lord your God . . .” reminded everyone that the second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
That is not an optional command.
Jesus also described it as a new command and gave the reason for us to obey it:
34-35 “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” John 13:34-35
Jesus expects us to live out His love in very visible ways, to obey his commands.
I fervently pray the Christmas season, or any season for that matter, also reminds us of what Jesus said in Matthew 22:39, about the second most crucial commandment Christians should keep. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
While I could focus solely on myself this Christmas,
My Wife and I find it infinitely more rewarding to help spread the merriment of the holidays to those around us, including to those who are our literal neighbor.
By doing this, our lives becomes engulfed in God’s love and Immanuel’s joy, and both our hearts become more focused on the reason for the season: Jesus!
To help you the reader do the same, here are 10 ideas to bring your neighbor, your family, yourself a bit more of God’s Love, Immanuel’s joy this Christmas.
1. Host a dinner.
Savor the Christmas season this year by cherishing time spent with the people in your life.
Invite a few of your neighbors over for a potluck dinner.
Cook the main dish and ask a few people to bring sides and desserts.
If you’re feeling extra hospitable, provide all aspects of the meal and let your neighbors enjoy their evening.
Just make sure you communicate with all your neighbors about any dietary restrictions.
When it comes time to have your neighbors over, make your home extra festive: turn on your Christmas tree, lighting your favorite Christmas-scented candle.
Have light Christmas music playing in the background, too! Sit around the fireplace (or this video of a fire) and enjoy God and one another’s company.
When it comes time to leave, give your neighbors a small gift, like a mug with hot cocoa packets and marshmallows – maybe their souls will be warmed up!
2. Organize a cookie exchange.
Every year, my wife and I know a great couple who will spend hours upon hours in the kitchen, over a nice warm oven and bake well over a thousand cookies of all flavors and will distribute them to their family, their friends, and neighbors.
Or perhaps, instead of baking however many varieties and myriad different types of Christmas cookies, maybe try hosting a cookie exchange this year.
Find a handful of neighbors who would like to participate and have each select one or two types of cookies to make.
You can ask everyone to bake their holiday favorites, or you can assign cookie types to prevent repeats.
Then, invite everyone over to to the house, exchange cookies with one another.
Everyone will leave a variety of cookies, without having to be chained to their kitchens all of December.
You can even turn the cookie exchange into an entire afternoon celebration.
Put on your favorite Christmas movies and music and provide hot cocoa and and coffee and popcorn and the aromas of God’s Love. Invite neighbors to stay for a couple of hours to watch a flick and nibble on those delectable cookies.
3. Provide babysitting. (as much as you are able and it is needed by your guests)
Christmas is a hugely busy time.
There are never-ending parties and celebrations, a million and a half things to bake, and gifts to purchase and wrap.
This last part can be especially tricky for parents of children who still believe in Santa or just want to manage to keep the gifts they’re giving a hidden surprise.
If you have a neighbor with small kids, offer to watch them one evening so their parents can get their Christmas shopping done.
Or even just take a night off together.
If you have kids, too, see if you can work out a child swap for a couple of hours.
With their approval and their permission, watch their kids one night, send your kids to the neighbor’s house another night – share some cookies and hot cocoa.
This way, they can get their shopping done in peaceful bliss.
4. Shovel their driveway. (as much as it may be required and you can safely do)
After a particularly heavy snow, I came home from work one day to find that our neighbors had shoveled our driveway.
Well, actually, I came home to see our neighbor in the middle of snow blowing our driveway, so I looped around the block one more time, parked my truck and picked up my shovel and I summarily started on my other neighbors driveway.
I know, I know—kind of, sort of, just a might bit and largely neighborly gesture.
But, I love shoveling the driveway, even though it might be some dense snow.
You too can be that great neighbor to someone else. Grab your shovel or snow blower, help someone out, especially someone like an ailing or elderly person.
But honestly, truthfully everyone will then appreciate having the “shovel the driveway” checked off their list for them so whoever you help will be thankful!
5. Go caroling together.
I know, I know, I know – so utterly and completely old fashioned, isn’t it?
A wise man once said, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”
You caught me ….
and now my cheeks are blushing ….
The guy I’m talking about is Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf, but that does not detract from his wisdom.
Christmas caroling spreads God’s love and great cheer at lightning speeds.
Grab your family and friends and go door to door singing some of the all-time classics, like Silent Night or Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
If your feeling extra festive, feel like you want to go over the top with your caroling, bring a plate of cookies along and offer your neighbors a sweet treat.
6. Organize a neighborhood food drive. (with a bit more neighborly planning)
Nothing gets people in the true Christmas spirit quite as well as helping others. Bring your neighborhood together this Christmas by organizing a food drive.
Contact your local food bank and ask what nonperishable food items they need.
Print out a list of those foods, along with an explanation of what you’re doing, and deliver that info sheet door to door.
