Grace (The Gift of Christmas)
December 24, 2019 Series: Lectionary
Topic: Biblical Verse: Titus 2:11–2:14
The Nativity of Our Lord – Christmas Eve[i]
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Titus 2:11-14 (Luke 1:1-20)
“Grace (The Gift of Christmas)”
It’s right there, under the tree, all shiny and new. It’s the right size. Your name is on the tag, too. Could it be the gift you’ve been wanting, needing for what seems like forever? The expectation has almost been too much to take! And when it’s there, right in front of you to unwrap and see with your own eyes, do you take your time and peel back the packaging, drawing the whole experience out, or tear through it lightning-quick so that the waiting and hoping will finally be over? And there it is — but not what you’d expected. It’s something different, unique. Both brand-new and impossibly old. You didn’t have this gift in mind; it’s like nothing you’ve ever known before. But there it is, and you realize that it’s what you’ve been wanting all along.
What gift are you hoping to receive this Christmas? Is it a shiny new thing? I gotta say that I enjoy shiny new things now and again. They can be a lot of fun. But they don’t always last, even when you take good care of them. How about something classic or handed-down, a gift that carries great value or personal significance? Those can be some of the most thoughtful gifts someone can give. Solid choice. But maybe you’re hoping to receive something that can’t be put under a tree, even in gift-card form. Are you hoping for peace in the world or in your family, for healing and rest that hasn’t yet come, for clarity in the direction your life could be heading? Christmas after Christmas might have passed, and still you’re left wanting.
What gift do you deserve? That’s a tricky question. For just a moment, let’s set aside any of the reasons that we might think up to say why we’d deserve a gift — because a gift isn’t something that anyone deserves, right? — and let’s be honest about the fact that each and every one of us has fallen short some way. Nobody here is on the “perfect” list, which is the only list that counts. You and I both need something better than we deserve.
You see, that’s why God brings us together tonight around the cradle and cross of Jesus. Why does God love you and me, even in those times when we make it hard for others to love us? It’s not a mystery — God actually tells us why in His Word. God loves you because He made you. No matter how difficult your life might seem, how distant you might feel from your Creator tonight, He wants you to be near Him. He treasures you. And when you are baptized, God also makes you to be His child, with Jesus as your brother. Nothing can steal that gift away from you. God loves you because of who He is, because that’s His nature; not because of who you’ve been or what you deserve. You can know that God loves you because He sent His Son, Jesus, “The Lord saves,” as the sign, the bearer, and the incarnation of His grace for our world.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…” (Titus 2:11) God has a great gift for you and for our world tonight. It’s something different, unique. Both brand-new and impossibly old. It’s grace. God’s mercy is shown by not giving us what we do, in fact, deserve. His grace, on the other hand, abounds as He gives us all the good we do not deserve. During their confirmation experience, we teach the young people of our faith community to remember grace as “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” We get all the good of Jesus’ birth and life among us, the redemption that he won for us on the cross and revealed in his resurrection on Easter – all as a gift. And God’s gift of grace is not just for you and me or the other people gathering for Christmas Eve worship tonight. God’s grace is a gift He wants every human being to experience.
Grace – God’s riches at Christ’s expense – is about your life right now. Jesus wasn’t born into our world simply to build a bridge between you and God. He came to change you: to call you into life which runs well according to God’s loving design. And he came to change our world: to restore that which was broken, including our lives and our relationships with the people around us. As you follow Jesus through life, he will change the world through you. Most of those changes probably won’t be earth-shattering or maybe even known beyond the lives of the people you touch as you share God’s grace. But they still make a difference then and there. The world becomes a better place as the family of Christ lives out our identity as a gift to the people around us.
Christmas is about hope. It’s hope that’s anchored in history, hope that shapes our present, hope that looks ahead into the future. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a long time ago in a country far, far away – though he might not have been as impossibly cute as Baby Yoda (in case any of you were hoping against hope for one of those under the Christmas tree), baby Jesus was real, a gift for all. And he will come again as the King of Kings, delivering the fullness of God’s grace for his people. But you don’t have to wait to experience that gift of grace. It’s here for you, now. Your name is on the tag. Unwrap it and see it with your own eyes. And may you see that it’s been what you’ve been wanting, all along.
[i] Passage for memory:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people… – Titus 2:11