A Gift Under The Tree (1 Corinthians 13:11-13)

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When is the last time you were excited about Christmas eve?

  • For some, it’s today and every year! Amen. Be thankful and treasure these moments.
    • Shows: Frosty The Snowman, Rudolph, Charlie Brown’s Christmas, A Christmas Carol with Scrooge, A Christmas Story with Ralphie and his red rider bb gun; Polar Express (gonna watch tonight!)
    • Christmas Lights around neighborhoods (Chartridge!)
    • Egg Nog (any fans?)
    • Christmas Eve service with seeing college friends and other family in town.
    • Opening stockings on Christmas Eve.
    • Christmas Day parade & football
    • Special season.
  • Others, it’s been a little while ago… a specific season you can pinpoint. I can remember feeling that way… post-marriage, no kids, travel balance between families so multiple places to go… and Christmas season felt more like a chore than a celebration. Later, after multiple kids, and when they aged to communicate and open presents, being able to see the joy and wonder through their eyes renewed the anticipation.
  • Still a few others it’s been a long while ago… an undefined time that memory cannot recall. Instead of red, green, and gold; or wishing for a white Christmas, all you seem is blue. For you, I say, “I’m sorry. We love you. And we hope to be a friend to you as an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry, an open invite, or a prayer lifted.”

Tonight, I want to share a brief message about how God’s love is the most important and powerful gift that we can receive, and to help renew our Christmas joy.

EXAMINE               1 Corinthians 13        Christmas Eve

1 Corinthians 13 1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or not rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or love is not resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Life has seasons.

11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

Paul has been defining love and addressing a church having significant life challenges. The Corinthian church had all sorts of issues: cliques, division, manipulative leaders, hypocritical members, pervasive immorality, and overall selfishness; not to mention faulty theology concerning what it meant to follow Jesus. So, Paul wrote a letter to correct their beliefs and behaviors. He spent an entire chapter (13) addressing what it means to genuinely love others and how to treat people.

  • Patience.
  • Kindness.
  • Respect.
  • Forgiveness.

While these appear as standard behaviors, they are abnormal to childishness. Childish behavior is impatient, unkind, disrespectful, and unforgiving. A child does not exit the womb exhibiting virtue and consideration for fatigued mommas and foolish fathers (sorry dads, but admittedly we are lost w/o moms!).

Paul explains, we must grow up from seasons of childishness and mature in our faith, hope, and love. We need to recognize life has seasons, and each season has a purpose.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

In other words, there will be some seasons of that we enjoy and others we endure. Some holidays will be happy and others will be grueling hard. And though we do not need to be thankful for every season, we can be grateful in all circumstances because we trust God to work in the highs and lows of life.

When we read a heart monitor, the ups and downs indicate we still have life. As long as we are not flatlined, God still has life and lessons for us, so keep going and growing.

  • Embrace child-like (not childish) faith (Mt 18:3-4). In other words, rely on the Lord for everything. Start to see and seek Him in every area of your life; like newborn babes, crave spiritual milk (1 Pet 2:2).
  • Further, give the Lord and your family the gift of grace. Make a fresh start and new beginning in some element of your relationships. All of us need rejuvenated in some manner.
  • Ultimately, this is the season to trust in Jesus Christ.
    In the right season, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law [under sin], so that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are children of God, God has sent the Spirit into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!” (Gal 4:4-6)

When we read a heart monitor, the ups and downs indicate we still have life. As long as we are not flatlined, God still has life and lessons for us, so keep going and growing.

Life has blind spots.

12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

  • Illus. 1: When you’re driving a vehicle, a blind spot occurs in your side or rear-view mirrors. There are things you can see, but there are also corners and angles that are hidden. Even when you turn your head, you cannot fully see past your blind spots, and you’re also taking your eyes off the front. Our vision is partial.
  • Illus. 2: Story of Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson going on a camping trip. After a long meal they go to lay down for the night. Some hours later, Holmes wakes and nudges his faithful friend, “Watson, look up and tell me what you see.”
    Watson replies, “Holmes, I see millions of stars.”
    Holmes: “What does that tell you?”
    Watson ponders, and says,
    “Astronomically, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets.”
    “Astrologically, I observe Saturn with the Leo constellation.”
    “Meteorologically, I suspect we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.”
    “Theologically, I can envision God is all-powerful and humanity is finite.”
    “Chronologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three.”
    “Why, what does it tell you, Sherlock?”
    Sherlock ponders a moment and replies, “Watson, you idiot, someone has stolen our tent.”

*You see, sometimes we can be blind to what is going on right before our eyes. In a spiritual sense, our faith and focus can have blind spots.

The reality is, regardless of how much we have; or how well educated we are; or how long we have lived/experienced; we all have blind spots. We have unquestioned assumptions, habits we’ve never thought to change, and bias over things that may be misguided and perhaps hurtful.

If you have been with us or listening to this multi-week sermon series on 1 Corinthians 13, then you recognize the limitations and failures we all have about loving God and others.

