The Nativity of our Lord, 2016
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.
The Season of Advent and its pointing us to Christmas, as has been labored from this pulpit for 4 weeks now. It has taught us that we are to both in this season and in all of our life, prepare our hearts and wills for the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We were reminded week after week that we were to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
That we were to make straight the way of the Lord.
The pathway for the Lord Jesus to enter into communion with mankind is through the heart.
That mysterious union we have with God is established and perpetuated in the heart of each one of us individually. And as individuals, we are brought into the covenant relationship with all other Christians both living and dead.
So if the heart is seen as the place where God dwells, then doesn't it make sense that it would be a place that we do our best to keep clean?
This evening our Gospel lesson delivers to us the message of the arrival of Jesus at His incarnation.
Here we are given the historical facts that surround that glorious event. Caesar Augustus at the time was ordering that a census be taken throughout all the land.
This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. These are all events that historians can verify.
Mary gives birth to Jesus. There is no room in town at all, so they are forced to take up the night in a manger, close to the inn that was all booked up.
Shepherds near by are keeping watch over their flocks that evening.
A serene picture is painted for us. Our minds have surrendered to the details given and we all can picture this in one way or another.
And there is great joy in heaven.
An angel of the Lord is dispatched to visit the shepherds to deliver the news that a Savior has been born in the City of David.
The glory of the Lord shone all around them.
They announce the news. Unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Christ (meaning, anointed one) The Anointed One who is the Lord, is born.
Suddenly as this announcement is made, the heavenly host, the great company of heaven all break out in praise for God….
Glory to God in the Highest.
And on earth, peace among those with whom He is well pleased.
Not “Let all the earth live in peace.” Not “Let all of us just coexist.” ….But, peace among those with whom God is well pleased.
With whom is God pleased??? To know that we must move on…and come back to that.
The Epistle continues this Advent preparation message in the last few verses of chapter 2 of Paul’s letter to Titus tonight.
Yet we get a
fuller and more in depth message if we hear what is said before hand and then
tie it to tonight’s lesson so that the entire chapter is heard in context.
Paul is the writer.
He is writing to Titus.
He says this to Titus…one who is a leader in the Church and is put in a position of authority ….but imagine and understand that it is written to each of us as well. Or it is written in such a fashion that when read correctly and carefully, the main thrust of what is written applies to us as well.
So, Paul writes, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.
Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.
Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”
And then we pick up seamlessly where we do tonight…
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” (Titus 2:11-15 ESV)
Let no one disregard us. For we bear the message of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
And all of this preparation is because He will come again and we must be ready.
There is a line there near the end that bears some attention.
“…our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Might this be an example of those for whom God is well pleased?
There is a message there. Our God & Savior Jesus Christ came this night for what? To redeem us from all lawlessness. This is why the exhortations are repeated over and over in the New Testament.
Christ came to redeem us from lawlessness.
But there is more there. Paul also says that not only did Christ come to redeem us, but to “…purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
It is Christ that is purifying us. He works, as we saw earlier, through the heart of man…through our hearts, to purify us for Himself a people zealous for good works.
Christ the redeemer is working on us. He is purifying us. Theologians use the term ‘monergism’. One, mono…and erg…to work..
We have words like ‘ergonomic’ meaning that something is designed to work easily, comfortably and correctly.
So God works, Christ works to purify us. We are commanded all over the New Testament to run, work, give, try, …but all of these are understood to be only accomplished through the power that God grants or supplies.
Thus, God works independently to purify us for Himself. Thus, monergism.
And as the people who make up the Church, we are the bride of Christ.
Paul uses the same language in his letter to the Ephesians. He says to the men…the husbands, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27 ESV)
Christmas is the time of the beginning of the courting period, we might say. The Bridegroom has come down from Heaven to seek out His bride. We are His bride.
This, again, is why Paul exhorts us to be bride-like. To “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope…”
The Collect (the prayer) for tonight spells out for us and summarizes for us the Advent and Christmas season in one short succinct prayer…and it touches on these main themes we have just heard about.
“O GOD, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thine only Son Jesus Christ; Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our Judge, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world with out end. Amen.”
Each year at this time, as part of the Christian Church Year Calendar, we are made glad by the yearly remembrance of the birth of the Only Begotten Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Though the Crucifxion and Resurrection and Ascension are also vital and unbreakable links in the chain of Redemption, the Nativity, the Incarnation is what we are centered on tonight.
This message brings great joy to us…gladness to us…because we remember the birth of the Christ child.
And yet, the prayer goes on to say…or ask… “Grant that as we joyfully receive Him for our Redeemer, we may with sure confidence behold Him when He comes to be our Judge.
This message of judgment we heard about last week. The Judgment is real and it is at hand.
Yet, we are at the same time reminded in our Scripture lessons of Christ coming and His mission was not only redemption, but purifying unto Himself a people.
We joyfully receive Him as our Savior and Redeemer.
We do so and are joyful about it because of what it means. He is our Redeemer. He is also our Sanctifier.
He is our Purifier.
He has come the purify us, not only to be zealous to do good works, but so that He might bring us unto that judgment spot and wrinkle free.
This Christmas, though it is full of many things…and has many meanings.
Not only that Christ was born, but all that comes along with it. This Christmas let us dwell also upon the fact that He came to purify us….purify unto Himself a people.
Why is it important for us to be spot free and wrinkle free and without blemish? The Collect also answers that question…..
“So that we may with sure confidence behold Him when He shall come to be our Judge.”
All of that bad secular theology about good people go to heaven and bad people don't is done away with here. That is not the message of Christmas at all.
The message of Christmas is that Christ has come not to be just an example or to be our friend or to defeat the devil or to make us good people or whatever else is told to us.
He came because we needed saving, cleaning, purifying, washing.
These things He came to do for us.
He came as a pure and spotless child…a sinless child…and remained sinless…so that though faith in Him….so that when we trust in Him and place our only hope in Him, we might be found in Him, “…not having a righteousness of [our] own that comes from the law, [works, deeds] but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness [the spotlessness…] from God that depends on faith.” (Philippians 3:9 ESV)
That is why Christ came.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.