Our celebration of Christmas is all about the arrival of the one who was given to us. For unto us a Son is given (Is. 9:6). The Christ was given. God so loved the world that He gave. In Isaiah’s promise, there are two words that are repeated twice, and they emphasize the reality of God’s great gift. Those words are unto us.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
“And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16).
Summary of the Texts:
John tells us that God gave us His only begotten Son because He loved the world. He did it so that anyone who believed in that Son should not perish, should be delivered from the wrath that was already resting upon him, and so that he could be ushered into everlasting life. But this love that God has for the world is not something He decided to do on a whim. God’s love for the world arises from the way He is. It proceeds from His ultimate and everlasting character. The love that God extends to the world (John 3:16) is the same love that we have known and believed in, the love that God has toward us (1 John 4:16). And what kind of love is that? John tells us that God is love, and so it follows that the one who lives in love is living in God, and the one who lives in love has God living in him. But note the potency of that phrase—God is love.
Deep Error from Shallow Hearts:
Before we are converted to God through Christ, we tend to veer in one of two directions. Whenever we conceive of ultimate reality, we either imagine unity at the top or we imagine plurality at the top. If the former, then we go in the direction of some form of Unitarianism—it could be Deism, it could be Islam, or it could be the generic God of American civic religion. The god at the top of this system is a solitary monad, the ultimate hermit god, the greatest bachelor that ever was.
The other direction is to assume some sort of multiplicity at the top. This reduces to some form of polytheism—many gods. And because each of these gods is contained by the cosmos, by the “whole show,” over time that cosmos in its entirety tends to assume the place of ultimacy, which also has a tendency toward pantheism.
These two ways of thinking have a political expression as well. The Unitarianism system is a model of the cosmos that is a “tower of power,” and so the political arrangement that reflects this (remember that we become like what we worship) is authoritarian. The political arrangement that reflects polytheism is called pluralism. There is usually a hidden unity in that system somewhere, but on the surface we have many voices, many laws, many gods.
The unbelieving mind is incapable of resolving this problem of the one and the many. Which is ultimate? Unity or plurality?
God Is Love:
When the early church was battling through the various controversies surrounding the Trinity, followed by the issues surrounding the relationship of the human and the divine in the Lord Jesus Christ, these were weighty controversies—they were not nontroversies.
Prior to the creation of the world, when there was nothing but God, how was it possible to say that God is love? How can we possibly claim that love is an aspect of God’s essential character? If there is no one else, if God is simply an ultimate solitary being, there can be no Beloved. If there is no Beloved, then God didn’t start loving until He created the world, and He needed to create the world in order to start loving. This would mean that He was dependent on something external to Himself in order to be love—which is intolerable. God is love. God is love apart from any contingent created order.
God So Loved:
Biblically defined, love means revealing yourself and it means giving yourself. When God loved the world, what did He do? He gave. What did He give? He gave His only begotten Son. The word here is monogenes, and the clear implication is that He gave Himself. But then what did He do? This is also important. He told us about it. First God gave us Jesus, so that we could have everlasting life. And then God gave us John 3:16, to tell us that He had given Jesus so that we could have everlasting life. God gave us Himself, and then God revealed Himself.
These gifts are not offered to us instead of Himself.
An Aside about Christmas Presents:
Why do we give presents at Christmas? What is that all about? What we are doing is celebrating the greatest gift ever given: “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15). The gift that God gave to us was ineffable, indescribable, beyond all mortal calculation. Gift is the hinge upon which all human history turns. Gift is the meaning of everything. Grace provides the meaning of life.
In the beginning, God gave us a perfect world in the first instance, which we promptly wrecked in our insolence and rebellion. So then God undertook to repair that cosmos, making it much more glorious than it had been before, and He did this by bearing the penalty of sin Himself. This is how He gave Himself, and the Christmas message reveals how He gave Himself.
So when you are shopping for presents, you are imitating that. When you buy a present for someone, you are not doing it so they will leave you alone for another year, or at least until their birthday. No, you are giving a token that represents you, that reveals you, that gives you.
Nicea and Chalcedon:
Nicea testifies to the truth that God is love. If the eternal Word is God, then God loves His Son eternally, which means that God is love. It cannot be any other way. Love is not an add-on extra. Love is an essential part of who God is. The Father loves the Son eternally. The Son loves the Father eternally. Their mutual infinite love is Himself an infinite person, the Holy Spirit of God. This is why the Spirit is described as the Spirit of God (Matt. 3:16), and the same Spirit is described as the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9).
And Chalcedon means that that the God who is love is that love unto us, and is also that same love with us. And as recipients of that love, what are we to do? Returning to the text, we are to dwell in the love He has bestowed, which is how we are enabled to dwell in Him. When we dwell in His love, we dwell in Him, and when we dwell in Him, He dwells in us.