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OH HOLY NIGHT:His Law is Love – Luke 10:25-37

I have a confession this morning.  I absolutely love Christmas carols!  Some crazy people start before Thanksgiving.  I have a normal affinity for Christmas carols and I start after Thanksgiving and every day I listen to them.  There are some songs that are a little bit silly, aren’t there?  Let’s just all agree together that some of the Christmas carols are a little bit silly.  For example, Jingle Bells:  Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…  I haven’t met anybody that just wants to jingle part of the way!  Then to say in a one-horse open sleigh.  Let’s all agree.  We’re on board.  Two horses is overboard!  There’s some other songs, too.  We Wish You a Merry Christmas.  We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.  The song starts off great.  You can imagine knocking on somebody’s door and wishing them a merry Christmas and then singing now bring us some figgy pudding, now bring us some figgy pudding…  As if every door you knock on is going to have meat pudding just sitting there ready to serve to carolers that come by. The next verse is we won’t go until we get some, we won’t go until we get some….  So real quickly this turned from caroling into almost a hostage negotiation!  Like we’re not going anywhere until we get our figgy pudding! And it’s not just secular songs that have a little bit of strangeness to them.  The song Do You Hear What I Hear?  Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy. Do you hear what I hear?  No, I don’t!!!  I don’t hear that sheep speaking to me!  The fact that you do means we’ll find help for you!  You’ve been out in the fields WAY too long!  A child, a child shivering in the cold, let us bring him silver and gold….  How about a blanket?!  Who in their right mind sees a child shivering in the night and brings him a bar of gold?!  Yeah, he’s loaded but he has hypothermia!  There’s some of these songs we sing every year and they just become so rote they become part of the Christmas celebration.  They’re beautiful and they’re great.

Then there are some songs that just speak these little seeds of truth into the Christmas story.  The songs that I love the most and that I’m the most drawn to are the songs that just don’t retell the story, but they’re songs that invite you into the story.  That’s what O Holy Night does.  O holy night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining. The world’s under this weightiness, this heaviness from the shackles of sin.  Until He appeared and the soul felt its worth.  We talked about that last week.  Christmas speaks worth to every soul in this room.  A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.  Because of the birth of Jesus, a new day is dawning.  A new freedom is possible.  Truly He taught us to love one another.  His law is love and His gospel is peace.    That’s where we’re going to hang out a little bit today.  His law is love and his gospel is peace.  So in 1847, when Placide Cappeau writes this poem, he invites you, not just to hear the Christmas story, but to step INTO the Christmas story. To sorta poke around a little bit and to allow the weightiness of what Jesus did in entering into humanity to sit on us afresh.

Here’s what he invites you to do:  he invites you to sing Scripture.  His law is love and his gospel, the good news, is peace, is shalom.  It’s this wholeness and this healing of the broken world that we live in. Listen to the way the Apostle Paul echoes this same sentiment as he writes to the church at Galatia: For you were called to freedom, brothers. {Isn’t that great news?}  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.. {We often think that’s what freedom is.  It’s a blank check, a clean slate, to do whatever we want.  A biblical freedom is NOT an invitation to do whatever you want; it’s an invitation to walk in the freedom to do so, to walk in the way of Jesus.}  …but through love serve one another.  {That’s what you’re freed in order to do.} For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal. 5:13-14)    What a beautiful invitation and what a simple call.  I love that the way of Jesus isn’t all that complicated.  The Apostle Paul says that in all of the religious striving and all of things that you’ve been told and all of 613 different laws that you have, let me boil this down, not just to one law, but to one word: LOVE.  This is the way of Jesus.  His law is love.  Jesus says it himself in Matthew 22:37-40–“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments… {So Jesus says you want to take all of Torah and all of the Old Testament scriptures and hang them on one commandment and one word; it’s really simple, it’s not all that complicated.  It’s love your neighbor as yourself.}  ….depend all the Law and the Prophets.”   They all hang on that one thing.  That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?  To take all of the Law and the Prophets and to just condense them down and to put them on that one thing.  But here’s the problem: I look around the world and I swipe through my news apps, right?  I think we need a little bit more love, don’t you?  You don’t have to look that far to see that the world is broken.  To see that there’s war going on in every corner of the globe.  To see that there’s hate crimes that are prolific.  To see that there’s abuse that happens.  To see that there’s depression that enslaves.  I don’t know about you, but the words of the great philosophers, Paul McCartney and John Lennon, still ring true: “All you need is love; Love is all you need.”  They’re just echoing the words of Jesus.  His law is love.  His way or his rule….that’s what that word law means, the way of Jesus, the rule of Jesus, the weightiness of Jesus is love and his gospel is peace.

