The Nativity of our Lord

Christmas Eve, 2015

 

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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The birth of Christ, celebrated this night and over into tomorrow, has very little in common with the celebration of birthdays we engage in today.

 

We celebrate that the person is another day older and that they are healthy, or happy.  We honor them for another year.  Perhaps it is seen as an accomplishment.

 

But with the birth of Christ, we find a much different picture being painted. Our Collect spells it out for us in no uncertain terms. 

Tonight we thanked God in our opening prayer for making us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of Christ.  And as we joyfully receive Him as our Redeemer, we may with sure confidence behold Him when He shall come to be our Judge.

 

This then is not a standard birthday celebration by any stretch of the imagination.

 

So it is imperative for us to understand why we are here tonight. 

 

Having seen throughout this past year in our lessons the incomprehensible ways in which God uses weakness and powerlessness and things that don't seem, to the naked eye, to be all that important, to display His glory and accomplish His work of redeeming us, we come this night to celebrate and adore and worship the birth of a baby in a manger…who is Christ the Lord….

 

….the beginning of our Redemption.

 

The epitome of weakness and powerlessness is displayed clearly for us in Christmas.  Christ, born of a poor virgin girl.  No room to stay in the inn that they try to enter.

 

A flight into Egypt to escape the death of their Son.  All done by the sovereign hand of God to show His power.  Power through weakness.

 

On the other hand, the strength, the accomplishments, the redemption, the defeat of sin, evil, and death, we have to look deeper for….because they are not all that visible to us. 

 

We trust rather in what the Scriptures tell us and hang on their words.

 

The defeat of sin has been accomplished by Christ, yet it continues to this day.

 

 

The defeat of death has been accomplished by Christ, yet we must all die as the wages due for our sin.

 

But in each of these, they have been defeated.  We just await the finality of it all.

 

The accomplishments Christ has attained are still to be recalled.

The unfathomable love God has for us is still to be recalled.

The extent to which God has gone to rescue us is still to be recalled.

And the obligation laid upon us to reflect our gratitude in a life of true holiness and righteousness is also still to be recalled.

 

And as we should expect from Paul, he writes using his familiar style and method…using the indicative mood and then shifting to the imperative mood in his letters.

 

 

In other words he lays out for us first, the Good News of what he wants to communicate.

 

It is generally the Gospel. 

And then he turns and gives us what he says we ought to strive for in light of the Gospel….in light of such goodness from God.

 

Our lesson for the Epistle tonight reminds us of these things quite well.

 

The first half of this equation tips toward Gospel.  Paul writing to Titus this evening says this in one short line.  This is Christmas in a word: “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.

 

That is a good and concise definition of Christmas.  The Grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.

 

That is what we celebrate this night. 

 

To say today is Jesus’ birthday is then extremely oversimplifying things.  It IS the day we mark as His day of birth.

 

But He wasn't just born and that was it.

He was born for a reason.

He was born for a mission.

He was born for us. 

The Grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.

 

What Paul is telling us in this text in particular is that God, because He is gracious, has manifested or has shone forth His grace in the plan of redemption….

….through this miracle of the birth of His Son Jesus Christ.

 

God’s grace has shone forth tonight in our yearly remembrance of the birth of His Son.

 

 

 

He has given light to those that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death…. To guide our feet in the way of peace as John the Baptist’s father sang.

 

And this appearance brings salvation to all people says Paul.

 

This is not saying that all mankind is saved.  Not all accept this message of God’s grace though the offer is there.  Many reject it and so, the “bringing salvation for all people” is… all classes of people.

 

From the very rich to the very poor. 

From the very well-known to the unknown.

Male and Female.

Slave and Free.

Jew and Gentile….all nations tribes and tongues.

 

This is exhibited in tonight’s Gospel reading as well. 

In the same region (as Mary, Joseph and Jesus) there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.

(there is that glory of God again…shining around the shepherds)

 

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

 

So as our Collect stated, we are glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of Christ, because the glory of God has shone forth.


