Christmas Eve 2005
ďThe Grace of ChristmasĒ
God became a baby.
This is what Christmas is all about.
It is about Godís birthday.
We celebrate the birth of God in the flesh.
Now donít misunderstand what I
am saying. God is eternal. He was there before time began.
The Son was begotten of the Father ďbefore all worldsĒ as we
confess in the Nicene Creed. So
itís not as if God came into existence by means of Mary.
But when Mary gave birth to Jesus she gave birth to God because
Jesus was God from the moment He was conceived in the womb. As we sing in the Christmas hymn: ďGod is man, man to
deliver. His dear Son now
is one with our blood forever.Ē God
became a baby. He joined
the human race. And He
remains a man, one with our blood, into all eternity.
The birth of God as a man is not
just a remarkable mystery; it is the foundation of our hope.
There are so many ways the Bible describes it.
The shepherds are directed to the signs of swaddling clothes and
a manger. This will
identify for them the Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
St. John says it like this: The Word was with God.
The Word was God. All
things were made by Him. The
Word became flesh and dwelled among us.
Here in our text for this
evening, St. Paul puts it in a beautiful way: ďWhen the kindness and
the love of God our Savior toward men appeared.Ē
The birth of Jesus is the appearance of the kindness and the love
of God our Savior.
God wouldnít be God if He had
no standards of right and wrong. God
wouldnít be God if He did not uphold His standards of right and wrong.
To this every human conscience testifies, though sometimes very
weakly. If God is God He
judges sin. Otherwise He
isnít God. When sin is
defined away, God is defined away as well.
There is no honor unless deceit is condemned.
There is no chastity unless immorality is, well, immoral.
There are no virtues at all, unless vice is identified as vice
But when sin has become some
kind of a dysfunction, God is no longer God.
If He cannot judge Heís nothing but a toothless idol.
Heís a Santa Clause god who really doesnít know whoís been
naughty or nice and if he did he wouldnít care.
For us sinners who know our sin
as the burden that it is, the Christmas gospel is good tidings of great
joy. Sinners cannot expect kindness and love.
They can only expect judgment and punishment.
Theyíve manufactured idols in their hearts and have feared,
loved, and trusted their own creation more than God.
Theyíve spoken Godís name foolishly, thoughtlessly, and to
cover up their own sins. Theyíve
despised the preaching of Godís word while preferring the wisdom of
men. Theyíve disobeyed
human authority in contempt for the rights of others.
Theyíve hated, lusted, and coveted, and acted on these sinful
desires in defiance of Godís commandments.
They can expect judgment because thatís what they deserve.
But when the kindness and love
of God our Savior toward us appeared, we did not get what we expected or
deserved. Instead, we
received mercy. And
thatís what God had promised all along.
David writes in Psalm 103
LORD is merciful and gracious,
This is the true meaning of
Christmas. It is about
Godís grace. Our text
teaches us three things about Godís grace.
First, Godís grace does not depend on good things that we do.
Second, Godís grace is found only in Jesus Christ, the Savior.
Third, Godís grace and Godís grace alone guarantees us
Godís grace does not depend on
good things that we do. ďNot
by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy
He saved us.Ē What did
Mary do? She did nothing.
She rejoiced in God her Savior.
What did the shepherds do? They
did nothing. They simply heard the gospel from the angels and ran to
Bethlehem to see their Savior. Nobody
ever does anything to earn Godís grace.
Christmas is a time of spending
money you donít have. Little
pieces of plastic only delay the inevitable.
We will pay some day. Nothing
in life is free. But the
most precious gift in our lives is free.
Godís grace cannot be earned.
Are you unworthy to receive Christ this evening?
Do your many sins convince you that the peace and goodwill of
Christmas are not intended for you?
Listen to St. Paul. ďNot
by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy
He saved us.Ē Salvation
depends on God. It does not
depend on us. Whatever
works of righteousness we will ever do will never contribute anything to
our salvation. It is either
by our works or it is by Godís mercy.
