Vol. 10 — No. 1 January 5, 1969
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
In Christ Jesus, God’s Son become man for our salvation, Fellow Redeemed:
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14. That was the sign that Isaiah gave unbelieving King Ahaz, What a sign it was! God Himself would come unto His people, being born of a virgin.
Centuries later an angel was commissioned to bring a message to a lowly maiden in Nazareth of Galilee: “Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS,” When that maid asked for an explanation, saying: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?”, the angel answered, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God,” Luke 1:31-35.
When her days were fulfilled, that virgin “brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger,” Luke 2:7, With that birth, and with none before or since, “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” as St. John puts it. John l:l4. God became Immanuel—God with us in a way and in a manner that staggers the imagination and battles the mind of man. The infinite, eternal, almighty God, who is at all tines in all places and with whom nothing is impossible, became man—a newborn, helpless, completely dependent infant. This is the Christmas miracle.
But what does it mean? Paul tells us in the words of our text which have been chosen by our fathers as the epistle selection for Christmas Day. In the previous verses Paul had been addressing the aged men and women, the young Women and men, then also the slaves. He had specific words of instruction and exhortation For each group, But then he has something to say to all of them. He would tell them the meaning and the import of the miracle that occurred that memorable eve—that God should have condescended to have become man. What does this mean for us and for all children of God? Paul presents the Christmas miracle from four points of view:
Is the word “epiphany” a bit foreign to you? It simply means “appearing,” “manifestation.” It’s when the curtain is pulled back and the scene revealed. That is just what God did the first Christmas. He pulled back the curtain of the heavens and revealed something to man. What? Paul writes, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.”
God showed His grace, His undeserved favor and love, to all mankind. God is gracious. He gives man blessings that man does not deserve. On one occasion God made a special display of His grace. He packaged it up in a little bundle of Flesh and blood and delivered it to earth in the form of a firstborn Son, born of a virgin. God’s grace became personalized. Grace ca to earth in human form—in the person of Jesus. From that moment on it became blasphemy to think of or to speak of God’s grace apart from or outside of Jesus Christ.
What was the purpose of this marvelous epiphany of God’s grace in the coming of His Son to earth in human form? It was to bring salvation to all wen. How simple it is to say those words, but how easy it is to ignore them! It would seem as though the whole world, including the modern churches, is conspiring to make modern man forget or be unimpressed or ignore the reason For Christmas—to bring salvation to man. Some try to make themselves believe that there is no God and so man has no need of salvation because he will never have to stand before God and give an account of himself. Some try to make themselves believe that all ends in the moment of death and so one doesn’t have to worry about either salvation or damnation in the hereafter. Some keep on repeating to themselves and others that since God is lovey He will eventually save all men even if they turn their backs upon His grace sent to earth in the person of Jesus. Some cry From pulpits and from the press today that Jesus was a revolutionary and would bring salvation by helping minorities overthrow the majority of the country. With all this confusion worse confounded most people don’t even realize that the chief purpose of the first Christmas was to bring salvation for all men.
But what we need above all things is saving—saving from ourselves, saving from our sins, saving from our guilt, saving from God’s punishment of our sins, saving from death which means separation from God, saving from the second death which means eternal torment. What we need most—SAVING—God sent from heaven to earth when the Baby Jesus yes born. Don’t let this gift slip through your fingers! Don’t throw it into the trash can with the wrappings from all your gifts and the garbage from the Christmas meal. Take Him, embrace Him, hold Him closely, cherish Him in your heart and life, for He came from heaven to earth to bring you salvation!
God became man—why? To serve as—
“Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.” God became man in order to be a continuing influence and force upon men, women and children in their lives—educating them in God-pleasing living. Being a Christian is more than just knowing the facts of the Christmas story. Being a Christian is more than making an annual pilgrimage to some church at Christmas or Easter. Being a Christian means taking Christ into your heart and life every day so that He becomes a continuing influence upon your living.
