The Grace of Christmas
Christmas Eve 2005| Rev Rolf Preus| Titus 3:4-7
Titus 3:4-7, But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward men appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
God became a baby. This is what Christmas is all about. It is about God’s birthday. We celebrate the birth of God in the flesh.
Now don’t misunderstand what I am saying. God is eternal. He was there before time began. The Son was begotten of the Father “before all worlds” as we confess in the Nicene Creed. So it’s 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: “God is man, man to deliver. His dear Son now is one with our blood forever.” 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: “When the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward men appeared.” The birth of Jesus is the appearance of the kindness and the love of God our Savior.
God wouldn’t be God if He had no standards of right and wrong. God wouldn’t 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 isn’t 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 and condemned.
But when sin has become some kind of a dysfunction, God is no longer God. If He cannot judge He’s nothing but a toothless idol. He’s a Santa Clause god who really doesn’t know who’s been naughty or nice and if he did he wouldn’t 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. They’ve manufactured idols in their hearts and have feared, loved, and trusted their own creation more than God. They’ve spoken God’s name foolishly, thoughtlessly, and to cover up their own sins. They’ve despised the preaching of God’s word while preferring the wisdom of men. They’ve disobeyed human authority in contempt for the rights of others. They’ve hated, lusted, and coveted, and acted on these sinful desires in defiance of God’s commandments. They can expect judgment because that’s 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 that’s what God had promised all along. David writes in Psalm 103
The LORD is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
As a father pities his children,
So the LORD pities those who fear Him.
For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:8-14)
This is the true meaning of Christmas. It is about God’s grace. Our text teaches us three things about God’s grace. First, God’s grace does not depend on good things that we do. Second, God’s grace is found only in Jesus Christ, the Savior. Third, God’s grace and God’s grace alone guarantees us eternal life.
God’s grace does not depend on good things that we do. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” 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 God’s grace.
Christmas is a time of spending money you don’t 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. God’s 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. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” 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 God’s mercy. It cannot be both. God’s mercy delivers us from sin and sin’s curse despite the works we do, not because of the works we do. Our best deeds, our most righteous works, are filled with sin. God’s 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 God’s approval, goodwill, and favor. Look instead to Christ.
Second, God’s grace is found only in Jesus Christ, the Savior. St. Paul writes:
According 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 God’s 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 can’t 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 God’s 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 God’s grace guarantees us eternal life. As St. Paul writes, “that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Christmas is a time when we often think of death. When we get together with our families we can’t 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 God’s 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 God’s grace you are living the life of a saint. If you live, you enjoy God’s 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 God’s grace in Christ that finds us when we aren’t 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 Christ’s church in this place. Merry Christmas!