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Dear Christian friends,
One thing I noticed this year in the subdivision in which the parsonage is located. People have really lit it up. There are a lot of Christmas lights. It would seem for the residents of the subdivision that the recession seems to have lightened its grip. On the other hand, the residents who don’t know the residents of 720CambridgeCrest must think that they are still atheists. No lights – just a Christmas wreathe on the front door. 720CambridgeCrest is your parsonage. Maybe we could put a flood light in the middle of the front yard and aim it at the Christmas wreathe, but in our subdivision it’s an all or nothing situation. It seems the same with “Yard of the Month.
I just don’t want to be climbing a ladder and attaching lights to a roof line. Frankly there is time to be spent doing other things like preparing worship services and sermons and classes and planning. Christmas is more than lights lighting up the yard, it’s about Jesus lighting up the heart. The gift of the Christ-child is about a Miracle that was done for you but also in you.
When the apostle Paul wrote these words, he was the Seminary professor teaching the pastor Titus. Paul was teaching Titus all about the heart and core of what pastors should be preaching and teaching - “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.”
In the Bible you will find all kinds of names for Jesus - Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Immanuel, Savior, Rabbi. Titus calls him “the grace of God that brings salvation.”
Grace is an important word to the Christian. We like to define it as “God’s undeserved love.” Jesus is God’s undeserved love personified. Someone more scholarly once said that “God’s grace is his active favor bestowing the greatest gift upon those who have deserved the greatest punishment.” While sinners (we all are) deserve God’s greatest punishment, Jesus kept it from us.
We can be certain of God’s grace; it is ours to have and to hold to embrace. It is not some nebulous concept or theory that we have to figure out. God’s grace was wrapped in strips of cloth lying in a manger. God’s grace came in a person – the Son of God taking on human flesh.
I often used my children and their actions as illustrations in my sermons in my younger years. My kids are too old for that now, but that’s why God gives pastors grandchildren. Later this week we are going to see two of our grandkids. I have noticed how they work. As grandparents we get to spoil our grandkids by taking them toys and gifts. They are intrigued with it for a while but it doesn’t take long before they want to ‘rassle. They are happier with flesh and blood than with plastic toys. Toys don’t hug and talk to them or tease them or make them laugh. People do. God’s grace came to us in human form. God gave us a person. In the baby inBethlehem, God became flesh.
This flesh and blood gift brought light to a world that lost its way. When Paul says God’s grace appeared, the Greek word for “appeared” is the word from which we get “epiphany.” It has the concept of bringing light. When the sun comes before dawn, the skies go from darkness to light. When Jesus came to the world, He brought the world light.
Isaiah the prophet spoke prophetically about this world-changing gift in the same way, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.” The prophet Malachi called this precious gift “the sun of righteousness…with healing in its wings.” The shepherds got a glimpse of the light when the Bible says, “the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” But the light of God wasn’t something about which to be terrified, it was to give relief and joy. "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” What the world desperately needed, the world infinitely received. We received the gift of Jesus in the flesh; he brings us light.
To see the light means to know that we can know without reservation the answer to the most serious question that anyone can ever ask: “What will happen to me when I die? and “What do I have to live for?” “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”
There is something else about this gift. He is what everyone needs “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. There have been a few people recently who seem to have made some head way in trying to eliminate Jesus from the very holiday that bears name. I just love to say to “Merry Christmas” to people who say “Happy Holidays” to me. Yet I have really learned to love to hear people say “Merry Christmas.” They know what it is about.
Good wants all people to know. The shepherds were the first to know – real blue-collar people. He sent a star to the Magi – blueblood type people. He came to save his mother Mary who said she rejoiced in God her Savior. He came for women everywhere. His foster father Joseph needed a Savior too. He comes for men everywhere. He came as a child and never sinned, because children need a Savior too. Aged Simeon exalted that he could depart in peace. He said, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people.” He came for all people. No one here tonight; no one out there is left out either.
He is the perfect gift. He makes the sinner into a saint through his life and death and resurrection; He makes the hell- cursed into the heaven-blessed; he takes those living in darkness and gives them light. He is the perfect Christmas gift. He brings about a change in our status before God.
God’s perfect Christmas gift not only brings about a change of our status but he also brings about a change within us. Listen carefully to what it says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”
My son was telling me that he and Rachel, his wife had gone to TOYS R US to take a gift back a duplication toy. They are not regifters. The clerk at the returns desk said a couple of hours prior she had witnessed a sad story. A mother was bringing back all of the toys she had gotten for her son because he had such a bad report card. Ben was feeling sorry for the child. No grades! No Christmas! What a punishment!
Ben waxed theological when he said I am glad God doesn’t do that when I sin. We would be wrecks and soon give up any hope if God took back his promises depending on our behavior.
Yet Paul says here, it is the fact that he doesn’t take back his promises but promises to show his grace causes a change in us. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” It’s not a threat that teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, it is grace. It is not a trip to the edge of the abyss of hell that brings about a change but a trip to the manger. It is not the fist of God that changes us but the wounds of his palms; It’s not about “I must change” but “I want to change.” Why? Because of God’s gift who is in strips of cloth, lying in a manger, who causes the change in our status with God and who brings change in our lives.