Will you turn to Luke 10:25?  I want to show you that this wasn’t all that new of a concept.  Jesus isn’t breaking onto the scene with anything all that earth-shattering.  In fact, for many of us today, we go well, sure his law is love and his gospel is peace.  We’ve sung it a number of times and we know the Scriptures and so did this guy. And behold, a lawyer stood up {Don’t think trial attorney.  Think scribe.  Somebody who’s done his work studying the Hebrew scriptures.} .…stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”   {Let’s all agree that it’s a fascinating question in and of itself.  What must I do to inherit?  Well, you must be born into the right family.  He’s closer than he thinks to the truth.}  He (Jesus) said to him, “What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?”  {Jesus is going I have a question back for you.  Jesus often answers a question with another question.}   And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  Here’s what he does.  He takes two prolific Old Testament scriptures.  One is called the Shema.  It was a section of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 that a Jewish person would read every single morning when they woke up, midday, and every single evening before they went to bed:  Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.    It was the way they started every single synagogue, with this prayer.  So the lawyer says that’s what you should do and he adds onto that Leviticus 19:18–….but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: {God says definitively} I am the Lord. {As if to say this is a reflection of your good Father.}  Nailed it!  He sticks the dismount, as it were.

Here’s what Jesus says.  Look at this again with me.  You have answered correctly; do this and you will live. He says follow the law of love.  Live under the weightiness of love and you will live.  You’ll have eternal life.  We hear the word eternal life and we automatically think heaven.  For a first century Jewish mind, this would not have been the first thing in their mind.  They would have thought two things.  One, eternal life would be life that has a duration that lasts forever.  So think quantity, number of years.  So, yes, there’s an aspect of eternality, of the afterlife of heaven that was worked into this answer.  But it’s not only that.  There’s another side to that coin that was almost more important for a first century Jewish mind.  Not just quantity of life, but quality of life.  The kind of life that you’d want to last forever.  So Jesus says you want the type of life that you want to last forever?  You want that abundant, joy-filled life?  Live under the law of love.  Living under the law of love frees me, frees you to embrace the gift of life!  You know who would disagree with that?  Almost no one!  Let’s be honest.  If you go and read about world religions, most religions are going to say that love is a good thing.  The Buddhists will say it.  The Hindus will say it.  Muslims will say it.  Love is a good thing.  That we should love the people around us.  Jesus isn’t saying something all that unique.  But he asks the follow-up question because the invitation, or the law to love, is not all that unique, but how far Jesus takes it is the unique thing.  So listen to the follow-up question:  But he, desiring to justify himself, {So this lawyer wants to know I’m okay.  This is for free: If we don’t hear the overtures of love from the Father, we will have to find ways to prove ourselves lovable.  So in a very real way, loved people love people.  But people who doubt that they’re loved, they respond very similarly as this lawyer.} …..(he) said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  ‘Cause I want to put people in a box, because certainly, Jesus, you couldn’t be calling us to love everybody. ‘Cause that would just be insane!  Here’s what he’s saying.  I put people in boxes and Jesus, here’s what I want you to do.  I want you to tell me which people in which boxes I have to love.  How weighty is this law of love and how far does the law of love go?

