The “Christmas message” this past Sunday morning in the worship gathering for @WestpointChurch was a bit different. While we certainly celebrated Christmas, heard our CompassKids sing, sang carols together, and even mentioned Santa, I decided to continue on in our series “on earth as it is in HEAVEN” focusing on Matthew 5:43-48. Not because it was just what was next in the series (and we can’t sway from that). But rather, because I felt like the passage embodied a central principle of Christmas – God came near to those antagonistic toward Him. Jesus loved even His enemies (“Forgive them Father, for they know not what they are doing”). And He commanded us to do the same.
I read the passage, and then asked the question:
Why focus on this passage today in this season of Christmas?
I gave three reasons why:
…because God took the initiative to come across enemy lines and restore fractured relationship.
His choice to act first to fix what He did not break, along with the fact that what happened in the Garden of Eden was not a surprise to God yet He made us anyway, is a clear indication that God loves first.
…because God’s choice to come near among us was based on His love for us, not our hospitality.
We clearly are not as lovable as we often think we are. And, God’s love is not based on how lovable we are or how well we perform. He allows it to rain on the just and unjust. He expects us to now love not just those who reciprocate that love (anyone can do that), but to love even our enemies. He gives love because of Who He is. Not because of who we are. And we must give His love away even to those who do not welcome us.
…because Christmas highlights God’s perfection.
The passage challenges us to love even our enemies, highlights the fact that God has done just that, and then wraps up in what, at first read, seems a bit strange. Jesus says, “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
It forces us to ask a question – HOW IS GOD PERFECT?
The New Testament’s use of the words “perfect” and “mature” are very similar. They each emphasize an ongoing, need-to-keep-going process. Perfect is “being made perfect.” Mature is “maturing.” You cannot be perfect, with regard to the keeping of the law. So, God sent the law-giver to clarify why the law was given in the first place. To remind us that the law was given as practical commands for loving relationships, not performance-based cues for scoring a perfect life. AND, to enable us to walk a journey in relationship with the Law-Giver and most importantly the Love-Giver.
We spend far too much of our time living like Jesus came so that we could look in the mirror rather than live in loving community. It is as though following Jesus is just some alternative religion focused on self-absorbed spiritual improvement, rather than an abundant life made full because we deny ourselves and take up our cross, because we say no to living for me and instead live beyond self, because we quit looking for the fruit that fills us up and instead pour out our lives to fill others up. All because of what Jesus did on the cross . It was enough. Enough to restore us to be free from the shame and guilt that makes us hide as isolationists. Enough to enable us to come out of our segregated prison cells to live open, loving lives.
Jesus said that all the law and the prophets hang on “love God” and “love people.” Maybe that’s how God is perfect. He is selfless. He is love. He chooses to put the interests of others above self. Which is the only way community happens, the only way relationships work, and the only way life doesn’t self-destruct.
Here’s THE BOTTOM LINE:
God’s perfection was not seen through a baby who never cried (like we sing in “Away in a Manger”) or a person who kept rules perfectly. Rather, it was seen in a baby who would one day weep over the havoc sin had caused and a Savior whose perfect love compelled Him to die for His antagonist. God is perfect because He carries out the most important command perfectly, and He both commanded and empowers us to do the same. He’s not making a list and checking it twice. He’s remaking us to love.
And we can love like Him. How? We must be able to. Jesus commanded it (John 13:34-35). And the Spirit blossoms out of us (Galatians 5).
NOW, let’s go and be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.
Love, even your enemies. We must, or the world will not see in our everyday the God who came near that 1st Christmas.
Lord, please be EMMANUEL through us.