Sunday, December 25, 2016

Sermon for the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord - Christmas Day - Tit 3:4-7

                                                                                               Christmas Day
                                                                                                Titus 3:4-7

One hundred years ago, in 1916, the Marion Carnegie Library opened its doors. The Carnegie library is one of the gems of Marion, having been expended and renovated several times, most recently in 1997. The Carnegie library exists here because of the philanthropy of one man: Andrew Carnegie.

Andrew Carnegie immigrated from Scotland and lived as a teenager in the Pittsburgh area. Carnegie worked at a local telegraph company. Looking back he credited James Anderson with playing an important role in his life’s success. Anderson opened his personal library to workers every Saturday. Carnegie remembered how Anderson gave working boys the opportunity to gain the knowledge that helped them to improve themselves.

Carnegie’s experiences led him to believe that society should be a place where anyone who worked hard could improve their life. His efforts in the steel industry made him into one of the richest men in the world during the 1880’s. And then he began to give his money away in acts of philanthropy – a word that comes from the Greek word that means “love of man.”

Carnegie’s personal philosophy shaped one of the greatest programs of philanthropy in United States history. Carnegie believed that philanthropy should assisted the "industrious and ambitious; not those who need everything done for them, but those who, being most anxious and able to help themselves, deserve and will be benefited by help from others.” Convinced of the importance that access to books had in his own success, Carnegie began to give $10,000 grants to build libraries.

Carnegie had a formula that determined whether a community would receive the money. It had to provide the building site, and more importantly, it had to provide public funds to staff and operate the library. Carnegie wanted the library to be a matter of public concern and involvement, not the personal playground of a wealthy clique. And finally, it had to provide free service to all.

Between 1883 and 1929, 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built worldwide – 1,689 of them in the United States. Carnegie gave away $60,0000,000 of his personal wealth in order to build these libraries. To give you some perspective on how generous he was, in adjusted dollars that would be almost $1.7 billion dollars today.

In the epistle lesson for Christmas Day, Paul says that the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior has appeared. The Greek word in our text translated as “lovingkindness” is in fact philanthropia – the word that gives us the English word “philanthropy.” Like Andrew Carnegie, Christmas reveals a great and costly act of philanthropy by God – a love of man. In the baby born in Bethlehem we see a great gift. But unlike Carnegie, this gift did not have as its aim those who are most anxious and able to help themselves. Instead, God gave it because people were utterly unable to do anything at all. 

In the letter to Titus, Paul is writing to his co-worker in the Gospel. Paul tells Titus that his job on the island of Crete is to organize the newly founded churches there. He is to appoint pastors in every town. The apostle describes the characteristics of the men who are suitable candidates for this. And then in the rest of the letter, Paul reminds Titus about what these pastors need to teach.

Paul introduces our text this morning by writing, “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” The apostle describes how these new Christians are to live. They are to obey the rulers of society. They are ready to do good works. They are not to be malicious and quarrelsome, and instead they are to be gentle and caring toward others.

Now the Greco-Roman world had no shortage of philosophers who offered counsel and advice about how a person should live well. Much of it is very good – and in fact you would find some of it sounds like what is in the New Testament. But today – Christmas – is what makes Paul’s instruction different. He does not just tell the Christians to suck it up and do better. Instead, he grounds his instruction in what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. And on top of that, he tells us that our life in Christ is one that is led and moved by the Holy Spirit.

In the verse just before our text, Paul begins with his explanation of why Christians should live in this way. And he starts with what Christians used to be. He writes, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”
If you are looking for a warm fuzzy about human potential … the Bible is definitely not the place you should look. Oh, it’s not that people aren’t capable of doing things. It’s just that Scripture tells us that since the Fall, everything they do is turned in on themselves and away from God. As we now exist in the world, our natural inclination is to do things that reject God’s will. Sin is the default setting of human beings.

Now as Paul describes, this produces a rather unpleasant setting in which to live. But far more importantly, it sets people in opposition to God. Sinners sin – that’s what they do. And when it comes to the holy God, sinners cannot live in fellowship with him. Instead sin provokes God wrath and judgment. It brings death. First it brings the physical kind because as Paul told the Romans, “The wages of sin is death.” But even more significantly it brings the eternal death of hell.

That is where things stood on Christmas Eve. But then Paul goes on to say, “But 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, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

God revealed his kindness and love for man when Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. God had always been known in the Old Testament as the God who abounds in steadfast loving kindness. But he took it to a whole new level when he sent his Son into the world at Christmas. The Father sent forth the Son into our world to carry out a mission. The Son took humanity into himself, without ceasing to be God. The One born in Bethlehem was true God and true man. And he did this in order to suffer and die for you.

In the previous chapter Paul had already used the language of “appearing.” He wrote, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” Jesus came to be the Savior – to be the One who brings salvation from sin and God’s wrath. And Paul goes on to say that he “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Jesus Christ came to save people who couldn’t do anything for themselves. Pauls says in our text that he saved us “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.” It was God’s mercy and love for us that led Jesus to the cross where he died as the sacrifice for your sins. There he received the judgment and wrath of God in your place. And by doing this he has redeemed you – he has won forgiveness for you so that you are a saint in God’s eyes because of Christ.

On Christmas, Mary gave birth to the new life of child. This new life had been conceived in her womb through the work of the Holy Spirit. But the Spirit was not done with his work. For on the third day, the Spirit entered into the tomb and gave new life to the body of Jesus. He transformed Jesus’ body so that it can never die again as he raised Jesus from the dead.

The continuing work of the Spirit now brings new life to us. He does it in Holy Baptism. Paul says in our text that God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

The Holy Spirit has given you new life. Jesus Christ was born at Christmas so that you could be born again. Nourished by the food of God’s Word and the Sacrament of the Altar, the new man created by the Spirit is being led by the Spirit to live in ways that look like Jesus.

This is great news! This is wonderful news! But sadly, it’s not the only news. Because while the new man has been created in you because of the baby born in Bethlehem, the old man created by the sin of Adam is still present too. The old man wants to sin – he wants to serve himself and disobey God. That’s the reason that Paul has to write the words of our text in the first place. That’s why Paul tells Titus to have the pastors on Crete remind the people about how they are to live as Christians. That’s why your pastor reminds you about how you are to live as Christians. 

As we think about this, we must always start with today. We start with Christmas. We start with the Gospel. For on Christmas the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared as he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy. He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. And so in faith we return to our baptism, for there the Spirit joined us to Christ’s saving death. And the Spirit who raised Jesus Christ from the dead also gave us new life so that we can live in faith toward God and love toward our neighbor.  

Now when the Spirit has this word of God spoken to us – a word that reminds us to obey authorities; to be ready for every good work; to speak evil of no one; to avoid quarreling and instead to be gentle and to show kindness toward all people – the new man in us know that this is exactly what he wants to do. And the Spirit uses this word to bash the old man. The Spirit uses it to suppress the old man, so that the new man in Christ directs what we actually do.

This is the life of the Christian who is forgiven because of Jesus and is an heir of eternal life. It is the life of a person who has been born again through the work of the Spirit in Holy Baptism. It is the life that has been made possible because “the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared” when Jesus Christ was born at Christmas.

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