When I say the name “Christmas,” what books of the Bible come to mind? Obviously, you think of the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. Luke gives us the most information about the events leading up to Jesus’ birth. He tells about the annunciation to Mary and the visit that the pregnant Mary had with the pregnant Elizabeth, as John the Baptist began his prophetic work of pointing to Christ when he was still in the womb. Luke the tells us about the birth of Jesus and what happened on Christmas Eve as God revealed the birth of the Savior to shepherds. Matthew provides an account that focuses on Joseph’s experience, as both Gospel writers explicitly share that Jesus was conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary.
Of course, you will think about the Gospel of John, in which we find the Gospel lesson for today. There in the prologue to his Gospel, John describes in theological terms what Luke and Mathew narrate. After telling us that the Word – the Son – is God, he then goes on to say, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Certainly, you will also think about the book of Isaiah. The prophet tells in chapter seven about how the virgin will give birth to the Christ who will be called Immanuel – God with us. The Old Testament lesson for Christmas Eve came from Isaiah chapter nine, as we heard, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
It is also likely that you may think about Micah, who tells us that the Christ will be born in Bethelhem. And probably, you will think of Galatians where the apostle Paul tells us, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
But I am willing to bet that a book of the Bible that never comes to mind when you think about Christmas is Paul’s letter to Titus. To be sure, there isn’t that much there to think about. After all, it’s only three chapters long. But in spite of its small size, and the fact that when we think of Christmas this book doesn’t come to mind, both of the epistle lessons for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are from the book of Titus.
Once you look a little more carefully, it’s not hard to understand why they were chosen. Both texts contain the word “appeared” – a word that captures the fact that something new happened as God sent his Son into the world. In last night’s epistle lesson from chapter two, Paul said, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” In this morning’s text Paul begins by writing, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us.”
Last night Paul said that God’s grace appeared – his unmerited loving kindness. Today he refers to God our Savior and describes how his goodness and loving kindness appeared. “Loving kindness” is actually a rather weak translation, since literally the Greek word means “love of man” – it’s the word from which we get the English word philanthropy. What happened at Christmas is that God’s kindness and his love for man appeared, when the Son of God entered into this world.
Lutherans, of course, speak about “law and gospel,” and our text today is literally the Gospel that follows the Law. In the prior verse, the apostle has just said, “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.” Why is it that God’s kindness and love of man had to appear in Jesus Christ? It is because we are sinners. We are conceived and born as children of of Adam. His sin in the Fall has warped and twisted us all. It’s not just that we engage in thoughts and actions that violate God’s will – his law. But as conceived and born into this world we don’t know God; can’t know God; and are in fact opposed to God. Paul told the Corinthians, “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Because of God’s grace, mercy, and love he did not leave us there. Instead, these appeared as God sent his Son. As I mentioned earlier, Paul told the Galatians, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” At the right moment in history as he worked out his plan, God sent forth his Son. Paul tells us that Jesus Christ was born of a woman. He says in Romans that he descended from David according to the flesh. In First Timothy he refers to “the man Christ Jesus” and describes how he was “manifested in the flesh.” The apostle declares that Jesus was true man.
Yet the apostle is also clear that the Jesus is more than just a man. In our text Paul refers to how the goodness and loving kindness of “God our Savior” appeared. But then he also refers to “Jesus Christ our Savior.” God is our Savior and Jesus Christ is our Savior, because Jesus Christ is God. Last night we heard Paul refer to “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Jesus is God, and that is why Paul told the Colossians, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Jesus is true man. But he is also true God. That is what appeared at Christmas as the pregnant Mary gave birth.
Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God entered into our world. God sent forth his Son in order to save us. In last night’s epistle lesson Paul described Jesus as the One “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness.” Christ died on the cross to redeem us – to free us from sin. As the One who is true God and true man, Jesus died and received the punishment for our sins in order to reconcile us to God. Paul told Timothy For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”
For Paul, the work of Jesu Christ the Son of God can never be separated from that of the Holy Spirit. We see this very clearly in our text this morning. God did for us in Christ what we could never do. Where our works – our deeds – could never give us a righteous standing before God, God acted in Christ’s death and resurrection to provide justification. Paul says that when God’s kindness and love 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.”
It is God’s mercy and grace in Christ that has given us forgiveness. And since we were spiritually dead and cut off from God, it is God who acted to give us rebirth and new life. Paul says that God did this in baptism, for there we received “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit poured out through Christ has given us new life in the water of baptism. He has made us a new creation in Christ.
The Spirit has given us new life. And this fact speaks to our present and our future. Paul ended last night’s epistle lesson by saying that Jesus Christ, “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.” In the verses just before our text Paul has written, “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.” Then in the verse immediately after our text he goes on to add, “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”
God has saved us in Christ and given us new birth through the Spirit in the water of baptism so that we can live as his people in the world. What happened at Christmas is not only about God giving you salvation. It is God saving you so that you can live in Christ in ways that share his love with others. It is God using you to help others by doing goods works in the vocations – the callings in life – where God has placed you. These works are often not spectacular as far as the world is concerned. But they are the works that God has given you to do, and they are pleasing to him.
The Spirit has given you new life in baptism, and this also points to our future. Paul told Timothy that God’s grace has “now been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brough life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Jesus Christ was born in this world as true God and true man to die for our sins. But he also died so that in his resurrection he could begin the new bodily life that will be ours.
Paul told the Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” The Spirit raised Jesus from the dead, and because the Spirit of Christ is in you, he will raise you as well. Adam’s sin brought death, but Christ’s death and resurrection means resurrection life for us. Paul told the Corinthians, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
And that brings us back to the language of “appearing.” In the epistle lessons for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Paul refers to the appearing that occurred as the incarnate Son of God was born at Christmas. But last night Paul also went on to say that we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ who appeared as an infant in a manger at Christmas will appear again as the risen and exalted Lord on the Last Day. He will raise and transform our bodies so that they can never die again. No longer will be look back or forward to an appearing because we will see our Lord face to face as we live with him forever.