John 15:9 I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.

Continuing on with Advent, I know that I skipped “Joy.” I have to be honest with you; I’m not there. I’ll probably get there by the time December 25th comes around, but I haven’t gotten that yet. I didn’t want to write about something that I didn’t feel. And I know that joy isn’t a conditional feeling. Joy is a deep-rooted condition of the heart that remains regardless of situations. I don’t think I have that joy yet. I know that it’ll come though.

Anyways, we’re coming onto the week of love in the Advent calendar, and I’m still using the passages from the Vineyard USA devotional. We’re in John 15, and I must say that this is an interesting chapter to use as an Advent passage. It’s near the end of Jesus’ ministry, which many call Jesus’ farewell discourse. This is the section of Gospel of John where Jesus is pretty much preaching to his disciples and comforting them before he gets ready to depart from them.

John 15 begins with the last “I am” statement in the book, the last of seven, and it’s a beautiful description of God’s vineyard. Most 1st century Jews would understand this allusion. The vineyard had frequently been used as a metaphor for the people of Israel (cf. Isaiah 5:1-7). It typically meant a place of judgment as God pruned the branches to separate those that are fruitful and those without. Consider Jeremiah 2:21 where it talks about the vine becoming wild and bitter.

So when Jesus proclaims that he is the true vine, it seems a little ironic. Why would someone want to put all of God’s divine judgment upon himself?

Because out of that judgment is love. Jesus took sin and death and scorn upon himself, which is why he later says that there is no greater love than one laying down their life for friends (John 15:13).

The greatest expression of love is Jesus. In Jesus, God declared humanity righteous. We’ll never know how much it cost to see our sins upon that cross, but we have an idea…it took the Son of God’s giving of himself. And it wasn’t simply that he was standing in the gap for us. He does not take all the wrath of God for nothing. As it says in Philippians 2, he empties himself and took on the very nature of a servant that in his death and resurrection he would have the name that is above every name. Christ’s humiliation is also Christ’s honor.

Sharing in the divine nature of Christ means that as Christ gave his life, so too should we offer ourselves like Christ in service to others (that “like Christ” is important because we can only imitate). God is a generous God, and we also should act accordingly. The way that we continue to love like God is to remain in Jesus. As we remain in his love, we will love.

This word, μὲνω, is used 34 times in the Gospel of John, and it’s one of his favorite words. As I’ve been re-reading the book devotionally for Advent, I keep seeing John repeating phrases like truth, falsehood, light, dark, remain, complete, etc. To me, John writes his Gospel story like any good orator. The use of repetition is not because he lacks the vocabulary to articulate his viewpoints. He repeats phrases and words to deliver his message across. It functions like a cadence.

The word for remain/abide/stay is kind of a domestic word. It was used sometimes as people invited guests to stay at their home. Jesus is inviting us to stay in his love; his house is love. I really love that idea. We are never unwelcome guests in the Father’s House. He is always inviting us to come back home, back into his arms of love.

We are to remain in him.

Even when it’s hard. (Actually, especially when it’s hard)

We have to work to remain in his love, but it’s an invitation nonetheless.

Jesus later speaks on the difficulty of being his disciple in chapter 15, and I think this is the best part about keeping his commandments. The work and effort that we put into remaining in his love, the Holy Spirit will multiply it, the mysterious idea that as we remain in Christ, he remains in us. I’m not going to try and figure out how that works, but I just know that it’s true.

Now that I’m working through this passage, it definitely can be used as an Advent week. It can (should) be used every week. We often forget about the love of God. We operate day-to-day working hard in our jobs, being critiqued by our employers, friends, or children. And then we burn out.

Love is the best motivator for anything. Love is our lifeblood. We go to the store to get flowers for our spouses to show that we love them. We cook an elaborate meal for our relatives for holiday meals. Love is the only explanation for why parents clean up their baby’s dirty diapers. Love holds us together. Love fuels us.

In a world that measures success in quantifiable terms, we will be known by our love (John 13:35).

The divine nature of God is love (1 John 4:8), and the fruit that we bear as followers of Christ is love. As we love God, we will love others. Our fruit in abiding in Christ is love: love for ourselves, love for God, love for others…His love transforms us. It’s a relentless love. It pursues us. It breaks down walls. It mends broken hearts. It’ll help us forgive. It’ll help us give. It will lift us up. This love isn’t like anything else in this world. And it’s incredible.