Scripture: Isaiah 61: 1-3
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
Love is one of the most often misconstrued ideas in our society. “Love” can include anything from a favourite food to a marriage covenant, and everything in between. But there is a love that is like no other…
“Divine Gift-love in the man enables him to love what is not naturally lovable; lepers, criminals, enemies, morons, the sulky, the superior and the sneering.” C.S. Lewis
What Lewis writes about is the idea that there is nothing natural about God’s love—charity. And there is nothing natural in humans which causes us to act charitably outside of God’s “Gift-love.” He writes, “But Divine Gift-love—Love Himself working in a man—is wholly disinterested and desires what is simply best for the beloved…”
Put succinctly, the Apostle Paul writes, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The gift of God is not like most religions. There is nothing we can do to earn our way into God’s good graces. There are no heavenly brownie points for good deeds or even for effort. The gift of God is strictly out of love! Jesus’ love for the broken, for the sinner, for us comes with a heavy price tag, but is paid in full on our behalf out of God’s goodness and “Divine Gift-love.”
Because this love is divine, it is difficult to replicate. Christians get into weird habits of doing good in Jesus’ name for the wrong reasons. We get into habits of not doing good at all because we believe in grace—not works. And we get into habits of doing good only when it fits into our comfort.
The first issue is motive: we try to get in to God’s good graces by practicing love. But we know theologically that we can’t earn God’s favour. You cannot strong-arm God into salvation regardless of how many good things you have done! That is not how it works.
The second issue is doctrine. This is a common concern in the church today. We don’t do a lot of good in society for the poor, the broken hearted, and the hungry because there is a popular notion that social justice is somehow opposed to sound doctrine. Just because grace is what gains us salvation (not works), does not mean that we should not act. This notion fails to account for all of the amazing acts of justice that Jesus did while he was on Earth.
The third issue is comfort: we are totally willing to pray, give money, and even time if it fits into our schedules and budgets. But the Gospel isn’t comfortable, or frankly, safe. Jesus calls us into the thick of the chaos in the world in order to share the good news (both in word and deed).
But we cannot act out of what Lewis refers to as “Divine Gift-love” without a relationship with Jesus enlivened by the Holy Spirit. You cannot put the cart before the horse. If you try to act charitably without Jesus first, it eventually comes out that your motives are askew, your doctrine only presents half of the picture, or your giving is easy—it doesn’t require much of you.
Practicing love charitably in the world today is really hard work! It doesn’t demand credit. It doesn’t have good boundaries. It doesn’t acquire secondary gains. It doesn’t allow us our comforts. It doesn’t like to be seen. It doesn’t try to earn anything in return. It sounds downright impossible! But not with Christ.
In Luke 4: 14-21, Jesus, not so subtly, reveals the fulfillment of the Isaiah 61 prophecy.
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[f]
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
If there was ever a divine mic drop, it was in that synagogue!
Jesus tells the people that the promise of justice being acted out on the Earth is being fulfilled through him, and he calls his followers, later on, to do the things that he did. We are called today to practice love in the world in tangible ways.
As the season of Advent draws us closer to Christmas, let us not forget to practice love. Let us not forget what Christmas is all really about—Jesus. The baby born in a manger came into the world to set all things right, and let us not fail to join in that loving work in the world.
Challenge: Decide on a practical way to show love in your community. You and your family should decide on something that you feel particularly invested in: the soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, food bank, pregnancy centre, retirement home, etc.
Maybe it is making a meal for your neighbours who are hard to love. Maybe it is giving up possessions sacrificially. Maybe it is really listening well to a family member who is in a difficult time. Whatever you decide to do, start with prayer. Because apart from the work of Christ in us, our loving actions will cease to be truly loving.