Christmas Eve, 2019

The Epistle – Titus 2:11-15

The Gospel – St. Luke 2:1-14

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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Christmas and the Gospel Lesson we have for this night, is one of those times when the text is so clear that it requires very little explanation.

 

Nevertheless, this does not mean that it should be taken for granted or ignored. It still is a story that should be taken to heart, for it is the beginning of our redemption.

 

In fact, the birth of Christ…what we call the Incarnation…. is one of the most important things that has happened in the history of mankind and the world since its creation.

 

We just have a few obstacles in our way that keep us from seeing the full impact of it.

 

First, we are still fallen people. We are blind to the true depth and length and breadth and height of the things of God and His glory.

 

We only see through a glass or see in a mirror dimly now. We do not yet fully comprehend all that God is to us and for us…and has in store for us.

 

Through our own stubbornness and blindness, we would rather see the world around us with its attractions…fleeting as they are.

 

We would rather enjoy what Christmas has become rather than what it really means.

 

We have, if not for centuries, at least for decades layers upon layers of Christmas mythology of Santa Clause and Jingle Bells and commercialism that have clouded our understanding of what Christmas truly means.

 

 

 

 

We are now - at the moment at least - celebrating the fact that we are hearing - more than we have in a long time - people greeting one another in shops and on the street with “Merry Christmas,” rather than ‘happy holidays’.

 

It should shame us to some degree to hear, for example, Bp. Garang, from the Sudan say, “Where I am from we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Our children have never heard of Santa Clause.” He wasn’t being sarcastic.

 

So, all of this is to say, that we have to push ourselves much harder to understand and celebrate Christmas in a more authentic way than we currently do.

 

And when you say things like this to some people… even Christians sometimes…they seem to look a little disappointed…or put off.

 

They seem to think that….seeing Christmas as a time when you celebrate the birth of Jesus you are telling them they are going to have to make Christmas boring. …or worse, like you are taking it from them.

 

Not a lot has to change for us to re-center our Christmas either. This is not a call to toss out the tree and the decorations stop the gift giving.

 

 

 

There is a lot of Christian symbolism in the Christmas that we celebrate still, if it is viewed and understood as Christ-centered rather than culture-centered.

 

Our prayer this evening re-centers this for us. “O God, who makes us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thine only Son, Jesus Christ.”

 

God the Father is the one who, by His grace, makes us glad by reminding us every year at this time, that He loves us so much, He sent His Only Son to be born of the Virgin Mary.

 

This is John 3:16. God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son….that whosoever believes in Him has eternal life.

That is Christmas. That is what Christmas is about.

 

But as is true with so many of our prayers, there is an acknowledgement of our weakness, frailty and ignorance.

 

God knows this about us. This is why we have to continue to work to re-center Christmas.

 

God is the one who reminds us that Christmas is about His love in saving us through His Son…

 

...but we went on in that prayer to ask, “Grant that as we joyfully receive Him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold Him when He comes again to be our judge.”

It is the work of God from start to finish.

 

Just as we receive God’s Son because the Father has opened our hearts to receive Him…may we next look forward with confidence to see Him when He comes again…or He takes us home to be with Him….even though He at that time becomes also our judge.

 

So, we are glad to remember the birth of Jesus at this time, as it is a gift from the Father to us…to redeem us…to save us.

 

God opens our hearts in the very beginning, taking our blind, dead, cold hearts and breathes the Spirit of life into them so that we receive Christ as our Redeemer.

 

These elements are what is missing in modern day Christmas.

 

The birth of Christ, which is probably the most prominent aspect of Christmas today…even if you look around in the secular culture…the nativity scene…reminds us of the Christ Child.

 

But there is more.

 

The Child has come as the Trinity has been pleased to Redeem us. The Father, sends the Second Person of the Trinity….by the power of the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

 

Born of a virgin. Conceived sinless and born sinless.

Born to give us second birth, as the hymn says. Born to come and bear the sins of His people.

 

This is why Christmas is so glorious.

It is the work of a glorious God, acting in mercy to save His creation from itself and from its willing rebellion and our alienation from Him and from eternal judgment by Him.

 

To save us from eternal death.

 

Paul, in his letter to Titus and the section of it we heard tonight, tells us, “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.

