The Advent Candle of Love

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FIVE CANDLES AT CHRISTMAS (An Advent Wreath Sermon Series)
“The Advent Candle of Love” (Matthew 1:18-21)

INTRODUCTION: Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and we have been working our way around the various candles of the Advent Wreath. We saw earlier in this series that the four candles around the outside of the Advent Wreath correspond to the first four fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience ….” (Galatians 5:22) The four candles around the outside of the wreath stand for hope, peace, joy and love. Hope and patience relate to each other, and so as we work our way around the Advent Wreath at Christmas, it’s good to know we are also working our way backwards through the first four fruit of the Spirit.

Love comes first in the fruit of the Spirit because love is the primary fruit of the Spirit. It is the most important fruit of the Spirit and encompasses all the rest. Love comes last in the four candles around the outside of the Advent Wreath, because love is also the most important of these, and in Advent we are working our way towards the most important aspect of Christmas, which is God’s love for us in Christ.

We will be looking at a number of Scriptures this morning relating to love at Christmas, but we will start with this passage in Matthew 1 right now. (Read Matthew 1:18-21 and pray.)

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As we have seen, hope is an important part of the Christmas story. Peace is an important part of the Christmas story. Joy is an important part of the Christmas story. But now we come to love, and love is the most important of all.

The Christmas story is all about love, and so we are going to look at four aspects of love at Christmas this morning. We will look at 1) Joseph’s love for Mary, 2) Mary’s love for Jesus, 3) God’s love for sinners, and 4) our love for one another. There would be no Christmas without love, and all four of these are important parts of the Christmas story

I. Joseph’s love for Mary
   – Matthew 1:18-19

So let’s begin with Joseph’s love for Mary, an incredibly important part of the Christmas story. You might say, “Well of course he loved Mary. They were engaged!” And yes, they were engaged to be married, but that didn’t necessarily mean that Joseph loved her. In that day and time people often got married for reasons other than love. Marriages were typically arranged by the spouses’ parents. Many times marriage was viewed more as a social or economic relationship rather than romantically based.

So how do we know Joseph loved Mary? We know because of his response when Mary was found to be pregnant during the engagement, before they were married, before they had come together as husband and wife. As far as Joseph knew, Mary had been unfaithful to him and slept with another man. Joseph must have felt completely betrayed by this and would have every right to be angry and upset with her.

Now Joseph had several options here. He could go ahead and marry her anyways, knowing that the child wasn’t his own. However, that would have gone against his convictions as a man committed to God and God’s ways. No matter how much he loved Mary, he needed to put his relationship with God first.

He could have dragged her before the tribunal and had her tried for adultery. This would have been a vindictive move. At the very least Mary would be publicly disgraced, or even worse, she could be sentenced to death by stoning.

But what did Joseph do instead? We read in Matthew 1:18-19: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:18-19)

Joseph chose a third option. Instead of marrying her in defiance of God’s commands, instead of bringing her before the judges in an act of revenge, he thought about what was best for Mary in this situation. And so he decided rather than expose her to public disgrace, he would divorce her quietly. Sure people would still know and talk about her. That was unavoidable. But at least she wouldn’t go through the public humiliation of a trial.

Joseph had several options open to him, and he chose the way of love. He chose the way that would bring the least amount of shame and attention to Mary. Love always protects (1 Corinthians 13:7), and Joseph chose to protect Mary, even when he thought she had been unfaithful to him. Joseph’s love for Mary is our first example of love at Christmas.

II. Mary’s love for Jesus
   – Luke 2:6-7, 19, 34-35

And then secondly, we have Mary’s love for Jesus. We read in Luke 2: “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7) This, of course, is the center of the Christmas story, the actual birth of Christ that first Christmas Eve. Mary gives birth to her firstborn, a son. She tenderly wraps him in swaddling cloths and lays him in the manger.

There is a natural love between every mother and the child she bears. The child has been inside her for months. She has given life to this child. For nine months she has nourished the child with her own body. She has felt every move, every kick, every turn. She has dreamed and imagined what this child would look like. She has gone through the long months of pregnancy, the hard sacrifice of labor, the excruciating pain of childbirth, and now she holds her newborn child in her arms. How could she not love this beautiful new human being who has come from her own body?

Mary’s love for Jesus is also indicated in other ways by Scripture. For example, after the shepherds visited Joseph and Mary and then went into the town spreading the word about Jesus, we read in Luke 2:19 that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

The word translated “treasured” in verse 19 is a word that means “to preserve” or “to keep in mind” or even “to keep thinking about something so that you won’t forget it.” The word translated “pondered” is a word that means “to bring together” or “to think deeply or reflect on something.” Together these words tell us that Mary didn’t want to lose a single memory of all that happened that night. She kept running through the events over and over again in her mind so she wouldn’t forget. She thought deeply about these happenings, bringing all the individual memories together and wondering what it all could mean. Mary’s love for Jesus was reflected in her very thoughts about him. Her thoughts were captive to Christ, and she made every effort to remember every detail as she sought to understand the meaning of his birth.

