(This message was a part of our Advent series titled, 'Christmas Gifts You Can Use.')
I’m an awful dancer. It’s true—there’s no false modesty in that statement at all. I’m a painfully awful dancer. If there were a 12-step group for bad dancers, I’d have my 25 year chip at least. I’m clumsy, self-conscious, and almost supernaturally aware that I’m literally never moving attractively or even well. If I want to get a belly laugh out of Julie or Ian, five seconds of dancing will do the trick.
It’s not that I’m not musical. Most of you know that I love music. I use my iPod daily, and I generally have something playing on the stereo during dinner. On the nights when I do the washing up after dinner I crank the music loud enough to drive Julie and Ian into other rooms. Sometimes I get my guitar out and have a mini-concert in the living room at the manse. We are proud—or at least I’m proud—to be the loudest resident that our church-owned home has ever housed.
So it’s not a problem with music. But it also doesn’t change the fact that dancing isn’t my preferred way to express anything other than total humility…or maybe self-loathing.
I do remember enjoying one evening of dancing, though. It was at our daughter’s wedding a few years ago. I performed the service, then sat down to a meal with people I loved and loved to be with. We laughed and ate and told stories. We looked at childhood pictures of the bride and groom. It was a great night. When the music started, it felt natural to get up and dance a little. I danced with Julie, and also with our daughter Ericka. As cheesy as it may sound, there was so much love in that place—so much good, honest love among the people who were at the wedding—that there wasn’t time to think about what we looked like on the dance floor.
I know people who dance to express all kinds of emotions with grace and beauty. People who dance with a sort of creative recklessness that tells you more than they ever could with words. For a brief moment I could see how that might be the case. I actually enjoyed the dancing that night—I’m not sure why it worked out so well. Maybe I’d just been waiting for a good enough reason.
In the Bible, King David also had a good reason to dance. He was so caught up in God’s love for him—and in his love for God—that he forgot to put all his clothes on before dancing down the street. His wife scolded him…but David told her that nothing was going to get in the way of his celebrating before the Lord.
Our text this morning is a celebration in a single verse—John 3:16—one of the best-known texts in the entire Bible. It’s also one of the best reasons to dance that ever was. Hear the great news for us this morning.
For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
I hope that passage of Scripture never gets old for you. “For God so loved the world…” I know that’s not a traditional Christmas passage, but it has the whole story there, all wrapped up in one flowing sentence. God sends his only son to his creation to break the power of sin and death and despair—“to save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray.”
And why did he do it? Because he loved us so much. If you ever took a journalism class you know that you’re never supposed to bury the lead of your story. Well John the Evangelist knew this 2000 years ago. Before he gets to telling the story about what happened because God sent his son, he tells us why he did it in the first place.
“For God so loved the world…” Because God loved the world so much.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the presents and other commercial pressures of Christmas. It’s easy to worry about meals and family relationships and whether or not someone’s feelings are going to get hurt by something you do. Those are important, up to a point, but none of them are the reason we’re all here today.
We celebrate Christmas—Virgin birth, baby in a manger, big star in Bethlehem, angels, shepherds, kings, gold, frankincense and myrrh—our enjoyment of this holy day stems from one single amazing truth:
“For God so loved the world.” Because God loved the world so much.
At the end of a very difficult year, with another one right on its heels, isn’t that good news? Even if we’re having a hard time feeling it or believing it, isn’t it an encouragement to be reminded that the God we struggle to follow loves us?
Brennan Manning wrote a book one of the best titles ever. It was called Lion and Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus. In that book he wrote this about the gift of love in Jesus Christ:
For those who claim his name, Christmas heralds this one luminous truth: the God of Jesus Christ is our absolute future. Such is the deeply hopeful character of this sacred season. By God’s free doing in Bethlehem, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Light, Life and Love are on our side.
We started out by talking about dancing, but this day and this service have really been about the music—the songs of Christmas and how they tell the story in ways that we can hear and sing and remember. It’s an important reminder of something we don’t really ever forget: good songs can communicate important things.
A Christian singer I used to listen to wrote a song called ‘Madness Dancing’. In it he describes the feeling of coming to God in prayer and being so overjoyed in the presence of the Almighty that he can only muster up one response. He sings:
In the middle of this madness I am dancing,
Though I’m not sure why just now.
I tried to be sober—tried to be logical,
But I could not stop my feet.
Is there anything about this season that makes you want to dance? In all the planning and work and worry that goes into the Christmas season, can you leave a little space for the Christ child to stir you up a little bit and make you want to move?
“For God so loved the world.” Because God loved the world so much.
If you’ve been in this faith for a while, take this message with you and make it a part of your Christmas celebration. As you look at lights and banners and nativity scenes, remember that the foundation for Christmas is God’s immeasurable love for us, love that gave up so much for our benefit.
If you’re here today and you’re not sure about what all this means, let me invite you to take a chance today. This life of faith that we talk about here is messy and hard and confusing and frustrating sometimes, but it’s the life God meant for us to live, full of meaning and challenge and service.
Don’t leave today without talking with someone. In the music and prayers and readings of this Christmas season, hear these words in each one: “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.”
There is no better reason to dance.
(The choir followed this with Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.)