 

Not that all saw Him, but His arrival is the time of salvation of all men.

He came to save all men from every tribe, race, nation and tongue.

 

Paul says that this…teaches us…this coming of Christ that we celebrate, teaches us something.

What do we learn from the coming of Christ?

 

We learn, says Paul, that we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world….looking for that blessed hope and glorious appearing of Jesus Christ a second time.

 

So, Christmas is not just a birthday. This is another obsession we have, at least with ourselves, which overlooks the greater meaning of Christmas.

 

You see, nothing is separated from the rest. The coming of Christ as a child, means He has left heaven.

 

It means that He will grow up, die and rise to life again.

It means that He will come again at the end of the age to judge the world.

 

None of these things can be taken as isolated events. They are all intertwined with one another and are part of the long unfolding plan of salvation and redemption.

 

Just as we celebrate His birth at this time, we should at the same time let that inform us of His coming again.

 

The first coming is designed to remind us of His second coming.

 

The grace of God that sent His Son to be our salvation means that we live righteously in the meantime and soberly and godly…so that we will be ever attentive to the fact that He will come again.

 

Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts says St. Paul. One commentator sees in denying ungodliness and worlds lusts, includes superstition...something Christmas has turned into.  He also includes irreligious contempt of God.

 

…another thing Christmas has become.

 

A contempt of God and all that Christmas really means has become for so many, a superstitious holiday with the wrong figure at its center.

 

He says, …and we are applying this to Christmas in particular, but it goes beyond this… he says that… “Although [some people] have some profession of religion, yet they never fear and reverence God sincerely and honestly, but, on the contrary, have consciences that are useless, so that nothing is further from their thoughts than that they ought to serve God.”[1]

 

This is what living a sober, righteous and godly life is.

Living a sober, righteous and godly life, a line the Prayer Book has adopted and used for the MP & EP confession…is how the life we now live is lived and regulated.

 

In our confession at that time, we ask for the sake of Christ and His work done for us, that we may hereafter….from that very time onward may live a godly, righteous and sober life…by His grace.

 

He says, “When these three are attended to, we may then be glad at the remembrance of Christ’s first coming…because we are sober about things. We are sober about what Christmas means.”

 

These things measure or dictate temperance. Godliness, sobriety and righteousness are what keep us looking into what Christmas is truly about for us…and for all mankind.

 

And of course, as the prayer states, we are living soberly and godly and rightly so that we may look with sure and confident hope for His coming again.

 

We are not basing His coming again on our behavior. He is not waiting for us to shape up before He comes.

 

This is not the message at all of Scripture or the Gospel. Its message is not that God is waiting for us to live perfectly and then maybe Christ will return…but not until we do this or that.

God will send His Son to return at a time that He sees fit. We are called to live in expectation of that ..for we do not know the day or the hour.

 

This is always an exhortation to live in light of all that Christmas is, so that when He does return, which is on His timetable…He may find us living this way.

 

We see this in ourselves and in our children. Don’t they do something for us and then stand very proud to show what they have done?.... and look for approval.

 

 

 

 

Don’t they look for favor from us…child to parent when they accomplish or finish everything on the dinner plate or learn to finally ride without training wheels or bring home the good report card?

 

In a few places Christ calls us to be as little children.

 

Matthew 18:1–4

 

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” [2] And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them [3] and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

[4] Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (ESV)

 

James 4:10

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (ESV)

 

Jesus called everyone to a humble, unpretentious, self-abasing, honest and true faith in God.

 

That is what He asks of us…and He uses the innocence of a child to make His point.

 

Do we not want the same reaction from our Lord and Father?

Do we not want Him to approve of us, as we do our best?...knowing that we will fall short?

 

We do not have [a God] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.  Rather we have [a God,] who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (ESV)

 

Let the miraculous story of the Incarnation dwell in your hearts this season.  Let the coming down from heavenly heights to lowly earthly dwellings be contemplated by you this Christmas.

 

 

 

Only the pure message of the Gospel of Christ our Savior, born of a Virgin, can open or change or warm our hearts to what Christmas is all about. 

 

And when this Gospel message is embraced, it will have great transformative power well beyond Christmas.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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[1] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (p. 318). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.