Christmas December 24, 2017
87, 94, 99, 85:13-15
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
PRAYER OF THE DAY: Grant, almighty God, that the birth of Your only begotten Son in human flesh may set us free, who through sin are held in bondage; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
“Rejoice, rejoice, this happy morn, A Savior unto us is born,
The Christ, the Lord of Glory.
His lowly birth in Bethlehem The angels from on high proclaim
And sing redemption’s story.
My soul, extol God’s great favor, Bless Him ever For salvation,
Give Him praise and adoration.” (TLH #79)
Dear fellow redeemed in the Christ child, who is the divine Word made flesh, who dwelt among us on this earth, that we might dwell with Him forever in heaven! Grace and peace to you in His name.
“It’s what Christmas is all about…” How many times have you heard that phrase over the past couple of weeks? And what was it that Christmas was all about? Listening to a classical Christmas station, I heard the announcer say that Christmas was all about the music. And maybe he had a point—after all, can you imagine Christmas without “Joy to the World” or “Silent Night?” Others might say it is all about family or it’s all about giving gifts or it’s all about the decorations.
So what if we took those things away? Would it still be Christmas if there were no Christmas hymns or if you were deaf and couldn’t hear them? Would it still be Christmas if you were fighting in a war and away from family? Would it still be Christmas without the decorations and the presents?
The first Christmas decorations were pretty lowly— hay and a feed trough. The first Christmas sounds to be heard were a woman in labor, a baby crying, and animals lowing in their stalls. The first Christmas travelers were not family members come to celebrate the day with Mary, Joseph, and the newborn King, but dirty field-hand shepherds.
What is Christmas about? Christmas, at its very heart and core, is truly about GRACE. It is about God’s undeserved love for you and for me. It is about God knowing all mankind was lost and condemned because of their sins, and doing something to change that. What did He do? The hymn-writer tells us:
“He sent forth Jesus, my dear Redeemer, He sent forth Jesus and set me free!”
The Apostle Paul writes of the grace that appeared at Christmas in our text from Titus, chapter three, verses four through seven:
But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
So far the Word of God.
Christmas is all about grace—God’s undeserved love for lost and sinful mankind. Think about it. Everyone involved with the first Christmas were passive recipients of God’s grace. True, Mary was very actively involved as she carried and gave birth to the Savior of the world, but that pregnancy was not her doing or her choice. The Holy Spirit came upon her, and the power of the Highest overshadowed her. God became man inside of her womb. Even giving birth itself was not her doing. How many times don’t we hear, “The baby’s going to come when it wants to.” Mothers know when hard labor sets in, the contractions naturally make you want to push. Mary was chosen by grace, God’s undeserved love, even as she herself says in “The Magnificat” when referring to “God my SAVIOR” having done great things for her. (Luke 1:47)
And what about the shepherds? What were they originally planning on doing on that first Christmas? They probably wanted to keep warm by the fire that night as they took turns checking the sheep overnight to make sure they were safe. The only reason they went with haste to Bethlehem is because God sent His army of angels to reveal to them the “good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” They did nothing to deserve or earn a Savior to be born to them. They were under the curse of sin, just like we were.
And what of us? What role did we play in the first Christmas? Was it our plan, our choice, our decision that brought about the birth of Jesus Christ? Paul tells us in our text, doesn’t He. “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” It wasn’t our great deeds that brought Jesus into the world. We were not such noble, righteous people that the eternal and almighty Son of God would say, “I must leave heaven to become their Brother! I want to be just like one of them!” No, Christmas is not about our works of righteousness, our godly, good deeds.
Martin Luther writes of what our situation was:
“My own good works availed me naught, no merit they attaining;
Free will against God’s judgment fought, Dead to all good remaining.