The message of salvation has gone out throughout the world…. beginning with the annunciation to Mary…to Joseph…to the shepherds…and now on down to us.

So we joyfully receive Him as our Redeemer…because the message of salvation has gone out by the grace of God….irrespective of any sort of status of the individual.  And it has come down to us to celebrate tonight.

 

But we also prayed that we may with sure confidence behold Him when He shall come to be our Judge.

 

Tonight is also the yearly remembrance of the birth of our Judge.

 

But even in this title…which can be a little unnerving….JUDGE…we must return again and again to the entire structure of this prayer.

 

God makes us glad in this yearly remembrance.

We joyfully receive Him (Christ) as our Savior.

 

These two should be kept in mind as we come to that third petition in the prayer acknowledging Christ as Judge.

We confess each time we gather that Christ will come again to judge the quick (living) and the dead.  There is judgment for all men.  None of us escapes the judgment seat of Christ.

 

But the key words in this if we are to continue on a note of joy is that we may with sure confidence behold Him when He comes to be our judge.

 

      Paul writes this in his second letter to the Corinthian Church.  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

(2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV)

 

Somehow in this, we are to, with sure confidence look forward to that day.  But how can this concept not make us fearful?  It sort of makes the joy of Christmas tarnish a little it might seem.

 

We sing at this time, Joy to the World, the Lord is come.  Let earth receive her King.  And this is true.  But this King, is a righteous King and He has come to set things right.

 

And part of setting things right, is judging the world.

 

The purpose of Christ’s judgment is to examine a person’s entire life.  The purpose is to recompense us for the deeds we have done, whether good or bad.

 

But for the Christian, who has put his faith in Christ, it is a time of reward, not punishment.

 

This is why we also sing at this time: “…God and sinners, reconciled.”

      Paul writes this: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

 

 

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18 ESV)

 

This is why the entire news of Christ’s birth is Good News for the Christian….from Redeemer to Judge, Christ is for us…not against us.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  Romans 8.

 

Again, Christmas is:  The Grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people.

 

Commentator: But the manifestation of the grace of God unavoidably carries along with it exhortations to a holy life.[1]

 

And this is the final point in Paul’s Epistle for tonight. We also heard this…all of this is:

 

“…training us to renounce all ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age….waiting for our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

 

He goes on: “who gave Himself for us, to redeem us from lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.”

 

The highlights here….there is to be a renunciation of sin in our lives.  It is unbefitting and unbecoming of a Christian. 

 

But it also must be noted, if you find your own efforts are not pleasing and you find yourself falling short or falling into despair…. Paul says there that Christ is purifying…not us. 

 

He is purifying us for His own possession….by making us zealous for good works.

 

The one who is zealous in his love for the Lord and His salvation will be zealous in His works for the Lord. 

 

John writes: “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” (1 John 2:28 ESV)

 

Though we are to behold Christ with sure confidence when He comes to be our judge, John reminds us that a lack of zeal for Christ in this life, before He comes, can cause us to be ashamed when He comes.  The reward of eternal life is not lost, but John seems to tell us that there is a shame for a lack of zeal. 

 

This will be so because we will see the vast difference between His gracious reward and our poor efforts and lack of gratitude.

 

So, as John the Baptist’s father reminds us:

 

Christ has delivered us from the hand of our enemies…. physical, spiritual and self-imposed that we “might serve him without fear,

            in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

 

The Grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.  If this is true, and it is, then we should heed the last line of tonight’s Epistle as well.

 

If we are glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.

If we joyfully receive Him as our Savior.

And if we anticipate looking forward to His return in judgment, then we should heed the last line of tonight’s Epistle as well.

 

“Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”

(Titus 2:11-15 ESV)

 

We are rarely reminded of our duty toward God.

And we are commissioned by the Lord Christ Himself to this very thing.

 

Declare the birth of Christ.

Declare the Salvation of Christ.

Declare the Judgment of Christ.

 

Do it with confidence and in light of His salvation for you.  And let no one disregard you…or this message. 

 

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. 317). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.