Note from Rachel: With Christmas around the corner, I’ve just come off a tour with 1:11 Ministries and find myself mulling some of the themes of that tour. This week’s post is a brief break from the Gospel of Matthew in order to focus on the “reason for the season.”
For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
There are really only two spiritual disciplines, two things God wants from us: love and trust.
Everything else we do that we call “spiritual life” — prayer, Bible reading, going to church, fasting, etc — is meant to support these two things.
The coming of Jesus, God incarnate, is the banner proclaiming God is both trustworthy and worthy to be loved.
At the same time, his life is an invitation.
We cannot manufacture either love or trust out of nothing. For human beings, both love and trust are responses.
Love the Lord Your God
In Mark 12:30 and elsewhere, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 as the most important command in the Old Testament:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.
This was the quintessential command given to Israel through Moses and the heart of what it means to be God’s people. It’s all about love — it always has been.
Yet, implied within the command is a promise. People simply cannot love on command, to say nothing of loving in this wholehearted, completely holistic way.
We love in this way only as we have something to respond to: a love that is first given to us and an object worthy of being loved.
We Learn to Love By Looking
My 18-month old niece walked into my parents’ living room two weeks ago and stopped in her tracks, eyes widening and mouth dropping as she spotted their Christmas tree. She stared for a moment and then simply said, “Wow!”
This is how we’re wired, we human creatures: we see something that impresses us, that strikes us as worthy, and we respond with awe, with adoration, yes, even with love. It’s a natural response, something we can’t help but do.
I think this is why, in English, the word “love” has such a sliding scale, covering everything from how we feel about our dinner or a movie to how we feel about our children, our spouses, our God. These are variations on a similar response.
Its lowest expressions are fairly trivial. Its highest expression is what we were made for.
Maybe You Don’t Need to Try Harder
If love is a response, and we learn to love by looking, maybe the answer to “being a good Christian” isn’t so much trying really hard as it is seeing God more clearly.
Jesus shows us the essence and glory of God. He is God visible, God with skin on. Although he is currently reigning from heaven and not physically among us on earth, he continues to reveal God to us, personally, through the Holy Spirit.
I don’t believe it’s an accident that in John 3:3, Jesus said, “I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 2 Corinthians 4 assures us that in the face of Jesus, we see the glory of God. And we see the face of Jesus in our hearts, through the light that shines within by the Spirit of God.
What does all this mean? It means maybe you don’t need to try harder; maybe you need to see more.
Maybe the answer to growing in faith is asking the Spirit of God to reveal Jesus in your heart, just as happened to Paul:
God, who from my birth set me apart and called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me … (Galatians 1:15-16)
The God Who Reveals Himself
One of the most precious distinctives of the Christian faith is the belief that our God is a God who chooses to reveal himself. Everything we know if him is the result of self-revelation: through the creation, through the Scriptures, and most of all through Jesus Christ.
God, in other words, wants to be known. He created us for relationship. He made the first approach — not just once, but many times throughout history. And yes, even in our own lives.
We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
Christmas, with its strange and startling images of a God who lies vulnerable in a manger, part of the human family even as he is fully divine, is the story of a God who has come near to us in order to be known and loved, even as he wishes to know and to love.
This year, I pray we will look again at this Lord in a manger, and that we will respond … with awe, with adoration, with love.
I pray that you and I will see him more clearly, and in doing so, will love him more wholeheartedly.
This is a special Christmas post. To read the regular series on the Gospel of Matthew, visit here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)
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