Where do people turn to find love? You will often hear the expression “I am here to find love.” on the show “The Bachelor.” If you are not familiar with the show, there is one man and many women who are then “weeded out” week by week until by the end there is a proposal for marriage. While many will say “I am here to find love,” you can’t help but see how some get caught up in the competitive nature of it and end up being there to win. And as in reality tv, so also in reality; sometimes what we think of as love is really nothing more than feeding our ego. You love me, therefore I must be special! I am a winner!
You are maybe expecting me to tell you that the birth of Jesus will feed your ego and help you see how special you are, but unfortunately I have bad news. The Bible really does not do much to help you feed your ego. Some may think, “well, wait a minute, doesn’t the fact that God came to us in Jesus who then died on the cross for me affirm my worth? Jesus thinks I am worth dying for.” Actually, no.
The Bible does teach three things relating to our self-worth. First, all humans are created in the image of God and therefore we must respect each other’s dignity. Racism and sexism should be killed dead in us before we even get past the first chapter of the Bible. Second, humanity is in a mess. Consider:
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way (Isaiah 53:6a NRSV)
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth (Isaiah 64:6a NRSV)
There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one. (Romans 3:10-12 NRSV)
. . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23 NRSV)
Third, when God came to us in Jesus, and when Jesus died on the cross, it was not because he found us worthy. His thought process was not “I can never get along without you.” He could and has done so for quite some time just fine. You and I are completely unnecessary to God. Sorry for that bit of bad news.
Now for the good news. Though there is nothing about us that would inspire God to come to us and go to the cross for us, He did so anyway. Why? Because He loves us. His love is not an affirmation of our worth, for we are in a sinful muddle, it is rather an expression of His character.
Christmas teaches us about God’s love, God’s character:
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. (Philippians 2:5-7a NRSV)
Jesus emptied Himself. What a contrast that is to Herod who sought to preserve and promote himself through the killing of many infants. What a contrast to our filling ourselves up by feeding our egos. Rather than hold onto or exploit His divinity, Jesus emptied Himself coming to us, a fact which we celebrate at Christmas. Easter comes next in our Bible reading:
And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8 NRSV)
This expression of God’s love is based on His character, not on how adorable we are. The adoration belongs to Him, not us:
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 NRSV)
In this love story, love is about the character of the lover. It is also expressed best, not by adjectives and nouns like “warm fuzzy feelings,” but by verbs, like “emptied,” “humbled,” “gave,” “sent”, and “died.” For example:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16 NRSV)
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10 NRSV)
God’s love is an active love. Christian love replaces grudges with forgiveness. God could have held a grudge. We can not say “we will do better,” because we wouldn’t. But instead of holding a grudge, He sent His Son. Christian love replaces dysfunction with redemption. God could have left us in a mess. We can not say to Him “you ought to fix us” because there is no ought we can use with God. But instead of leaving us in dysfunction He sent His Son. Christian love replaces loneliness with friendship and fellowship. God could have left us alone in the universe. We can not say to Him, “look how attractive we must be to you” because we really are not. But instead of leaving us alone He sent His Son to restore friendship and fellowship with Him.
Christmas is a time during which we stuff ourselves silly. Will love in your life be defined by how you feed your ego this Christmas, or will it be defined through verbs like receiving Jesus, accepting His offer of salvation, forgiving the hurtful, giving to the hurting, drawing close to the lonely, making welcome the stranger, feeding the hungry, and advocating for the powerless? And on and on we could go. Jesus may not feed your ego, but He will save your soul . . . and teach you how to love.