Her love for Jesus is also revealed by the words Simeon spoke over Jesus and Mary in the temple. We’ve met Simeon before in this Advent series. Remember Simeon? God had promised Simeon that he would not die before he saw the Messiah. God’s Spirit moved Simeon to enter the temple courts just as Joseph and Mary were bringing Jesus into the temple to present him to the Lord. Simeon took Jesus into his arms and prophesied over him, and we looked at that prophecy earlier in this series.

But then Simeon also spoke to Mary. We read about this in Luke 2:34-35. “Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’” (Luke 2:34-35) In effect Simeon told Mary that there were difficult days ahead for her son, Jesus. Mary didn’t know how difficult at the time, but Simeon gave her forewarning when he told her that a sword would pierce her own soul, too.

True to this word of prophecy, Mary suffered greatly as Jesus grew to be a man. Jesus was no ordinary son. He belonged first to his heavenly Father – as he reminded Mary in the temple when he was twelve years’ old. (Luke 2:49-50) He operated on his own time table, not hers – as he made clear to her at the wedding in Cana. (John 2:4) When Jesus’ ministry attracted such great numbers that he and his disciples could not even eat, his family thought he was out of his mind and went to take charge of him. And when it came time for Jesus to die, Mary was there at the cross. John tells us she was near the cross as she watched her son suffer and die there in shame. (John 19:25)

So yes, Simeon’s words were absolutely and brutally true. A sword would pierce Mary’s own soul, too. Why? Because her son was destined to suffer and die, and she loved her son deeply. That’s the second aspect of love that is part of the Christmas story – Mary’s love for Jesus.

III. God’s love for sinners
   – Matthew 1:21; John 3:16-17; Romans 8:38-39

This brings us now to the third aspect of love at Christmas – God’s love for sinners. And this is really the heart of the Christmas story. The Christmas story is all about love. Joseph’s love for Mary and Mary’s love for Jesus are both important parts of that story, but they are not the most important. The central message of love at Christmas is God’s love for sinners.

This is evident from the angel’s words to Joseph about Mary in Matthew 1: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) Why was Jesus born into our world at Christmas? It’s all in his name! The name Jesus means “Savior” or “salvation,” and Jesus was born into our world to save his people from their sins.

We read in John 3: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17) The greatest gift ever given at Christmas was the gift of God’s own Son. God gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life. Jesus did not merely come into the world. He was sent into the world. God the Father sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

If you ever doubt that God loves you, just look at his Son, Jesus. Look at Jesus the child born into the world as a baby at Christmas. Look at Jesus the man, teaching the people, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. Look at Jesus the Savior, suffering and dying on the cross for your sins to bring you to God. Look at Jesus the King, risen from the dead, ascended to heaven, coming back for you to take you to be with him that you also may be where he is forever.

Nothing can ever separate you from God’s love for you in Christ. As Paul writes in Romans 8: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

The Christmas story is all about love, but the most important part of the story is God’s love for sinners. God so loved the world, he gave us his Son so that we would not perish but have eternal life.

IV. Our love for one another
   – 1 John 4:10-11

We’ve looked at Joseph’s love for Mary, Mary’s love for Jesus, and God’s love for sinners. But there is one more aspect of love at Christmas that we do not want to leave out. And that is our love for one another.

The Bible makes a clear and unbreakable connection between God’s love for us and our love for each other. We read in 1 John 4:10-11: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:10-11)

Notice God’s love comes first. God’s love always comes first. God’s love in creating the world; God’s love in promising a Savior; God’s love in sending his Son into the world; God’s love in Jesus dying on the cross for your sins. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

God’s love always comes first. But then our love should follow. “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11) Our love for others should follow, not merely as an obligation, but as a natural outflow of God’s love for us. If God loved you so much that he sent his Son Jesus to die for you, how can you not love others in return? And if God loved others so much that he sent his Son Jesus to die for them, how can you not love them as well?

And so Christmas is not only a reminder of how much God loves you, but also how much you should love other people. Is there someone you need to help this Christmas? Is there someone you need to reach out to this Christmas? Is there someone you need to forgive this Christmas?

God showed his love for us at Christmas by sending his Son into the world as a sacrifice for our sins. How will you show your love to others this Christmas?

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Note: We have now covered all four of the outside candles of the Advent wreath, but there is one more candle to go – the Christ candle in the center of the wreath. We invite you to come back to our Christmas Eve service tonight where we will see how the Christ candle reminds us that Jesus truly is the center of Christmas, and how all true hope, peace, joy and love are found in him.

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