If someone isn’t home, either leave the sheet in their mailbox or on their front door. Let your neighbors know they can drop off the goods on your doorstep at any time and also designate a day that you could come to pick up any items.
Together, you will help restock your local food bank in the midst of the season during which they serve the most people.
7. Be a secret Santa.
My Wife and I love to do this ….
Our absolute favorite way to give Christmas gifts is secret-Santa style.
We absolutely love the idea of people anonymously receiving a present they were not expecting.
It can be such a huge blessing, and with no one to thank, they turn their gratitude towards God.
Your secret-Santa present can be something small like a Christmas movie, caramel popcorn, or hot cocoa.
Or your gift could be something life-changing, like a new washing machine.
Another secret-Santa idea I love is to collect pocket change and loose dollar bills throughout the year.
Then deliver that jar of money to the doorstep of a random homeless neighbor.
By giving these gifts without receiving credit, it really highlights how generous, compassionate our Heavenly Father is and how he abundantly blesses all of us.
8. Host a wrapping party.
I do not know about you, but I often have a gift for weeks before I actually get around to wrapping it, mostly because of my lack of wrapping paper. Or tape. Or ribbon. Or gift tags. (I’m pretty much a wrapping-mess!) (I despise wrapping!)
So why not host a present wrapping party for you and a few neighbors?
Have each person bring a pair of scissors and a few rolls of wrapping paper.
Provide tape, ribbons, and snacks.
Put on a Christmas movie, crank up some festive music, spread some Christmas Cookies around and spend your day wrapping all the presents you are giving.
It is an especially great idea for college dorms or student apartment buildings.
It provides students with an opportunity to get together, have a party, wrap their gifts, eat some favorite cookies, all before going home for the holidays.
It’s also a fantastic stress-buster during the chaos of finals week!
9. Help Decorate
Driving through a neighborhood where almost every home has lights on their house and a tree in its window is such a joyful treat.
But the problem with Christmas decorations is that they often have to be set up in crummy weather.
The cold, snow or ice can be especially tricky to brave, and the last thing you want is someone slipping off their roof.
Also, let’s be honest: setting up Christmas decorations can be exhausting!
Some years, it’s a struggle to find the time to set up your decorations.
So, if you have a neighbor who usually decorates but hasn’t yet this year, reach out and see if they need help.
It’ll bring God to their doorstep and Immanuel’s joy to your neighbor, and to the rest of your neighbors who get to look back at the beautiful decorations!
10. Give a Simple Card
It’s hard to explain my joy when I open our mailbox, and there’s a piece of mail that is neither a bill nor a mass of advertisements all addressed to “our current resident.” It’s almost like the Christmas-morning-equivalent of adulthood.
Why not give our God a chance to freely advertise some of His great love for “all of our current residents,” take advantage of this super simple, inexpensive way to bring Immanuel’s joy to your neighbors?
Buy a multi-pack of Christmas cards and write a small heartfelt note about how much these people mean to you.
Tell stories of how they have blessed you this year, and thank God for them for being great neighbors.
this is a great way to introduce yourself to neighbors you do not know as well.
Introduce yourself via a card and follow up with your neighbors with one of the other ideas in this article.
The Christmas season lends itself exceedingly and abundantly well to forming yearlong relationships with your neighbors.
You just never know what God will do with such a relationship ….
It is ALL in the DOING ….
John’s letter gives us magnificent clues on how to stretch the season.
We celebrate Christmas all year when we stick to the basics of “loving God and carrying out his commands.”
And these “commands” are not complicated.
The central command is to love God and neighbor. For example, says John, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.”
So, as we finish our Christmas gatherings, finish unwrapping gifts, take down the Christmas tree and box and store the lights and decorations, we should keep celebrating our FIRST love of the birth of Jesus, by loving others as he loves us.
“Peace and goodwill to all”
must become FOR ALL a blessed and highly favored year-round labor of love.
It is ALL in our DOING!
In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,
Let us Pray,
Psalm 100 The Message
100 1-2 On your feet now—applaud God!
Bring a gift of laughter,
sing yourselves into his presence.
3 Know this: God is God, and God, God.
He made us; we didn’t make him.
We’re his people, his well-tended sheep.
4 Enter with the password: “Thank you!”
Make yourselves at home, talking praise.
Thank him. Worship him.
5 For God is sheer beauty,
all-generous in love,
loyal always and ever.
Almighty, all-merciful God, through Christ Jesus you have taught us to love one another, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and even to love our enemies. In times of violence and fear, let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, so that we may not be overcome with evil but overcome evil with good.
Help us to see each person in light of the love and grace you have shown us in Christ. Put away the nightmares of terror and awaken us to the dawning of your new creation. Establish among us a future where peace reigns, justice is done with mercy, and all are reconciled. We ask these things in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lord Jesus, as your neighbors often we are difficult to love. Thank you for always loving us and being our example of patience and perseverance as we seek to love others in your name. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.