"GRACE HAS APPEARED"
The Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas Eve)
December 24, 2017
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.
Titus 2:11 (ESV)
The whole world is going nuts with celebration tonight and tomorrow, but not too many of the celebrants are all that sure what it is that they are celebrating. Some call it "the spirit of Christmas" but they are hard pressed to define just what that expression means. Others claim that they are observing "peace on earth and goodwill to all" during these last days of the year but they can't promise you that they will be able or even willing to carry this loving attitude into the new year. There are perhaps a few who may even go so far as to say that they are celebrating the birth of a very special Baby so many years ago, but if you ask them to tell you more about this, it soon becomes clear that they really don't know what's so special about this Baby or why He should matter to us today. Still others are honest enough to admit that they are celebrating because they are going to get a lot of gifts--or at least they better had! And of course, in the midst of all this celebrating, there are no doubt some apprehensive children who will go to bed tonight wondering whether they have been naughty or nice in the eyes of their benefactor.
We in the Christian Church are celebrating as well, but we have a clear understanding of what it is that we are celebrating--or at least we should. Our celebration has to do with a momentous event, for we are celebrating the grace of God as it made its appearance on the pages of human history. What makes this event so noteworthy is that it unites the divine with the human, the incomprehensible with the simple, the majestic with the humble. The God who is so great that He cannot be confined in all of heaven and earth in love willingly consents to be confined in a helpless little Baby who lies in a cold feeding-trough for cattle. The angels of God who constantly behold the glory of the Divine Majesty bring the message of the appearance of God's grace not to princes in palaces or to the priests of God's chosen people, but to simple shepherds--people whose reputation was so bad that most people wouldn't even speak to them unless they had to. All of this reveals how great this grace of God that has appeared really is. Let's celebrate the appearance of God's grace this evening by letting Titus explain to us its Source, its purpose, and its destination.
The verse before us tells us that "the grace of God has appeared." If we're going to keep our bearings as Christians living in this world in the midst of all of this confusion that we call Christmas, we need to remember that what appeared among us on that first Christmas so many centuries ago was, in fact, the grace of God. All of those warm feelings that seem to swell even in the cold hearts of the heartless during this time of the year are welcome, to be sure, but Christmas is not about warm feelings; it's about God revealing His grace. The story of the homeless couple wandering through the streets Bethlehem looking for a warm place for this young girl to deliver her first Child may be (and has been) used by various people to address a host of social issues of our day, but what this story is really about is the appearance of God's grace made human in a little Baby named Jesus--a little Baby who was born for the express purpose of redeeming lost humanity by perfectly fulfilling God's Law and by suffering and dying to make atonement for human sin. The Source of everything that's lovely and beautiful about Christmas is God, not us. We can certainly reflect the grace of God that we have received in the way that we mark this holiday and in the way the that we treat others, but we cannot create it. If it's anything worth sharing with others, it must come from God and not us.
We are told in the text before us the purpose of this grace of God that has appeared at Christmas: This is not just the grace of God; it is "the grace of God [that] has appeared, bringing salvation." The purpose of the appearance of God's grace in human history is not to give us a sweet sentimental story that makes us feel good and inspires a lot of art and literature and music. The purpose of God's grace appearing in the world is not to create a warm feeling that moves us to be nice to people who we don't particularly care for. The whole purpose of this miraculous event that we call Christmas is the salvation of sinners. "In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them" (2 Corinthians 5:19). The grace of God became human in Christ in order to save us--ultimately to rescue us from ourselves. Left to our own devices, we are doomed--doomed to a life of selfishness and misery in the here and now and doomed to an existence separated from God in the hereafter. But the grace of God has reached down to us in Jesus Christ to save us from our own self-destructive sin. That's why this holiday is so special to believers in Christ: because it proclaims the appearance of the grace of God--"the grace of God . . . [that] brings salvation."
So "the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation." But what is its destination? To whom has this saving grace of God been sent? We find the answer in the last few words of our text, where we are told that this grace of God has appeared and brought salvation "for all people." The salvation that accompanies the grace of God that has appeared in Christ is universal, just as the Son of Himself is a universal Savior. There is no one race or nationality, no particular class of people, not even a certain religious group that has a corner on Jesus Christ and His salvation. The only prerequisite that you need in order to be a recipient of "the grace of God . . . bringing salvation"--the grace of God that has been revealed in Christ--is that you be a human being living under the curse of sin. There is not person on the face of this earth for whom Christ did not come and live and die and rise again. You see, that's why it's called grace, which means "undeserved favor." This grace comes not to those who deserve it, but to those who need it--and that includes everyone.
"The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people"--that's what this special night is all about. It's the greatest Christmas Gift that there ever was or ever could be. It comes from God Himself, it brings salvation to lost sinners, and it is sent to everyone--and all of this is wrapped up in a tiny helpless Baby. It's no wonder that most of the people in Bethlehem had no idea what had appeared in their midst that night. And it's no wonder that even today "the grace of God . . . bringing salvation to all people" goes unnoticed by most of the people to whom it has appeared. But it doesn't have to be that way. The Spirit of God is always more powerful than "the spirit of Christmas" in your life and in mine, so that we may forever see and receive the great Gift that God has given us in the appearance of His grace--the grace revealed in His Son Jesus Christ--the grace that brings about your salvation and mine--the grace that will never tarnish or age or become useless or be taken away from us, but will give us joy and peace with God that will endure throughout our days on this earth and will eventually carry us into His loving presence in the life to come. Merry Christmas!
May the true Light which enlightens everyone, which has come into the world, shining brightly in the darkness, be your very life. And may the Word become flesh, Jesus Christ Himself, continue to make known to you His redeeming grace and truth now and always. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.