Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas Is Not Your Birthday 04

Putting Jesus' Love Into Action

When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. -Hosea 1:2-3

Christmas is the heralding of a God who pursues us so relentlessly as to come to earth in human form to be with us. The incarnation is the revelation of our scandalous love affair with the world, and God’s persistent striving to bring us back to him.

One of the most passionate illustrations of God’s love affair with humanity is found in the book of Hosea. During Israel’s last days of prosperity under Jeroboam II the Israelites became lukewarm in the faith and strayed as God’s people often do in prosperous times. From a human perspective we can equate God’s relationship with the Israelites to the sacred trust commitment made and then broken in marriage. But God demonstrates unrelenting love for God’s people through Hosea by telling him to go and marry a wife of “whoredom” and have children by her. Can you imagine marrying someone you knew would be unfaithful and spend your life wondering if your children were really your own?

Hosea 3:1-3: The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.

Hosea represents God’s relentless pursuing love and Hosea’s wife of prostitution represents God’s people, not only the Israelites but also you and me. God loves us and wants us even while we are under the influence of unworthy lovers such as greed, selfishness, addiction and deceit. So God has come to buy us back! The magnitude of this kind of love is beyond my comprehension, but after is in the eye of the beholder.

We have been created to find life and meaning through exclusive devotion to our lover - God, but in the spirit of prostitution we sell ourselves out to the consumerist johns of materialism and greed. This is never more obvious than in the way we celebrate Jesus’ birth in a self-focused, hedonistic feast of gluttony, oblivious to what God really wants from us. 

What God wants from us for Jesus’ birthday and every day is love. God desires that we return God’s scandalous love with our own, demonstrated by how we treat those in need. God is not oblivious to the fact that one child dies every four seconds of a hunger-related cause or that as many as seven will die by the time you finish reading this page. God also knows that more than 14 million AIDS orphans were reported in 2008 worldwide. God also knows that one child dies every forty-five seconds from malaria which could be prevented by a simple mosquito net that costs less than ten dollars.

Only when we realize how far we have strayed from the one who loves us so deeply and unconditionally can we respond in radical faith. And when we passionately pursue God as our defining life center, then everything else will be rightly ordered. Though we may not deserve it, God showed us mercy by sending us his Son to show us the way home. Jesus came to earth as a tiny baby in humble, scandalous circumstances to redeem and restore broken places and broken hearts. That is the love we celebrate at Christmas and it is that kind of love that we are called to show in return.

Think of one person in your life who has either disappointed you deeply or hurt you in a way that you need to forgive them, and pray that God would help you. Commit to praying for him or her for this whole week.

1. How might your life look different if you could fully understand and embrace God’s passionate and unconditional love for you? When or where have you experienced God’s relentless pursuit of having a relationship with you?
2. Think about the deepest and most enduring relationship you’ve experienced – with a spouse, parent or friend. If this is only a glimpse of the relationship God wants with you, what must that mean about God’s love?
3. How do we tend to “sell ourselves” to other things instead of making God our number one love? What one thing do you struggle with the most?
4. God promises to bring good out of bad, to raise up the lowly and to comfort the afflicted. How would you view or live your life if you trusted completely in those promises?
5. What would it mean for us to love others “scandalously”? How would that be different from the safe, cautious ways we often show Christ’s love in the world?
6. To whom or in what way can you show “scandalous” love this holiday season because of God’s great love shown to you?

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