Sermon for Christmas Eve, 2021

Text: Titus 2:11-4

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

St. Paul writes that the “now the grace of God has appeared.” Because it is Christmas, we take this to mean that Jesus, God in the flesh, himself the very personification of the grace of God, has appeared. This is true. The grace of God comes through the appearing of Jesus Christ. As Christians, though, we always have the cross of Jesus Christ in view. That is, we celebrate Christmas and the birth of our Savior with the full knowledge that that baby who is born of the Blessed Virgin Mary and laid in the manger because there was no room for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus anywhere else in Bethlehem that night, that baby who was visited by shepherds who watching over flocks by night when angels appeared to them and told them of the Savior born in Bethlehem, that baby will one day die at the hands of sinful men on behalf of sinful men. He will suffer the wrath of God for us. It is quite true that without his death, the birth of Jesus means absolutely nothing. Without the death of Jesus, the grace of God never appears. For without the death of Jesus we remain at odds with God. His wrath is not satisfied.

For that matter, the death of Jesus is useless if Jesus does not rise from the dead three days later. Without the resurrection of Jesus, the serpent—that is, Satan—crushes the heel of the offspring of the woman, but the head of the serpent remains in tact. But Jesus did rise from the dead. His resurrection shows us that the sacrifice he made for sin was completely accepted by our heavenly Father and that death holds no power over him. It also foreshadows the resurrection on the Last Day. For we who have been baptized into Christ’s death will also be raised from the dead just as he is risen.

After Jesus rose from the dead, he prepared his disciples for his departure, that is, his ascension to be seated at the right hand of the Father. Jesus told them that it was to their benefit that he go away from them so that he could send the Holy Spirit who would take all that Jesus won on the cross and deliver it to all people through the preaching of his Word, through baptism, through holy absolution, and through the Lord’s Supper. The grace of God was won by Jesus on the cross. Now the grace of God appears to all all people bringing salvation for all people. This most certainly includes us. The salvation that Christ won for us has appeared to us. We have it even today because we have been made his children in Holy Baptism and he continues to send his Holy Spirit to us to sustain that faith in us throughout our lives. Yes, this baby born to Mary in Bethlehem is not just any baby. Jesus is the personification of the grace of God. The angels sang to the shepherds that night that Jesus would bring peace between God and man. This heavenly peace that we have is a peace that the devil and the world, though they try repeatedly, can never take away.

St. Paul leaves Titus to preach this message of the Gospel to the people of Crete, but he also tells Titus that it’s important that the Cretans learn what it means to live as one who has been redeemed by Jesus Christ. When one becomes a Christian, it is expected that they live like a Christian. In Holy Baptism the grace of God appeared personally to each of us. It was there that we were set apart as his treasured possession. We were set apart, but we remain here. We remain, as St. Paul says, in this present age. It was in our baptism that we renounced the devil and all his works and all his ways. St. Paul uses similar language here as he implores us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.

When we first see that word “ungodliness,” ours minds probably snap to some of the worst, most grotesque ways that one can violate the Law of God. To be sure, our Lord desires that we keep his Law, but that has more to do with the “worldly passions” that St. Paul urges us to renounce. We’ll get to that. Instead, let us look at ungodliness as descriptive of those who think they have no need for God. That is, they figure that they live lives that are good enough on their own. They’ve decided to invent their own ways to be godly. Many of these things may even appear outwardly good, but in reality all they are is inventing works to please God. This is all about “balancing the scales,” if you will. What we do is we try to atone for our own evil deeds by stacking up good works. We figure that if we can just get enough good works in the ledger, we might be able to balance out all the bad in the end. This is godless. It’s godless because it puts the work of salvation in our hands instead of God. The grace of God that has appeared is not something that we have been given because we did something to earn it. That’s actually the opposite of grace. Rather, it is given to us as a free gift won by Christ. Try as we might to outweigh all of our sin with good works, it will never happen. Instead, the grace of God trains us, it teaches us, to renounce ungodliness. That is, we recognize our godlessness and trust in his grace alone for our salvation.

The second thing that St. Paul says that we are to renounce is “worldly passions.” God does not command us us renounce the world and all that it is in it. God created this world so that we might use it for our good and for the good of our neighbor. The problem is that we see these good things that God has given us and instead of using them in their proper way as instruments to love our neighbor as ourselves, we cling to them and uphold them as that which is to be desired and pursued above all things. The grace of God trains us to instead use the gifts that God has given us in the proper way. That is, we see that all has been done in Christ Jesus for our salvation. Because we have this priceless treasure given to us by God, we can be certain that we will have all that we need to support our bodies and lives. There is no need to pursue worldly things relentlessly. As Christ himself says, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you.”

Once we have renounced ungodliness and worldly passions, Paul encourages us how we ought to live instead. He says that we are to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world. Sobriety here is not only referring to drinking, but it refers to moderation in all things. This includes not just that which we consume, even, but it includes how we conduct our lives as a whole. That said, what we eat, what we drink, what we wear, and how we conduct ourselves is all connected. Eating or drinking too much can cause us to lose control of what we do with our bodies. Sleeping too much can lead us to laziness. Sleeping too little can make us ineffective in all aspects of our lives as we won’t be well-rested. What we wear, or how we present ourselves in general, can also affect our behavior and the behavior of those around us. Now, the Word of God does not specifically tell us what we must eat or drink or what we must wear. We have freedom in these matters. Living a sober life, then, does not mean that we must invent new rules that make specific, harsh demands on us and on our fellow man. Rather, living soberly means that we do all things in moderation that we might be disciplined and controlled in how we live our lives as the people of God.

The second thing that Paul urges us to do is to live an upright life. That is, we are to do for our neighbors exactly what we would expect them to do for us and we are to not do any harm to them at the same time. In other words, living a godly life means looking to the needs of our neighbor. We don’t need to constantly invent good works. We don’t need to go to great lengths to travel the world doing mission work or things such as that. Indeed, some are called to that role, but not all are. God gives us plenty to do if we simply look to the needs of those around us. Even the most seemingly menial tasks done in service to our neighbor are pleasing to God and are part of living uprightly.

The third thing that we are to do is to live godly lives. This stands in direct contrast to the ungodliness that we are called upon to renounce. When one lives a Godly life, that means that he puts his fear, love, and trust into God above all things. You’ll recall that the godless person believes that he has no need for God. That is, he puts fear, love and trust into himself and into the things of this world. The Godly person recognizes that these things cannot save him and that he must trust in God alone for all that is good.

All of these things, living soberly, uprightly, and godly, are to be done in this present age. This age began when Jesus ascended into heaven and will end when he returns on the Last Day. We’ve just completed a time of waiting as we’ve waited for Christmas to come. In the larger context of life in this world, though, the Christian’s life is one of constant, patient waiting. We wait knowing that we have been redeemed by the blood of the one born to Mary in Bethlehem that was shed at the cross for us. As we wait, though, we don’t return to the lawlessness of our sinful flesh. Rather we live as those who have been brought out of darkness and into his glorious light and are zealous for good works.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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