We often wrestle with the same thing, don’t we?  We put people in boxes.  (Pastor Ryan has a bunch of “labeled” boxes behind him and during his sermon he pyramids them on the stage.)  One of the boxes we have is (Ethnicity)…..so God, do we have to love people that don’t look exactly like us?  That aren’t from the same place? That don’t talk like us?  That don’t eat like us?  Let’s sorta make our camp and put a circle around it and we can live within the law of love with the people in our camp.  This is the story of humanity from the get-go.  We start dividing based on what we look like, talk like, what our preferences are.  People that don’t fit the box…..maybe, I don’t have to love them!  OR maybe it’s people that don’t have as much as I have (dollar sign box).  So they’re in a socio-economic bracket that’s different from me.  They’re a little bit needy or they’re really wealthy and they have more than they need, and I don’t want anything to do with them.  We have our little camp that says really?!  Who I want to love?  They’re people who look like me.  Here’s another one (religion box).  I will love people who believe the same things I believe.  But when people don’t believe like I believe, well, then this law of love just doesn’t apply.  We often make boxes, don’t we?  We put people in boxes.  Some of it is the way they’re different than us, but other times it’s people that are threatening to us. (Threatening box)  People are scary to me.  Jesus, you couldn’t possibly mean that I’m suppose to love those people, right?  They don’t look the same way.  They don’t talk the same way.  All of that makes them a danger and I’m sure, Jesus, that you want us to protect ourselves.  It would just be silly, wouldn’t it, if we started to love people that are our enemies.  That would be crazy, wouldn’t it?  People that are threatening to me….I have a hard time loving them.  Oh, man.  (Picks up “Hurt” box)  People that have hurt me.  I’ve got a box for those people and the law of love doesn’t apply to those type of people.  ‘Cause they’ll stab you in the back and they’ll take advantage of you.  Certainly Jesus wants us to be wiser than that, right?  To not offer our hearts. To not be willing to invite people into our life and into our story who might hurt us.  He certainly wouldn’t want us to do that, would he?  There’s one other type of person I’ve identified that’s hard for me to love.  You might have somebody like this in your life, too.  (Shows “EGR” box)  Extra Grace Required.  You know them.  They’re coming over for dinner Christmas Eve!  If you don’t know them…..you ARE them!!!  That’s for free!  They’re the type of people where you look at and go you’re not worthy of my love.  You’re not worthy of my love and I’ve got a laundry list of reasons why.  You’re disrespectful.  You’re annoying.  You’re personality….they’re just the people that get under your skin.  We often go alright God, I’m willing to love everybody that looks and believes and talks and thinks like me, so let the law of love be weighty on me.   But if they fit into one of these boxes, I’m sure you want us to take love that far, because that would be crazy.  Right?  We’d end up loving people that were our enemies.  We’d end up being for people that were against us.  We’d offer a cold cup of water to people who really didn’t deserve it.  You see, the invitation to live under the law of love is not unique.  It’s in every single religion.  What’s unique about the way of Jesus is not that we’re called to live under the beautiful, weighty law of love.  What’s unique about the way of Jesus is how far this law extends.  That’s the difference.  Jesus, in wanting to draw this out, is going to tell a story.  He’s going to tell a story that starts to break down this age-old tendency that we have to read Scripture only through our lens.  And to be unable to see outside of our boxes.  That was an issue for the people back then in the first century hearing the words and teachings of Jesus and wrestling with them for the first time, and it’s an issue for us today.  But if we’re going to live under the weighty law of love and embrace the gift of life that Jesus has offered to us, and He’s offering it to you right now, we have to come to terms with the fact that Jesus doesn’t give us this option.  It’s not an option for those who follow Jesus.  You CANNOT be a follower of Christ and say I’ve got my boxes and some people don’t fit into them and so I’m not going to love them.

Here’s the way the story goes.  If you’ve been around church at all, you’ve probably heard the story.  My prayer is that you would hear it with fresh eyes.  Because the punchline of the good samaritan is not be nice.  It’s not. Listen and we’ll get there.  Jesus wants to invite us under this weighty, beautiful law of love.  Verse 30: Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  {Most scholars would say the road was so small that there really weren’t two sides to this road.  To walk by on the other side, you would simply have to avert your eyes. A priest, someone who works in the temple, somebody who’s commissioned by the church just passes by.  He sees him, but he just passes by.}  So likewise a Levite {another church worker} when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. {There’s a number of resources that I read this week that suggest that one of the things that both the priest and the Levite are doing are preserving their ceremonial cleanliness so that they could still serve in the temple.  If they were to touch either a dead body or a partially dead body or a bloodied body, they would have been rendered on the bench, unable to serve in the temple.  Here’s the thing.  Their religion causes them to create their boxes.  Man, I’m so glad we’re beyond that.  Their religion causes them to say well, I would step in there, but I couldn’t get dirty like that.  We have to preserve our holiness instead of trusting in the holiness of Christ given to us.  So they just pass by on the other side of the road.}  But a Samaritan… {Here’s where the story gets really awkward.  Jesus is going to make the “hated” a “hero.”  He’s going to make the most despicable person in the Jewish mind, at the time, the person who comes in on a white horse and saves the day.  Samaritans were hated for three reasons.  One, ethnicity. They were partially Jewish but not wholly Jewish.  They were sorta a mix between a Syrian and a Jew.  The second reason they were hated was because they didn’t worship rightly.  They didn’t have the right religion.  They worshipped on Mount Gerazim instead of in Jerusalem.  Finally, their theology was a little bit off, too.  They believed in Torah, the first five books of the Bible, but beyond that they didn’t believe, as the divinely inspired word of God, any of the writings or the prophets.  None of that.  They’re in a box.  Here’s what Jesus does in this remarkably beautiful way.  He says the person in the box is actually living in the way of love.  It’s a crazy turn of events.} But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 

