This week the blog is sponsored by The Good Book Company and this post is written by Sinclair B Ferguson.
It’s almost Christmas time again and, to borrow the words of John Paul Young’s song, “Love is in the air”. (“Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh” was how the chorus eloquently ended, if I remember rightly.)
Love is “in the air” every Christmas. It features in the songs we hear as we shop for presents and in the commercials we see on TV (“Show someone they’re loved this Christmas”, as one department-store slogan put it). Love is present in the cards we send and in the words we write on the tags we attach to the presents we give (“With love from…”).
It is a theme that is also likely to feature prominently in the annual round of Christmas interviews in the magazines and newspapers. Each year various famous people are inevitably asked what Christmas means to them. Whether they’re an actor, a musician, or some sort of reality-TV “star”, the answers are usually similar. “Well, it means… I wish people would just love each other. That’s what Christmas is really all about, isn’t it? That’s what it means to me, anyway. Yes, love.”
Everyone seems to agree: Christmas is about love.
As Christians, we can attest that this much is true. Christmas exists only because of love.
But what if the interviewers were to follow up by asking the “why?” and the “what?” questions? “Why is Christmas all about love?” and “What do you mean by ‘love’?”
You can imagine that most interviewees would be stumped!
In 1 Corinthians 13—that famous passage on love—the apostle Paul uses well over 200 words in answering that second question. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude…”, and so the description continues.
Keep reading to access a free and exclusive recording of Sinclair B Ferguson reciting 1 Corinthians 13
But if you want to describe what love is, you could also do it in two words: Jesus Christ. He shows us what love is. Love is simply being like him.
So, love is a lot more than just having good feelings about someone else. It is the greatest thing in the world, but it is also the most demanding.
December is a frantic month for most of us. But amid all the busyness, the message of Christmas brings us back to first principles. It shows us what love is. And the first principle is this: Jesus gave everything he had because he loved us. He gave his body to the cross because he loved us. Before that, he lived his life in a loveless world because he loved us. But first of all, he came because he loved us. The Creator became part of his creation; the Lord of glory came to this fallen earth, to take upon himself the consequences of the sin of the world.
The Christian faith has a grammar all of its own. If we mess up the grammar of a language, we will not be able to speak it properly. In the grammar of the Christian faith, what we are called to be and do is rooted in who God is and what he has done for us in Christ. So the resources we need to love others this Christmas season are found in the love of Jesus Christ for us. That’s the conviction behind Love Came Down at Christmas. It is a walk through 1 Corinthians 13 line by line, in the form of an “Advent devotional” and explores what it means for us. In reading through Paul’s words in this way I have tried to keep my ears open for echoes of Jesus’ life and look for his shadow falling on every line.
“Why choose this passage for Advent?” one might ask. 1 Corinthians 13 is among the best-known chapters in the Bible. Quotations from it or references to it appear in some unexpected places. Bob Dylan alluded to it in his song “Dignity” released in 1994. Prince Charles read it at Diana’s funeral service in 1997. President Obama referred to it in his first inaugural speech in 2009. Perhaps no words have been read more frequently at wedding services than these.
But when you slow them down, and read them phrase by phrase, and apply them to yourself, they transpose into a different key altogether. They cease to be rhetorically pleasing and emotionally soothing; instead, they become an analysis of your spiritual life. They are deeply challenging.
Perhaps that’s not what we expect at Christmas time. But the real meaning of the Christmas story is challenging as well as heart-warming. It is about love coming down. And it makes us think about love in a new way.
Love Came Down at Christmas contains 24 daily readings from 1 Corinthians 13. Sinclair B Ferguson brings the rich theology of the incarnation to life with his trademark warmth and clarity. However, you’re feeling, your heart will be refreshed as you wonder again at the truth that love came down at Christmas.
Listen to an unmissable recording of Sinclair B Ferguson reading 1 Corinthians 13
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