But we also see traces of this love in secular culture at Christmas. The emphasis put on family and charity is seemingly (and maybe sadly) unique in our culture this time of year.
Christmas is indeed a time of love. And because of this, it's a good opportunity to think about how we speak about and teach the concept of Christian love to our teenagers.
When we think of love as it's portrayed in Scripture, so often we go to 1 Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 13 is usually read at weddings and the typical response is "Oh, how sweet and lovely! That Paul was SUCH a romantic dude!" (Or something like that.) But Paul's words on love weren't written as part of a wedding ceremony, or to be framed and hung on our walls in our homes. They were written to challenge a culture of self-absorption. This describes the 1st century Corinthian church. And it describes 21st Century American culture, as well.
So what do we make out of 1 Corinthians 13? And what does it have to do with Christmas?
Paul says love has characteristics. These characteristics are, among others, patience, kindness, giving support, and celebrating truth. When Paul made this list, he probably wasn't thinking: "What would make God's love sound really good right now. Let me see . . . " What Paul is doing is thinking of a person: Jesus Christ.
Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are indeed at each other's throats. But his expounding on love serves to ask this question: How can you be if you remember the cross? On the cross, Jesus was patient. On the cross, Jesus didn't keep a record of wrongs. Jesus died not in arrogance but in humility. When Paul writes, "Love is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs," he is thinking of the life and work of Jesus.
If we read 1 Corinthians 13 first and foremost as principles for us to live by, we'll never achieve a love that looks like the love described by Paul. But if we see this not as a love we have to do first, but a love that was first done for us and to us, this will change everything in us.
Because of the atmosphere surrounding Christmas, there may be no better time to communicate to your teenagers this message of Christ-centered love.
How can you model this for your students? How can we teach them that the love of Christ is something that's in them, but has to be lived out? More than anything, what if your youth group was known in your community for its love, not just a few weeks in December, but all the time?
As we are surrounded by the love and peace of Christmas, let's use it as a starting point to help infuse our ministries with the love of Christ . . . for each other, for our communities, and for the world.