Christmas, understood as the celebration of Jesus’ birth, is all about love.
I’m sure that most would agree with that statement, despite their beliefs. The Christmas season provides many with the memorable experiences of giving and receiving love between family, friends, and the less fortunate. Even for those who dread the time of year due to various circumstances in life that leave them hurting, they too agree that Christmas is all about love. If they didn’t, then they wouldn’t feel so alone and broken. So, whether a Christian or non-Christian, or a lover or hater of the season, the reality we can all come to is that love takes centre stage at this time of year.
But with all the love that we feel, see, give, and receive during Christmas (or, negatively, that we don’t experience), I wonder if we miss the “breadth and length and height and depth” of the greatest love (Eph. 3:18). What if, in filling our hearts and minds to the brim with the outflow of primary love, we miss experiencing the primary love alone?
In this short article, I want to remind us all of the primary love of Christmas with the aim that we, especially as Christians, take the time to know and experience it. To do this, I’ll try and describe simply the subject, object, and manifestation of primary love, using 1 John 4:9-10 as a Scriptural foundation. Following this, I’ll give one or two practical ideas on how to make the primary love of Christmas truly primary during this season — and hopefully your life.
To begin, let’s open our eyes and our ears to fully listen to what the apostle John wrote down many centuries ago:
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:9-10
Let’s first consider the subject of the primary love. As we can see in this passage, John clearly identifies “God” as the subject. He writes of “the love of God” and that “He (God) loved us.” We certainly initiate all sorts of actions of love during the Christmas season, but the primary love of Christmas belongs to God and God alone. He is the Great Initiator of love, for, “He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).
Now, if God is the subject of the primary love, who or what is the object of that love? It’s true that “God so loved the world” (Jn. 3:16) generally, but in our passage of consideration, John is more specifically referring to the church as the object of God’s primary love. He writes that God’s love was revealed “among us” and, again, that “He loved us.”
For many, to be on the receiving end of love is harder than giving love. Why? Because receiving love takes a degree of humility, and we, as humans, find humility difficult. We’re proud and would rather get the glory from giving love, rather than allowing someone else to get the glory by receiving their love. Understanding this, it’s essential that we know that the primary love of Christmas is given by God to us. We are the humble recipients.
We’ve now established the subject of the primary love (God) and the object of the primary love (us), but what exactly is the primary love? What is the manifestation or revelation of this love? Simply put, what did this love look like? Go back to our passage (1 John 4:9-10) and reread it, and if you’re alone, read it out loud. The apostle John discloses for us a full picture of the manifestation and purpose of God’s primary love towards us: the primary love of God towards His people is that He sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to be the wrath-bearing sacrifice for His people’s sins, so that they might not die but live through Him. This primary love of God towards us is not “warm feelings” but a gritty act of sacrifice, costing the death of Jesus for the payment of our salvation. It almost sounds wrong to say it, but the primary love of Christmas is revealed in a bloody sacrifice.
It’s true that Christmas uniquely celebrates the birth of Jesus—the sending of Jesus into the world—but that in itself is not the primary love. The act of God sending His Son into the world is a means to an end; therefore, Christmas is a means to an end. So, what exactly is the primary love of God? In a shorter statement, it’s the self-sacrifice of God, in Jesus, for the salvation of His people.
This primary love of God towards us is not “warm feelings” but a gritty act of sacrifice, costing the death of Jesus for the payment of our salvation.
Having now understood the subject, object, and manifestation of the primary love from 1 John 4:9-10, consider these two practical ideas on how to make this love truly primary in your life this Christmas season.
Firstly, make a great effort to attend your local church’s celebrations (or, if you don’t have a local church, find a Bible-believing church to attend). Especially if your family has created traditions that interfere with your church’s events, this will be difficult. But making one or two sacrifices that break family traditions so that you might be able to celebrate God’s love with brothers and sisters in Christ is well worth it. Yes, we are designed to worship God alone, but we are also designed to worship God together as His family. So why wouldn’t we want to celebrate together the primary love of God this Christmas?
Secondly, challenge yourself and your family to set aside some time to reflect specifically on God’s primary love and to thank Him in praise and prayer. This doesn’t need to be too long (maybe a half hour) and could be done on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Basically, you’d reflect on the self-sacrifice of God, in Jesus, for the salvation of His people, and then thank Him for that love in prayer and with singing.
Some Scripture passages you could use for reflection are Isaiah 53, Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:8-14, John 1:1-18, John 3:16-21, Romans 3:23-26, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 1:3-5, 1 John 4:9-10, and many others. As for songs, one example would be, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
With these two practical ideas in mind (and many more we could think of), let us not allow the many experiences of the outflow of this primary love of God distract us from the primary love itself — which is, that God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to be the wrath-bearing sacrifice for His people’s sins, so that they might not die but live through Him.