Here’s where Jesus is going to start to invite us into you want to live under the law of love.  You want to embrace the gift of life and live under the law of love, here’s what it requires of you.  It requires that when you see pain it invites you, it propels you, to offer compassion.  See, the law of love demands that pain observed leads to compassion extended.  The other people saw the person along the side of the road.  The Levite did, the priest did, but they just walked by.  As if to say I’m not willing to step into that story.  This word compassion in the Greek literally means the turning of your bowels.  How’s that?!   The Samaritan is walking along the road and he sees and something inside of him just turns.  I’m convinced that you have something inside of you that turns when you see the pain of the world.  Frederick Buechner beautifully said: “Your calling is where the world’s pain and your passion intersect.”  Where is that?  This is the beautiful, beautiful way of Jesus.  Listen to the way that Charles Spurgeon puts it: “If you would sum up the whole character of Christ in reference to ourselves, it might be gathered into this one sentence: He was moved with compassion.”  You see it in the feeding of the 5000.  Jesus saw that they were like sheep without a shepherd.  He saw them and he had compassion on them.  Is this not the Christmas story?  That Jesus sees the world in sin and error pining and He just doesn’t look from a distance, but He steps in.  Our pain and our need causes Him to step into his story.  The incarnation is God’s declaration of divine affection over you.  It’s him stepping into the story because he’s for you and because he loves you.  Can all of us say if we’re God that humanity would fit into one of these boxes?  Maybe this one (EGR) especially?  But when I really own it, I have to reciprocate it.

I ran across this story this week from World Venture’s website.  It was a blog they posted about a couple serving with World Venture in Lebanon.  Just listen to their perspective and I wonder how God might invite us to embrace the same.  It says:  Nicolette and her husband never set out to work with refugees when they first moved to Lebanon seven years ago. But in a place where one out of every four residents is a refugee, they soon found themselves helping in that very area.  They said, “The Church has an incredible opportunity.  We have people literally landing on our doorstep who have never heard the name of Jesus, asking us to help them.  And we’ve seen the Church at its very best—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the least of these, all in the name of Jesus.  The Church is growing.  Many are coming to faith, being baptized, some even taking the gospel back to the war zones of Syria and Iraq.”  Many Muslims who are taught that Christianity and the West are evil are now disillusioned with Islam due to the recent violence they have experienced, and in many cases it’s been Christians who have helped them.  “It’s a terrible situation for these people to have to leave their homes and their loved ones.  And to lose many along the way.  Nobody would want that,”  they say.  “But at the same time they are having the chance to hear the gospel….and we don’t want to miss that window because that’s why we’re here.  God is allowing borders to be moved and people to be moved so they can hear the gospel.”  Wow!  What a perspective.  That pain, that people’s brokenness and neediness, wouldn’t cause us to put them into a box, but would cause us to offer and extend the same love that we’ve been extended.

The story goes on. Verse 34: He (the good Samaritan) went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  Here’s what I noticed in me: I would put him on your animal.  I love to outsource love.  It’s so much easier.  Circle “his animal” in your Bible because here’s what Jesus is saying:  If we’re going to live under the weight of divine love and receive the gift of life that He offers from it, we need to see opportunities presented overshadowing inconveniences that exist.  Let’s be honest, friends, especially during this season, we’ve got a lot of things on our calendar, don’t we?  And margin isn’t something we specialize in, is it?  And the less margin we have, the fewer opportunities we have to really love.  Because it costs us something.  We go listen, my iPhone is full.  I imagine this guy’s on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho.  He’s not planning on stopping in between.  My guess is he has something on his mind and something on his schedule.  And he’s willing to ditch it, because that’s what love demands.