It cannot be both. Godís
mercy delivers us from sin and sinís curse despite the works we do,
not because of the works we do. Our
best deeds, our most righteous works, are filled with sin.
Godís grace does not depend on good things that we do.
Do not look to your good works for peace. Do not rely on your good works for Godís approval,
goodwill, and favor. Look
instead to Christ.
Second, Godís grace is found
only in Jesus Christ, the Savior. St.
to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and
renewing of the Holy Spirit, which He poured out on us abundantly
through Jesus Christ our Savior.
Jesus brings mercy.
He brings mercy to us by sending the Holy Spirit to us.
The Holy Spirit washes us. In
washing us He regenerates us. That
is, we are born again, born from above, born spiritually to live
forever. In washing us He
renews us. The new birth is
forever new. To be renewed
means that every day you wake, eat, walk, talk, work, relax, and sleep
covered by the mercy that saved you from your sins.
This is what it means to have Godís grace in Jesus.
It means that you are clean.
Your life is ever new.
The washing of regeneration and
renewing of the Holy Spirit is Holy Baptism.
Baptism is not a human work.
We are not saved by works of righteousness that we do.
Baptism is a divine work. The
water is ordinary water. The
minister is an ordinary man. Nothing
unusual is apparent to the eye, but the eye of faith sees Jesus in the
washing of Holy Baptism. When
Jesus was born in Bethlehem the shepherd were directed to find Him by
certain signs. They were to look for a baby wrapped in strips of cloth lying
in a manger. So they looked
for a manger and there they found their Savior.
God gives us signs as well.
We are to look to our baptism to find Jesus.
And we do. In the
waters of baptism we find the little Lord Jesus of whom the children
sing. Jesus was born an
infant for infants. This is
why we baptize infants. We
baptize infants because we believe in salvation by grace alone.
Infants canít do anything to be saved and neither can anyone
else. Grace excludes works.
Grace is found only in Jesus Christ, the Savior.
Grace is found only in Jesus
because Jesus is the only Savior. Only
Jesus is God incarnate. Only
Jesus lived the life of obedience that Godís law required of us all.
Only Jesus suffered on the cross for the sin of the world.
Only Jesus bore the anger of God against sinful humanity.
Only Jesus washed away our sins by His blood. Grace
is found only in Jesus.
And Godís grace guarantees us
eternal life. As St. Paul
writes, ďthat having been justified by His grace we should become
heirs according to the hope of eternal life.Ē
Christmas is a time when we
often think of death. When
we get together with our families we canít help but remember those who
are no longer with us. But
when the kindness and love of God appears in Christ, He brings us hope.
Two things go together here.
We are justified by Godís grace and we inherit eternal life.
To be justified means that God has rendered His verdict on you
and the verdict is that you are righteous.
That is, you are not guilty of sin.
You are innocent. You have peace with God.
You have His goodwill. There
is no spot of sin on your soul. You
are entirely free from the guilt, the burden, the judgment, the
condemnation, and the punishment of sin.
This is because the righteousness of Jesus is reckoned to you,
imputed to you, applied to you, given to you, even as Jesus willing took
upon Himself all of your sin, guilt, and the punishment you had earned.
When you are justified by
Godís grace you are living the life of a saint.
If you live, you enjoy Godís goodwill.
If you die your soul is taken by the angels into the gracious
presence of God. You live
in hope. You die in hope. You
are an heir of everything Christ has earned for you.
The message of Christmas is not
the message of social or political peace.
It is not the message of human potential as we seek out the good
inside of us all. It is the
message of Godís grace in Christ that finds us when we arenít even
looking for Him, forgives us, brings us new life, and guarantees us
eternal life in heaven. This is a message of joy no matter what troubles we may be
facing. So we celebrate
Christmas as Christís church in this place.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus