John 15:9-17 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other."
During Advent we celebrate Jesus. We celebrate his coming to us. We celebrate the result of his coming to us. It would be easy to argue that Easter is truly the greater celebration. Jesus has conquered Death! He has overcome the world, and restored right relationship with the Trinitarian God: Father, Son, and Spirit! Easter is marked by self sacrifice, suffering, forgiveness, love, and ultimate victory over sin and death. These are qualities about God that Jesus has made known. We remember and rightly celebrate this story in awe, and in reverence.
At Christmas, the story is not lesser or greater than Easter... it is the same story. It is the same lead character, with the same intention. Jesus gave the world an experience that was understandable: Love. I have held each of my 4 children for a first time. There is nothing like it. Love is generated by the eyes of a child; manufactured in every tiny smile. Jesus arrived in a form of love that we all understand. Maybe the only form that we don't question. Intentions around a parents love of a baby are universally pure. This ability to love is in our design. Jesus arrives this way. Then slowly pulls us toward the fuller picture of love.
The apostle John was the youngest disciple. He lived the longest, and his Gospel account reflects a depth of understanding that only comes with time. He recounts Jesus' final interaction with the disciples in John 14-17. I consider this one of the most valuable portions of scripture. In chapter 15 he says two surprising things. The first is that we should obey his commands. In our culture, setting aside our own desires to follow someone else's seems insane. Maybe it even is "evil" in the eyes of a culture steeped in the "gospel of self." The second alarming teaching of Jesus is that love is sacrificial in nature. "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." Again, we are confronted. Apparently love is costly.
The beauty in this passage, and in this story of Advent, is discovered in the nature of who God is. God is Love. His command is love. His actions are love. His presence is love. He invites us into love. The apostle John zooms in on Jesus' words in this moment. He remembers it vividly as he writes. It struck a chord with him in the same way that the baby Jesus struck a chord with Mary. She cherished the events of his birth in her heart. It was unforgettable in the same way that the centurion who witnesses Jesus' death confesses, "Truly this was the Son of God!" John remembers Jesus' description of love as sacrificial... and remembers how Jesus equates love with obeying his commands. Years later John writes, "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." 1 John 4:8.
God entered the world. The one who IS LOVE came and was with us. We all remember. Then the one who is Love sends us out. He tells us to go out and to tell other people about his commands, and to give others the same experience we have received. His command confronts the cultural invitation to love self above all else. Instead, we have been loved by someone who loves us better then we can love ourselves! It is good news to us, it is good news to everyone. Love has come!
- Chris Gough