The Nativity of our Lord 2017
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 Collect for the Nativity of our Lord summarizes not just Christmas but the entire Christian experience so well.
We have just heard in our Gospel lesson this evening the story of the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ.
A decree went out throughout all Judea. Caesar desired to conduct a census. Everyone needed to be registered.
This meant going to your own home town and doing so. Normal government things going on here.
Joseph and Mary go up from Galilee to Bethlehem, travelling obediently under the governing authorities, to their hometown.
Joseph and Mary are betrothed. Mary is pregnant with the child Jesus. So the travel must not have been all that comfortable for her.
While they are in Bethlehem Mary delivers her child. Jesus is born. There is no room in the inn where they were so they are given a place to at least find shelter in a stable.
The baby is laid in a manger.
So this is to the first part of our prayer. “O God, who makes us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thine only Son, Jesus Christ.”
The story makes us glad because we know it so well. We know what it means. We know the difficulties the mother and father faced in the early days and months of Jesus’ life.
They worked hard and guided by angelic direction, they keep the child safe.
It makes us glad because we cannot help but be moved by the scene as we all imagine it in our minds. Christmas cards have an infinite combination of ways in which the Nativity really looked.
But it also makes us glad because we know what this early time of Jesus’ life will later yield.
It will yield the great riches of God’s grace to all men who by faith embrace this child, Jesus as Lord and God.
The next part of our prayer was, “Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our Redeemer….”
So it is at this time that we do just that. Christmas is recalling Jesus as Redeemer.
But it is also the lifelong call of the Christian to continue to receive Him as Savior and then contemplate all that it means for us.
As Savior, …the obvious meaning is that He has saved us. He has redeemed us. He has ransomed us.
Before doing so, we were lost. We were dead. We were nothing.
But as the message of Christ’s love comes to us and His saving grace opens our hearts, we embrace Him through the calling by which He calls us….He draws us unto Himself.
We do not pursue Him until He first finds us and puts a desire for pursuing Him back into our hearts….something that was lost through our first parents.
All that the Fall entailed was imputed to us. We are fallen as well.
But Christ our Savior has found us and lifted us up once again.
The Prayer goes on, “so we may with sure confidence behold Him when He shall come to be our Judge.”
So this joy is now increased because as we look to His birth, then we look to His redeeming work for us….and then we look further on to His coming again.
And the prayer, which we all said “amen” to was again… “we may with sure confidence behold Him when He shall come to be our Judge.”
The child Jesus who was vulnerable and exposed to weather, threats from different quarters…. government, the possibility of robbers and other unsavory types on the trips from Bethlehem to Egypt and back…the vulnerable child has grown up to be not only our Savior but our Judge.
Now the vulnerability is in us.
The child born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago has become our Savior. We cannot save ourselves.
We cannot be right with God on our own.
We cannot atone for our own sins.
We cannot attain everlasting life by ourselves.
But all of this is possible through our Savior and Judge, Jesus Christ.
But we said that we would possess and exercise “sure confidence.”
This is not as easy as saying or praying it. The looking for a Savior is one thing. The looking for our Judge is another.
Nevertheless, we look for Him to come again in both offices and we are to look for His coming again with confidence.
We can do so, precisely because the judgment pronounced on Christians is also Good News.
It is “well done good and faithful servant.”
It is “enter into the joy of your master.”
This whole prayer that we prayed this evening that set the tone and theme for the entire night tells us all that we believe.
It tells us that the Judge who is coming again has at the same time put a robe of righteousness upon us. He has covered us with His righteousness.
And that sin that was imputed to us from Adam is now taken away in the death of Christ and the righteousness of His life and obedience is now imputed to us.
There has taken place a great exchange.
The prayer tells us again, all that is true and all that we are to desire
Joy at the coming of Christ at His birth.
Joy that He will come again.
Confidence when He does come that His judgment will be equitable and fair and that on account of His mercy and the righteousness that He has imputed to us, He will judge us to be worthy to dwell with Him forever.
All because we are found to be in Him by faith.
Not trusting in our own righteousness, but in His manifold and great mercies.
The passage from Paul’s letter to Titus has this same theme running through our section tonight….so Paul also had this same Gospel in mind and had delivered it to Titus…and Titus has shared it with us tonight once again.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…”
That is the Christmas message tonight again…in an even more succinct statement.
The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”
The grace of God is the gift of Christ. He was full of Grace and Truth.
God’s grace is that He has given us Christ.
His work in redeeming us is His grace.
And He has appeared to bring salvation to all men.
But Paul extends this a bit. He tells us that this grace that God gives…it “trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions. To live self-controlled, upright lives in this present age.”
So the key to gladness is the salvation that Christ has brought…
The righteousness that He has given.
And now it is also the Grace that trains us unto godliness.
The fruit of gladness is all that comes from it…
And resisting what does not reflect gladness.
Resisting all that is contrary to redeemed people…..
All of those things we sometimes desire.
But the things that we are to throw off…because we are awaiting, as Paul goes on here to say, “our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
And at His appearing, Paul says, He, “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. (ESV)
He is now at work in us, purifying us as a people for His own possession.
We are reminded elsewhere by Paul. He says, that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within us, whom we have received from God. (1 Corinthians 6)
He is building His Temple to dwell in. It is made up of individual stones that are the individual members of His Church.
We are those living stones…being built up. But the language here is that we at the same time are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. And we are at this very moment indwelt by Him and we are a temple for him to live in.
So all that we do matters. All that we do in thought, word and deed matters because the Holy Spirit dwells in us.
We have to keep the Temple clean.
He says at the end of that sentence, “You are not your own, or you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (ESV)
We do not even own our own bodies anymore… We never did, but he means that we have to turn it over from our own selfishness to Him.
And yet the cleaning and purifying will not end until we enter into glory. We will always remain both justified and sinful.
We will, until He comes again, remain redeemed and yet awaiting the fullness of that redemption.
But the life of the Christian, when all of this is put together is gladness.
Gladness is not walking around with a constant smile on your face. It is not being happy all of the time.
The gladness of being a Christian comes in many forms. The gladness is a confidence, an assurance…even when not feeling very confident or assured.
It is an ongoing life work of recalling the great things God has done for us in Christ. Letting all of that dwell in our hearts and then turning outward to serve one another…because we are joyful for all that he has done for us…from being born as a man…. to dying to rising again.
This is what Christmas is all about.
It is about a message of a Savior.
It is about a message of deliverance…of reconciliation…
And we are the recipients of all of it... through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.