My fears increased till sheer despair Left naught but death to be my share;
The pangs of hell I suffered.” (TLH #387:3)
Time without number we have rebelled against the will of God. The Father said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We said, “I’ll love who I want to love! I’ll love those who love me first. I’ll love those who earn my trust.” With that one simple commandment, like a stubborn child, we fought against the Father, rightly deserving His condemnation for our guilt. By all accounts, the Son of God should not have come into the world to be our Savior, He should have come to condemn us to an eternal torment in hell.
No, it wasn’t our goodness, our up-rightness that caused the Son of God to become one of us. We were stained and soiled by sin through and through. Rather, the kindness and love of God that appeared at Christmas, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, was due only to God’s mercy—His pity toward us. He saw our lost and condemned condition. He saw that we could not free ourselves from our sins and we all were headed to an eternity in the fires of hell. And God had mercy on us. He had compassion. His kindness and His love appeared at Christmas.
Again, Luther goes on in his hymn:
“He spoke to His beloved Son; ‘Tis time to have compassion.
Then go, bright Jewel of My crown, and bring to man salvation;
From sin and sorrow set him free, Slay bitter death for him that he
May live with Thee forever.” (TLH #387:5)
Ever since sin and death first entered the world, the Lord had been promising to send a Savior. From Eve, to Moses, to Isaiah, Micah, and Malachi—for four thousand years God had promised to send His Son to save sinners. And then, in that little town of Bethlehem, in that dirty stable, grace appeared in the flesh. The Savior of the world was born, as promised.
“The Son obeyed His Father’s will, was born of virgin mother,
and God’s good pleasure to fulfil, He came to be my Brother.
No garb of pomp or power He wore, A servant’s from, like mine, he bore,
To lead the devil captive.” (TLH #387:6)
Paul continues in our text—“He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” God didn’t pour just a little bit of grace on us at Christmas to help us with our sin-problem. God HIMSELF became Man. The God-Man bore our sins HIMSELF. The Son of God HIMSELF bled and died on the cross in order to cleanse us from all our unrighteousness. Through Jesus Christ, we were washed clean from our sins and given a new life by the Holy Spirit. This, again, is grace—undeserved love. It is AMAZING GRACE that God would do this for you! Grace which appeared in the flesh at Christmas.
Paul goes on in verse 7, “That having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” The Christ-child has died for your sins. He has already suffered the hell that you deserved. He has risen from the dead, where by God has declared you justified. He has declared you not guilty. Again—this was not according to what we had done—this was according to God’s grace.
Then Paul speaks of the “hope of eternal life.” Often times when we speak of “hope” it is an uncertain hope, because we place our trust in unreliable people in an unreliable world. If the hope of eternal life is dependant on us, and our works of unrighteousness, then yes, such hope is very uncertain, because OUR works of righteousness are very unreliable.
But remember, GRACE appeared at Christmas. It was un-earned, un-merited, un-deserved love of God. God kept every single one of His Christmas promises. The grace that appeared at Christmas, the grace that was nailed to the cross on Good Friday, and the grace that rose from the dead on Easter all prove that in Christ Jesus the “hope of eternal life” is not uncertain at all. Since the hope of eternal life is wholly dependant on God’s grace, HIM saving us, it is steadfast, immovable, reliable, and rock solid, because of the God in whom we place our hope is Himself steadfast, immovable, reliable, and rock-solid. Because of the grace that appeared first at Christmas, we are heirs according to the hope of eternal life!
So what is Christmas all about? You can strip away family, friends, gifts, decorations, and music and you still have the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas is all about grace—God’s grace in sending His own beloved Son into the world, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have ever lasting life! And because of His grace which makes us heirs of heaven, we can sing more joyfully, enjoy the decorations and family more fully, and give gifts, as we give thanks for the great gift of grace God has given us!
“Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice, with exultation singing,
And, with united heart and voice and holy rapture singing,
Proclaim the wonders God hath done, How HIS right arm the vict’ry won;
Right dearly it hath cost Him.” (TLH #387:1)
Thanks be to God, for His indescribable Gift! Hallelujah! Amen!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.