Who could insert their name and be proud of your accomplishments?

  • Dave is profusely patient, extravagantly kind, never envious or boastful, not a hint of arrogance, and never rude, and not once has he rejoiced at wrongdoing but perfectly walks in the truth.

Instead, studying 1 Cor 13 doesn’t make us prideful of self but thankful for a Savior. Jesus is unparalleled in His lavish love for others. His love not only forgives our sin and shortcomings, but it fuels us for empathy, compassion, and generosity.

So, we need not avoid our blind spots but admit them. Some blind spots in our life most likely relate to at least two common areas: our fears and our frustrations.

  • Fears: Fear hinders us from exploring outside our comfort zone. It paralyzes us to change the familiar for the unknown.

    On the night of Jesus’ birth, angels appeared to Joseph, Mary, and to shepherds, saying, “Don’t be afraid, behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, a Savior, Christ the Lord was born for you.” (Lk 2:10-11)
    You see, on the other side of fear is joyfulness. We overcome worries and fears with worship in the presence of Jesus. 
  • Frustrations: Annoyances, disappointments, and anger cause us to focus on the problem rather than potential. We often miss what God is doing when we focus on ourselves rather than God’s perspective.

    In the nativity narrative, following Jesus’ birth, the Roman King Herod was not able to trick the wise men (magi) into reporting the location of the newborn king of the Jews. So, he decreed an order for all male children < 2 to be massacred. Herod’s idol was his position and comfort. (cf. Mt 2). His frustrations were the result of problems he couldn’t resolve and people he couldn’t control.

Likewise, our frustrations often result in giving pain to others; hopefully not like Herod’s murdering babies, but upsetting and painful, nonetheless.

One solution to our frustrations is make our expectations upon others equal to expectations for ourselves. In other words, we uphold desired good but we also extend the same grace we hope to receive when we fall short.

In all, ways we overcome blind spots and let our fears and frustrations be informed by faith by…

  • Not just reading our Bible but letting it read us. Take a spiritual assessment. In 2023, our church will be commending a “GOSPEL Dashboard” as a tool to help assess spiritual health that provides tangible spiritual action steps.  
  • Read a book on a topic about you have questions/irritations.
  • Take your hands – your present circumstances – and fold them together, lifting them up to the Lord.

We need not avoid our blind spots but admit them. Our most common blind spots relate to our fears and frustrations, which need informed by our faith.

Life has faith, hope, and love.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Paul summarizes his letter to the Corinthians with a familiar trio in the Bible: faith, hope, and love. Each of these stands on own.

  • Faith is essential, for w/o it we can’t please God (Heb 11:6).
  • Hope is essential bc it’s based on God’s promises.
  • Love is essential bc it’s commanded vertical & horizontal.

So, why is love the greatest?

  • God IS love (1Jn 4:7). Love is not love in general. So, we can only understand how to love others based on God’s love for us. We also understand how/what not to love.
  • Religion says, “follow these steps or you’ll be lost.” But Christianity says, “follow the Savior and you’ll be loved.”

You see, faith, hope, and love are God’s gifts to us. When we follow Jesus, we think we are giving God a gift – “Here’s my heart Lord, aren’t you happy/proud!?!” The reality is that our following Jesus adds minimally to His resume but magnanimously to our legacy. He receives our everything, but we too receive His everything, and that makes all the difference.

Almighty God, maker of heaven and earth, is our Emmanuel.
If God entered the world as a celebrity, we would say, “God is removed from us.” But because of the Nativity narrative, we can acknowledge, “God is revealed to us.” The meaning of Christmas is that God most high becomes God most nigh – He is with us.

Christmas reminds us that our gift is always under the tree – God’s tree of Calvary.

  • The cross of Jesus gifts us infinite mercy and immeasurable grace.
  • The cross of Jesus grants us access to Heaven and the Holy Father.
  • The cross of Jesus imparts us the Holy Spirit, so that we never have to be alone.  
  • Comfort and hope are available.
  • Abandonment is impossible.
  • Jesus, our Immanuel, is our cherished gift and our breath from heaven.

Christmas reminds us that our gift is always under the tree – God’s tree of Calvary.

Prayer:

Jesus, breath of heaven, hold us together.

Be forever near us.

Lighten our darkness.

Pour over us Your holiness.

Amen.

SONG

APPLY/THINK

Loving Jesus is not about stalking Jesus through investigating a bunch of facts and information through Bible study and church attendance. Stalkers learn about people from a distance, but we best learn to love Jesus not by stalking but by becoming a soldier – one who engages the mission.

Photo by David Dibert on Pexels.com

As we light our candles to sing “Silent Night,” let us receive God’s light for the mission of dissolving the darkness around us. Jesus is the light of the world, and commands us to shine for others to see.

Loving Jesus is not about stalking Him through investigating facts and information through Bible study and church attendance. Stalkers learn about people from a distance, but we best learn to love Jesus drawing near and becoming a soldier – one who engages the mission.

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