We had somebody call the office just this past Monday and asked to meet with somebody.  Their life was just in shambles and they needed somebody to talk to.  Our office manager, Eva, told this person that she could put them on Dan’s calendar, but it might be a few days because there was a lot going on around here.  The person said that’s fine, just get me on his calendar as soon as you can and hung up.  On Tuesday, she called back and said, “I can’t wait. I’ve gotta see somebody immediately.”  Eva told her if she’s able to get in to the office before 4 o’clock today, I’ll have a conversation with you.  This woman, from Mongolia, started to share, in her broken English, with Eva the curse that was over her household.  She shared the way that it had caused sickness, the way it had caused mental illness, the way that it was absolutely ravaging their life.  That Tuesday afternoon, Eva had the chance to introduce this woman to the great curse-breaker, whose name is Jesus.  Right there, that day, she put her faith in Jesus Christ and Eva said you could see this weight that just lifted off of her.  Praise the Lord!  If Eva had waited until it was convenient to meet with this person, she still would not have been met.  I wonder what opportunities God is presenting to you that are cloaked in man, they are a disruption to my day.

Finally, here’s what happens.  Verse 35: And the next day he took out two denarii {two days wages} and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’  Here’s a blank check.  Whatever he needs is on my account.  Here’s what we see.  If we’re going to live under this weightiness of love, we have to recognize that care must be provided even when a cost is incurred.  I would argue it’s impossible to truly love somebody if it costs you nothing.  Here’s what I typically do.  I typically make up a story in my mind.  If I were in the story, I’d probably be like the Levite or the priest and the story in my mind would be man, I’m sure they probably stole something and they got beat up along the side of the road.  They deserved it.  The stories in my mind that I make up about people are often to allow me to NOT love them and blame them.  Anybody relate to that?  Here’s what the good Samaritan does: he enters in, care is provided and a cost is incurred.  Listen to the way William Barclay, the great commentator, puts it: “If love is true, there must always be a certain extravagance in it.  It does not nicely calculate the less or more.  It is not concerned to see how little it can decently give.  If it gave all it had, the gift would still be too little.  There is a recklessness in love which refuses to count the cost.”  You know who I’m really willing to love though?  People who I feel have a good return on my love investment. There’s a great ROI on that person, I’m going to really jump in and I’m going to love them.  I don’t think the priest and the Levite saw a great ROI on the man along the side of the road, so they walked right by.  Who’s God bringing into your life this Christmas season?  And how might He invite us to partner with Him as He loves the world.  To say, we’re going to live under this beautiful, weighty law of love.

Verse 36.  Jesus sits back in his chair, touches his face, looks at the brilliant lawyer and says: Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?  {I’m sure the man was like this has to be a rhetorical question.  Scriptures say the man responded and said…}  He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”   It’s interesting in verse 37, he’ll refer to the good Samaritan as “the one who showed mercy.”  It’s as though he can’t even say the word “Samaritan” as the hero.  It would be like a Palestinian saying that the Jew was the hero of the story.  It would be like a Republican saying that the Democrat just nailed it and they were right on.  It would be like a Bronco fan saying Tom Brady…what a great quarterback!  Jesus is just totally flipping the story upside down.  It’s not what you think.  Because these people were really tied up with this ethnicity box.  It’s really interesting, it’s really interesting…..we know the ethnicities of a lot of people in the story.  The priest is a Jew.  The Levite is Jewish.  The Samaritan is a Samaritan.  The man along the side of the road……what’s he?  Well, it says a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  So Jesus doesn’t tell us what that man is like, doesn’t tell us anything about his story, doesn’t tell us how he ended up along the side of the road.  You know why that’s important??  Because it’s not important!!!  That’s why it’s so important!  That’s the crux of the story.  Jesus is saying all you wanted to define what the law of love looks like and here’s what you want to do.  You want to put people in their boxes so you can decide if you want to love them or not.  Here’s what He says…He says I have ONE box. And the law of love applies to every single person in that box.  But I only have one.  Here’s my one.  (Ryan holds up “HUMAN” box.) Are they alive?  Do they carry the image of God?  That’s the point of the story.  The King of kings and the Lord of lords doesn’t put people in boxes and can we just affirm today praise God that He doesn’t!  That He has one box and that box is humanity and we are called as followers of the way of Jesus to not decide who we’re going to love, but to say we’re going to love all because we’ve been loved by the King of kings who owns it all!  That’s our calling as followers of the way of Jesus.  We don’t get to decide.  If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ve given up the option to decide who you love.  The man who comes to Jesus wants to know who is my neighbor.  Jesus answers him with a bigger question.  To whom must I become a neighbor to?  And the answer is: Anyone who you see in need!

