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THE FACE OF GOD – LOVE

THE FACE OF GOD – LOVE

Ted Schroder, December 19, 2004

Why all this gift giving at Christmas? Why all this love and good cheer? Why is there no room for Scrooge or the Grinch at Christmas? What is there to party about at Christmas? What makes this season so special? Let me remind you. Christmas provides the joyful alternative to believing that we live in a cold, bleak, impersonal and heartless universe.

Before Jesus came to earth the prevailing conception of God in the ancient world was the Greek abstract conception that God was absolute Being, timeless, changeless, unmoved, the negation of all that belongs to sensible experience. We cannot be loved by an abstraction. The god of philosophy is no help to anyone. God as conceived by New Age spirituality is the Platonic idea of Divine Beauty which we need to behold, as in a vision; another cold objective formula. But the Bible tells us about a God who does not want us to see him in the abstract or in a mystical vision. God wants us to know him through what he has done, and what he is doing. In the Scriptures, God is seen to be active and dynamic.

In contrast to the views of philosophy, mysticism and New Age spirituality, the witness of the apostles is to the coming of Christ into their midst: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched.” (1 John 1:1)

God is revealed as love by his actions, by his birth and death, by his incarnation and his atonement. The face of God is revealed in his activity – by what he does. He chooses to come into our world to show us that he is love, and to act in love toward us, so that we too, might act like him towards others – love.

How do you distinguish between different views of God? Which god is authentically God? Who is the God of reality not illusion? The apostle John warns us: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God….. love comes from God.. God is love. 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.” (1 John 4:1-3,7-9)

The nature, or the reality, of God is learned from what God does. John does not prove that God is love because of the beauty of Nature, or the mercy of God in History. It is in the birth and death of Jesus – the incarnation and atonement – that we see that God is love. Love originates in God: “This is love: not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son.” The meaning of love must be found in what God has done and not in its pale imitation in human hearts. Love is primarily divine, and only human by derivation. The face of God is revealed in God’s intervention in human history at Bethlehem and Calvary.

What is revealed? “John means it is the nature and property of God to be merciful, bountiful, faithful, abounding in grace, over-flowing in loving-kindness, patience, and tender-heartedness, dealing with us in steadfast righteousness and strongly seeking ever our highest good. God is unlimited, immeasurable, and inexhaustible goodwill. Providence, forgiveness, comfort, redemption, are not things God does; they express what God is, and ever will be. All God’s activity is loving activity. If he creates, he creates in love; if he rules, he rules in love; if he judges, he judges in love. He cannot help it; for God is love.

“So Christianity dares to proclaim in an age of unleashed power, of ruthless reason, of unsentimental science, in a world of impersonal forces and empty spaces and appalling dangers, that the heart of reality is – a heart, a pulse of everlasting mercy, a compassion infinite, exhaustless, almighty and enduring. The gospel’s answer to humanity’s obsessive problems of anxiety, morality and meaninglessness is short and simply: God is love.” (R.E.O.White, Open Letter To Evangelicals, p.108)

The proof of this is the coming of Christ to Bethlehem. God’s love drove him on to enter into our fallen world. He loved us so much that he put himself at jeopardy for us. Christ proves that God is love by accepting his destiny as suffering Savior, through being born of a human mother.

Kathleen Raine wrote a poem portraying a child standing on the threshold of life, of the home, of the human heart, and he is warned not to enter a place so full of pain. This is the Christ who comes to the world in desperate need of him, which feels itself unworthy of his love. Imagine God in the form of a child waiting to be born, standing outside the door of this world, having this conversation with humanity. Humanity speaks first, with some apprehension, as Christ waits to enter.

Who stands at my door in the storm and rain
On the threshold of being?
One who waits till you call him in
From the empty night.

Are you a stranger, out in the storm,
Or has my enemy found me out
On the edge of being?

I am no stranger who stands at the door
Nor enemy come in the secret night,
I am your child, in darkness and fear
On the verge of being.

Go back, my child, to the rain and storm,
For in this house there is sorrow and pain
In the lonely night.

I will not go back for sorrow or pain,
For my true love weeps within
And waits for my coming.

Go back, my babe, to the vacant night
For in this house dwell sin and hate
On the verge of being.

I will not go back for hate or sin,
I will not go back for sorrow or pain,
For my true love mourns within
On the threshold of night.

God comes to us in Christ because he loves us and we need him. The result of what happened at the first Christmas is that the face of God is revealed as love. Asked by a young lawyer what was the greatest, the most comprehensive, commandment in all religion, Jesus replied, “You shall love…..” The apostle John reminds us, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11) God came so that we too might learn what love is, and how important it is to love one another.

“What is it that makes a person great, admired by creation, well pleasing in the eyes of God? What is it that makes a person strong, stronger than the whole world; what is it that makes him weak, weaker than a child? What is it that makes a person unwavering, more unwavering than a rock; what is it that makes him soft, softer than wax? It is love!

What is it that is older than everything? It is love.

What is it that outlives everything? It is love.

What is it that cannot be taken but itself takes all? It is love.

What is it that cannot be given but itself gives all? It is love.

What is it that perseveres when everything falls away? It is love.

What is it that comforts when all comfort fails? It is love.

What is it that endures when everything is changed? It is love.

What is it that remains when the imperfect is abolished? It is love.

What is it that witnesses when prophecy is silent? It is love.

What is it that does not cease when the vision ends? It is love.

What is it that sheds light when the dark saying ends? It is love.

What is it that gives blessing to the abundance of the gift? It is love.

What is it that gives pith to the angel’s words? It is love.

What is it that makes the widow’s gift an abundance? It is love.

What is it that turns the words of the simple into wisdom? It is love.

What is it that is never changed even though everything is changed?

It is love; and that alone is love, that which never becomes something else.” (Soren Kierkegaard, Love Will Hide a Multitude of Sins)

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:12)

We have seen God in Christ as love. Love is giving, sacrificial giving. It is the opposite of selfishness. God gave us Christ at Christmas. He gave us himself. We reflect the face of God in Christ when we give ourselves to others. Such giving goes against our self-centered natures. It takes a miracle of God’s love, bringing into our lives the spirit of Christ, to change us. By changing us, the season of Christmas becomes the season of giving. All this is possible because of the coming of Christ. He revealed the real face of God. Let us become that face to one another.

Amelia Island, Florida

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