Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord (Titus 2:11-14)

Christmas Eve

There are a lot of things that are funny, and there are a lot of things to criticize in the world.  Lord knows we’re experts at it in our day. But suddenly something that used to be funny or despised takes on a whole new light when it touches our life.  For example, the bumper sticker “Keep honking; I’m reloading” is funny until you know a victim of road rage or gun violence. Conservative Christians can rant and rave against the evils of abortion, until they find out their close friend or spouse had one in the past.  It’s easy to rail against the LGBTQ movement until you have a family member who struggles with those questions.

The point is, it’s easy to make light of a problem when you hold it at arms’ length.  But as soon as you put flesh and blood on it, it becomes personal.

From Titus 3, we hear, “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.” (Titus 3:4-5)

Tonight, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world.  But here’s what the birth of God’s Son means: He does not judge us from on high; He makes our sin His own cause.  The goodness and lovingkindness has appeared, “wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”  The loving kindness of God is His philanthropia, His love for mankind—you and me.  And it is a genuine love. Not the kind of ‘love’ that you’re obliged to sign your Christmas cards with, to family you never see and don’t really matter to your life.  In God’s loving kindness, He makes your life His business.

Often, our first reaction to other people is to say, “Get out of my business!”  Why? Because they judge and criticize. They tell you how you ought to live your life.  But what about when that advice is motivated by love for you? What if they’re right? Even if people’s love can be flawed, God’s fatherly love for you is not. In the birth of Jesus Christ, we see the heart of a loving Father whose desire for us is nothing but pure and good.

He is our Creator, who formed us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).  He is the One who, in spite of our shoving Him out of our life, still laid out plans from eternity how He was going to save us (Ephesians 1:3-5).  And it is He who has the power to call us out of our rebellion to become recipients of His grace. (Eph. 2:1-9)

Earlier tonight, in the Epistle reading, we heard in Titus 2: 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age”  He has brought salvation that is for all people, no exceptions.  This is the God who “shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)  And it’s this love that changes its recipients.  In it, He renews us as His creation, a new creation.

In love, God sent His Son to save us from ungodly and worldly passions.  The tragic thing is when we want to cling to those things more than the God who loves us.  They just have such a strong pull on us—they resonate with the flesh in each of us and they feel so right; it feels like this is love.  But God’s love for you is true, and His Son was born to save you from all that threatens your life.

You see, it’s not that God excuses the evil or overlooks something that He had previously condemned.  Just as an example that’s current—not because it’s a sin worse than others—false teachers try to write off God’s previous condemnations of homosexuality and say the authors were biased.  Now that the Gospel has come, we’re free to live in the forgiveness of sins and embrace new lifestyles. But they overlook the fact that the Creator hasn’t changed His intention for human life—to the peril of their hearers.  If anything, He has sharpened the clarity that we are to live holy lives that don’t pander to our passions.

In the Old Testament, Polygamy was tolerated—“passed over” but now it is forbidden not just by the 6th Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery” but by a closer restoration to God’s original design—“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” 

He is not a God who callously shouts down orders from heaven. In the birth of Christ, He comes to make Himself one flesh with us so that He can suffer the just judgement you deserve.

We rejoice at Christmas because God reveals His heart for humanity.  If we only look at the world around us, we’ll never find that love. What we’ll find is closer to the idea of karma—you get out what you put in.  But you’ll never find a God who is merciful and gracious to fallen and foolish men. Here in the manger, you find that God who came down at a time when and where you would least expect.  Born in the former Kingdom of Israel, in a tiny town, to parents of no reputation, in the Roman empire that had no knowledge of God. Then, when it had happened, He announced it by angels to shepherds of all people.

And yet God, who rules over all, orchestrated all these things for His purpose: To show His loving kindness, to deliver His grace and peace, that you and I would know Him in our hearts.   No matter what your sins, whether manifest or hidden, He has come to you tonight in His Word, and the angel’s announcement is for you, too:

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10)

Peace from heaven in Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior from your sins!  Amen.

Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord (Luke 2:10-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord + December 24, 2017
Text: Luke 2:10-11

“He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary”
This blessed evening, we will focus on these words which are confessed by the universal Church–Christians in every place—about Jesus Christ: “He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary.”
There’s something called the natural knowledge of God.  By observation in nature and by our own in-born understanding, we know God to be a power greater than ourselves.  Plato called God the “unmoved Mover” and Anselm of Canterbury defined God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.”  No matter people’s religious affiliation, we surmise that whoever God is, He must be beyond us in some way.  He’s in heaven; He’s in another plane of existence.  However you say it, it’s natural to think God is not only above humanity, but also separated from us.
If you perceive that, you would be correct.  Heaven is God’s dwelling place, and in Isaiah 40, God speaks about Himself, 22It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.” (Isaiah 40:22)  But the distance was not always this case.  In fact, after the world was first made, the Lord made His dwelling among His creatures.[1]  Yet that closeness was shattered by Adam and Eve’s disobedience.  They are no mere mythical figures in a creation fable; they are in fact our ancestors whose sin brought the separation we now know from God.  We are separated from God because every since our parents brought sin into our spiritual condition, our hearts are inclined toward evil, as God tells us: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)
It is actually mercy that God does not dwell in our midst with all His holiness.  4For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.” (Psalm 5:4)  In fact even a glimpse of the Holy God is too much for us now: 5And [Isaiah] said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’” (Isaiah 6:5)   And the Lord says, “If for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you.” (Exodus 33:5, see also Hebrews 12:29)
But in spite of our wickedness, it remains God’s desire to dwell with us.  The only way for that to take place is if our unholiness can be dealt with.  Long ago, God made Himself known to people in dreams and visions, in smoke, cloud, and a burning bush.[2]  In all these, He veiled Himself and protect the sinful children of Adam from being consumed.  Yet the fullness of God’s plan to dwell among us was when He veiled His Godhead not with foreign substances like smoke, but in human flesh and blood itself.  9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” (Colossians 2:9)
“For us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary.”
God, though heavenly, high, and holy, came down to dwell with us most lowly.[3]  “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” (Titus 2:11) The grace of God did not simply appear in a message broadcast from heaven, but by the Son of God coming down from heaven—true God, begotten of God the Father from eternity and also true man, born of the virgin Mary in time.  The Lord has come down from heaven to forge the way to bring us back into His presence.
Despite this, often it’s more comfortable to think about the distance of God.  “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3)  By that we’d like to think that God is far off when it’s convenient to our lives.  When we put other things above our spiritual welfare and invest everything in our children’s “future” while their faith rots.  We want God not to be near, but look the other way when we delight in sexual fantasies and fornication.  Who wants the humbling reality that God hears our every idle word—especially when our words tear down and hurt other people?  God, you do your thing, and I’ll do mine.
But when we’re in danger, need, or experiencing a trial…that’s when we beg for God to be near!  Won’t you heal my diseased body?  Mend my broken marriage?  Provide what my family needs to live?
God is not an on-call super hero like Superman to save the day.  He’s far more than that, and He wants better for you.  The truth is, He sees those sins you thought were hidden or at least not that big a deal.  And yet, He still came near!  He came near to stand in your place, to bear the just punishment you deserve!  Jesus came near to win you peace with God again.
10And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10–11)
That peace He gave by His holy life, His innocent suffering and death, and by His glorious resurrection.  He “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession.” (Titus 2:14)  In the manger and from the cross, Jesus, the Son of God, made Himself yours, so that you could be God’s once more.
So, if you’ve distanced yourself from God, repent.  As we sang in the hymn, “to meek souls who receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”  He wants to be near you as Savior, not judge, He desires that peace which the angels declared to be your peace also!  Jesus wants this Christmas to be filled with true joy and everlasting peace, because He has come near for you!  Amen.
[1] Genesis 2:8
[2] Genesis 12 & 15, Exodus 3 & 13:17-22
[3] Allusion to the hymn, “Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness” (LSB 636:1)