What influence would He have? Both a negative and a positive influence. He would have us deny ungodliness and worldliness. Our flesh within us and the world about us would have us cultivate ungodliness and worldliness. They would have us believe that the Sunday paper is more important than the Bible. They would have us believe that resting in the bed on Sunday morning and behaving ourselves the rest of the Jay is a fine substitute for hearing and learning the Word of the Lord at Sunday School and Worship Service. They would have us indulge our appetites, seek to satisfy our desires and hope that somehow we will get by the judgment seat of God. We are to deny these voices from our flesh and from the world. We are to slap them down ruthlessly.
Instead we are to cultivate sober, righteous, godly living in this present world. We are to realize that our daily living is to be a daily turning from all that is sin and turning to the Lord Jesus for daily assurance of divine forgiveness and daily strength for new resolve to live pleasing unto the Lord. We are to realize that living right with God is not living according to any list of man’s do’s and don’ts but according to God’s demand of love as outlined in the Ten Commandments. We are to realize that living godly lives means putting God before that extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning, putting the saying of thanks to God before the filling of our plates with food at the table, putting faith in God before faith in all the security devices that our modern society provides.
God became man. We look back through the centuries to that manger in Bethlehem to behold that miracle. But a look into the manger also involves—
Paul writes that all believers are people who are “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”
For many people who are the victims of extremely superficial religious views and opinions Christmas has to do with a baby lying so sweetly on straw in a manger. We should know better. One cannot see the Child without beholding the Man. One cannot hear the cooing of the Infant without hearkening unto the voice of the Man. One cannot see the innocent Child without beholding the Man condemned and pouring out His life’s blood on the cross. One cannot see the birth aright without beholding it in the perspective of His death, His resurrection, His ascension to heaven, and also His return. For the Child that was born was born to live and die, arise and ascend to heaven, from whence He shall one day return.
So the proper Christmas stance for a child of God is not only looking down into the manger, but looking up and out in expectation of His coming epiphany in glory with all the holy angels. This looking away in expectation is what gives us hope, for when He comes again, He shall come to receive us unto Himself and that eternally.
All about us people are scratching and clawing for a bigger share of this nation’s wealth. They want it, and they want it now! And many want it not Ly working for it and earning it, but by taking it by force if need be. With all this attention upon getting and getting more and more here and now, there is less and less attention paid to getting and having something hereafter. The hereafter is lost in the struggle of the here and now. All sense of eternity is smoothered in the all-consuming wants and desires for today and tomorrow. We are not to be swept along. We are not to be earth-bound and time-bound. We are to be among the few with vision that looks for a brighter future that shall unfold when the Child in the manger appears again as the Lord of glory.
God became man—not For His benefit, but for our benefit, also in this way—
“Who gave himself For us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” God became man to redeem us or to ransom us from all lawlessness. That He achieved not by showing us an example in proper living, not by paying a sum of money to some tyrant, but by shedding His holy, innocent blood for us on the cursed tree of the cross. He ransomed us by taking our place and suffering and dying in our stead.
What did He have in mind for us? He didn’t ransom us so that we should have liberty to sin more and more and become more and more lawless. He didn’t say, “Here is a limitless supply of forgiveness. You just go and sin and then come and get your Forgiveness, so that you can go out and sin again and then Come yet again for forgiveness.” That is abusing God’s grace—an abuse that shall not go unpunished. Our God ransomed us so that so that we should be a peculiar people unto Him. That doesn’t mean that we are to be oddballs, but rather select, special for Him. Our special relationship to Him is to reveal itself in our being zealous of good works.
This is to be our life. Most people live unto themselves, using their time and energy and strength to acquire things For themselves, to satisfy their desires, to fill their stomachs with good things, to find entertainment for themselves. Occasionally they may interrupt this flow of selfishness to do something good or excellent. He are to be different. We are to be zealous unto good works. Doing good and excellent works is to be our way of life, our steady diet of living. Is that too hard? It is for the Flesh, but not for the Spirit. It is too difficult for us, but not for Christ in us. That is why the Christ for us must also become the Christ in us. When the Christ in the manger becomes a living reality in your daily life, then you will be Celebrating Christmas aright—not only for a single day of the year but all through the year.
May the Spirit grant each of you this Christmas blessing. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.