If you came this morning hoping to hear the Christmas story, I’m really sorry.  But I’d argue you heard it.  You just have to zoom out a little bit and maybe see yourself not as the victorious good Samaritan.  Maybe you don’t even see yourself as the failure of the priest or the Levite along the way.  Maybe you see yourself as the person beat up along the side of the road.  And maybe Jesus is the one who enters in.  Who clothes himself in humanity and says I see you.  (Look up at me for a moment.)  Whatever situation you find yourself in today, He sees you. He has compassion on you.  We were dead and broken, beat up along the side of the road, sin had rendered us unable to get to God and Jesus is the good Samaritan that enters into the story.  That picks you up.  That carries you.  That bandages you and doesn’t just pay a cost, but gives His life that you might be redeemed. That’s the Christmas story, friends. He enters in.  He sees.  His bowels are moved.  His compassion….and He enters in and He’s the redeemer and He’s the savior.  The Apostle John will say: Beloved, let us love one another…   {So know that you’re loved.  It starts there, friends, because loved people love people. But people who feel like they need to earn their love or defend their love, they need to justify themselves. You know what happens to those people?  They make boxes!  But the people that know they’re loved don’t need to justify themselves, they can just receive and live under this beautiful weight of the incarnation that says you’re objects of divine affection.}  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves {not in boxes, but in ridiculous, lavish, reckless ways like your Father loves..} …has been born of God and knows God. (I John 4:7)  

I love the way that Jesus ends this section of Scripture (Luke 10:37)–He (the lawyer) said, “The one who showed him mercy.”  And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”   When you live under the weight of the law of love, that beautiful weight of the law of love, you walk into the gift of life.  That’s what Jesus is inviting you to.  Not to make boxes and…hey, hey, not to be kind…anybody can do that.  And every religion agrees you should love the people around you, with a few exceptions.  But Jesus’ people…there’s no footnote.  There’s one box and we all fit into it and ever person you will ever lay eyes on, they fit into it, too.  The question is not who is my neighbor.  The question is who must become my neighbor and Jesus, who have you brought into my path that I can love.  We are adamant about keeping Christ in Christmas and I’m all for that.  But I think, more than just keeping Christ in Christmas, followers of Jesus need to be committed to reflecting Christ this Christmas. To love in the same way that we’ve been loved.  You were the broken, the beat up, the left along the side of the road and He does come and He carries you.  He pays the cost with His own life to redeem you and heal you and shower you.  His law is love and His gospel is peace.  Friends, I pray that you would not only receive it this year and maybe before you open any boxes or wrap any boxes, maybe you deconstruct some and live in the way that He invites you to live and take up the life that He purchased with His life.  Let’s pray.

Before you go running out of here, just between you and God….for me it’s not IF I have boxes of people in my life, it’s which ones do I have.  And which am I holding on to.  I’d just invite you right now, in the quietness of your heart, to bring those before the Lord.  To say Father, I’ve made different boxes.  I’ve chosen who I love and how I love and it hasn’t reflected you.  So we admit today, Jesus, because we follow you, we’ve given up the right to say we’re going to choose who we love.  The Christmas story declares that when we could have easily been put in a box, you shattered every single category and stepped into humanity.  Your incarnation declares divine affection over us.  We say thank you, thank you, thank you.  We love you.  And we pray that as we live under this weight of the law of love, that we claim our name as “beloved.”  That we would in turn love the people around us.   And where we struggle to love, would you remind us that we’re deeply loved by the King of kings and the Lord of lords, because we really believe that loved people love people.  Help us reflect you during this Christmas season.  Jesus, it’s in your name that we pray.  And all God’s people said….Amen!