Sunday, December 24, 2023

Sermon for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Eve - Tit 2:11-14


Christmas Eve

                                                                                      Tit 2:11-14



          What time is it?  That’s the question Paul wants us to ask. That’s the key truth he wants us to recognize.  On the one hand, the apostle is very clear about the time in which we live.  He describes in our text how we should live in “in the present age” – more literally, “the now age.”  This now age has a very specific character.  It is something that Paul in Galatians calls “the present evil age.”

          Biblical thought recognizes that the world as we know it is an age ruled by Satan, sin, and death.  It has been since the fall of Adam.  Now of course, that’s not the way the world views itself.  It thinks everything is great.  People think they have the right to believe whatever they want.  They think they have the right to do whatever they want. They can choose to be “spiritual” but not religious as they create their own god.  They can live in agnosticism – as they just choose not to deal with the ultimate questions.  They can use sexuality however they wish and celebrate this fact.

          That’s exactly what the god of this age wants.  This is the life that is alienated from God and leads to judgment.  It is a life of sin which brings harm as it ignores the ordering God has given to his creation.  It is a life that ends in death for all people because that is the result of sin.

          What time is it?  Paul says in our text that it is the time when God has acted in a dramatic way to rescue us from the now age.  He begins our text by saying, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”  The grace of God is the unmerited love and favor of God.  This is what was revealed when he sent his Son into the world.

          Tonight we begin to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  We celebrate the birth of the child in Bethlehem.  Yet Paul wants us to know that this is an event of cosmic significance.  It is the arrival of the new age that frees us from Satan, sin, and death.

          Make no mistake. We too belonged to the now age.  Paul says in the next chapter, “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.”  We were sinners for whom the devil was Lord.

          But at Christmas, God himself entered our world in the person of his Son.  Paul told the Galatians, But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman.”  From the Gospels we learn that the virgin Mary conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit.  She carried in her womb the One who was true God and true man.  Then on Christmas Eve she gave birth to Jesus Christ.  The grace of God appeared which brings salvation to all people.

          Jesus brings salvation because of what he had come into the world to do.  Paul says in our text that Jesus is the One “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession.”  The Son of God entered into the world with a purpose.  He came to redeem us. He came to free us from the slavery of sin. 

          But in order to do this, Christ gave himself into death on the cross. There he died for us – in our place.  Paul explained it this way to the Corinthians: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Jesus Christ had no sin of his own.  But he took our sin – he became sin for us – as he received God’s judgment in our place.

          God condemned sin in the flesh of Christ.  Sin brings death – it has since the sin of Adam.  And so to rescue us from the now age that is ruled by death, God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day.  Paul told the Corinthians, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”  Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of our resurrection.  It is the guarantee that death has been defeated and we will share in this victory.

          God did this for us in Christ.  And then he applied this saving work to us.  In the next chapter Paul says, “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.”  In the water of Holy Baptism God gave us regeneration. He gave us new life and made us his children.

          Paul told the Galatians that Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.”  Through the baby born in Bethlehem “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”  God has rescued us and made us the people of his own possession.

          What time is it?  It is the time when God has acted dramatically to save us.  But when you look around, you will see that the now age is still quite present.  There are wars in Ukraine, Israel, and other parts of the world.  The murder of the unborn continues, as in our area another abortion facility just opened in Carbondale.  We struggle with the presence of sin in our own lives and it often gets the upper hand.

          God’s reign has arrived in Jesus Christ.  And still, there is a not yet character to what we experience.  The new age has broken into the old, but the old is not yet gone.  There is an overlap of the ages.  We live in a time that is characterized by the now and the not yet.

          In our text, Paul tells us the good news that it will not always be this way.  He says that we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  The risen Lord ascended into heaven and was exalted to God’s right hand.  Our blessed hope is that he will return in glory on the Last Day.

Tonight we celebrate the humble birth of Jesus as he entered into the world.  We think of him as the cute baby in a manger scene.  But there will be nothing humble or cute about our Lord when he returns.  He will return as the almighty Lord.  He will raise the dead and transform our bodies to be like his own.  He will pronounce the final judgment as he strikes the “spiritual” and “agnostic” with the fact that there is one truth, and he is it.  All people will have to confess that Jesus is Lord as he welcomes those who have believed in him into eternal fellowship with God in the new creation.

We live as people who have been rescued from the present evil age.  We are a people of God’s own possession.  Yet for fo the present, we are also still living in the now age. We face the battle against Satan and sin.  Our Lord is ascended, but he has not left us alone.  Instead, he has given us gifts by which he is present with us giving forgiveness and strengthening us in the faith.

The words of Scripture are not just words. They are the Spirit breathed revelation from God. They are the means by which the Holy Spirit continues to come to us in the present.  Through them we receive the Gospel as he gives us the forgiveness of sins.   Through this gift he nurtures faith and sustains us.

In a few moments we will celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar.  Here, Jesus Christ comes into our midst as he gives us his true body and blood to eat and to drink.  He gives us his body and blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.  Through this food he nourishes us so that we can walk by faith in this world.

It is easy for the world to ignore and reject these gifts. Yet that is the nature of how God works until the Last Day.  The baby in the manger did not look impressive.  Yet he was the Son of God in this world as God’s reign invaded the now age.  The man on the cross did not look powerful.  Yet that was God’s dramatic action to break sin’s power.  These gifts – these Means of Grace – are Christ bringing his saving reign to us. They give the forgiveness won on the cross and sustain us in faith.

God has rescued us from the now age.  He has made us his own.  And he keeps us in the faith so that we can live in ways that reflect what he has done for us.  Paul says in our text, For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”  Or as Paul adds at the end of our text, Jesus “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.”

These good works are not self-chosen.  Instead, God has placed you in callings in life – in vocations – where you carry them out.  Husbands and wives are to love, support, and sacrifice for one another.  Parents are to raise their children in the faith as they share the Scriptures at home and bring the family to the Divine Service each Sunday. Children are to obey their parents and to give thanks for all the ways they provide for them.  Employees are to do their work as unto the Lord and not unto men.  Employers are to be fair and honest at all times.  Above all, we forgive others in every setting, just as God has forgiven us in Christ Jesus. This is how we live in the now age because of Jesus Christ.

Tonight we celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus.  As we do, Paul tells us what time it is.  It is the time when “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”  Through the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ, God has rescued us from the present evil age.  He has given us forgiveness and life. He has made us a people of his own possession.

Through his gifts of the Means of Grace our Lord sustains us in the faith.  He does this so that we can live in this fallen world.  Because of what Jesus has done for us, we “live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,

waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”








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