Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Sermon: Titus 2:11-14

How would you summarise the Christmas story? What is the essential Christmas message? Communications are getting shorter and snappier these days - Twitter has a limit of 140 characters. How would you share the news of Christmas in brief?

Tonight, I want to focus on just six words from our Titus reading. They are, I believe, the heart of the Christmas story, and help us to understand the shepherds and angels and all the rest of the Christmas accounts.

The words come from the very start of our reading: ‘The grace of God has appeared.’ But what does it mean? Perhaps to help us see the good news, we need to think for a moment or two about Santa Claus.

According to popular tradition, and the old song (which I’m not going to sing) Santa is coming to town, and he’s making a list, trying to find out who’s naughty and nice. For the naughty people, there’s a lump of coal, and for the nice people, a stack of toys and presents waiting on Christmas morning.

Santa is then used as a threat to children for the month of December. If they’re being naughty, or there’s a chance of them being bad, or they won’t go to sleep (particularly on Christmas Eve), then they’re told: ‘Santa is watching’ or ‘Santa knows about...’ Be good, or Santa won’t come. So the kids try extra hard to be good for the last two weeks of Christmas, looking forward to the reward awaiting them. It’s a form of blackmail or bribery!

Because of this, we think that it’s the same with God. Some of us may see God as a Father Christmas figure, who keeps an eye on us, who wants us to be nice, and then will give us everything on our big Christmas list.

There’s a problem. None of us are nice, according to God’s standards. Each of us have sinned and we fall short. We don’t deserve anything good; we deserve to be punished for our sins.

Christmas, as we remember the birth of the Lord Jesus, is a great reminder of how God in his love and mercy and grace, has invaded the world to rescue his people. As Paul writes to Titus: ‘The grace of God has appeared.’

That word grace means God’s active favour, God being ‘for’ us - God giving us what we don’t deserve. As one person has said: ‘God’s grace is his active favour bestowing the greatest gift upon those who have deserved the greatest punishment.’

It’s not that we deserve to be accepted by God and welcomed by him, as if our place in heaven is ours by right, based on what we have done. No, we don’t deserve anything, yet God takes the initiative in coming to save us, taking our punishment himself, so that he can bless us and pour out his good gifts on us.

As Jesus is born, God’s grace invades the world. Bethlehem is like the beachhead, the first piece of captured land, the entry point for the invasion. Even there, on that first night, God’s grace is celebrated - not by the rich and powerful and religious, but by the outcast shepherds.

God’s grace is bringing salvation - the child lying in the manger is the Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. The angels praise God by saying ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’ - God is pleased with us as we are in Christ, as we receive his grace, giving us what we don’t deserve.

How do we know that God is gracious towards us? How can we be certain that God’s action towards us is grace? The grace of God has appeared. It’s not that God’s grace is somehow floating in the air, or whispering in the wind. No, God’s grace has appeared. Made visible. God’s grace has appeared in the manger of Bethlehem, in the person of the Lord Jesus.

The word appearing is the same word that’s used of the sun at dawn, appearing. God’s grace has appeared in the person of the Lord Jesus. Into the world’s darkness, the light of the world is shining. It’s precisely what Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist says in his song: ‘because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ (Luke 1:78-79)

Tonight we celebrate that ‘the grace of God has appeared’ as we remember the first Christmas. But what does that mean for us tonight, tomorrow, and every day? Well, as Paul continues, as the grace of God appeared, Jesus brought salvation - through his life and his death. God offers his grace to us freely - have you accepted his free gift?

Paul also tells us that because of God’s grace in Jesus, we are called to say no to ungodliness and become more like Jesus - self-controlled, upright and godly lives, as we wait. Because as we celebrate the appearing of the Lord Jesus as a baby at Bethlehem, the appearing of God’s grace, we also look forward to another appearing: ‘the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ Let’s not forget that Jesus is coming, and will appear again in glory - not this time in a manger as a tiny baby, but in his rightful place as King of the world, and every eye will see him.

Tonight, on this Christmas Eve, we can celebrate as we look forward to the appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, because of that first Christmas, when the grace of God appeared. We didn’t deserve it, but God has showered us with his undeserved favour, which is much better than anything that Santa Claus can give.

This sermon was preached at the Christmas Eve Communion in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Thursday 24th December 2009.

No comments:

Post a Comment