27 December 2011

Homily for Christmas Day

For Christmas Day, we were privileged to have Pr. Daniel Preus (Executive Director of Luther Academy and Part-Time Assistant Pastor here at Hope) proclaim the Christmas Gospel in light of Titus 3:4-7 (the Epistle reading for the day). With his permission, here is the text of his fabulous sermon:

Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas! That word “merry” is a little antiquated. We don’t use it much any more. Apart from wishing a person a merry Christmas, when was the last time you used that word? You wives, when your husband asked you this morning, “How are you?” did you answer. “Oh, I’m very merry!.” We don’t use the word “merry” much any more but we still know what it means. It means happy, joyous, cheerful. And on this Christmas day we are happy, we’re joyous, we’re cheerful. We’re merry. Because what happened today? When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, what happened? He saved us! That’s what our text says. And this text is the historic epistle pericope chosen by the church for Christmas Day because the church historically has connected the birth of the Savior with the appearance of God’s goodness and loving kindness.

Throughout the Old Testament times God’s people had waited for this appearance. It is not that they were not aware of God’s goodness and loving kindness. But they knew that the full expression of that kindness lay in the future. They knew that the fullness of God’s love would appear when He saved us. And the birth of Jesus marks the appearance of God’s goodness and loving kindness toward us.

That’s why the angels sing; that’s why the shepherds come to the manger – because there is a Savior here, because there in the manger our rescuer is lying who will one day give His life so that “whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” That’s why Zacharias the priest proclaims, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, because He has visited and redeemed His people.”

God became a man to redeem, to buy back from sin, death and devil all people. Apart from this incarnation of God’s Son, apart from the birth of the baby whose coming we celebrate today, there is no loving kindness of God toward us. Had this child not come, angels would never have appeared in the heavens saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom God is pleased,” because apart from the coming of His Son, God is not pleased with anybody. Apart from the birth of this baby there is no peace between God and men, there is no authentic spiritual joy, there is no good news for us from God, there is no Gospel, there is no hope of salvation or eternal life. All this appeared when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared. All this appeared when Jesus came. Every gift of God’s grace you and I enjoy comes to us in Jesus and only in Jesus and it is therefore at His birth that we celebrate not only God’s coming to us in His Son; we also celebrate His gifts of love and joy and peace and hope.

All this because the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared. Why? I mean, why did it appear? Our conscience does not encourage us to be hopeful when we hear that God is appearing to us. After all what does the Bible say. We read in Psalm 14, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt. There is none who does good, not even one.” God should have been able to expect that He would find a people on earth who would honor him, a holy people who would have nothing to do with evil and wrong. After all, that’s the way he first made them. But what does He find? Among all those whom He has made there is not one upon whom He can look with joy and favor. They have all turned away. And that includes you and me.

If we believe the Bible, if we listen to our own conscience, how can we possibly react with joy when we hear that God has appeared to human beings? That can’t be good news! It’s not possible that he has come to show us goodness and kindness and love; surely He has come to judge us, to damn us, right?

No! He has indeed come to reveal his kindness and love to us, to offer us His mercy and forgiveness, because look how He comes. He doesn’t come in great power and glory. No He comes as one of us. Indeed, He has so bound Himself to our human nature, that from the moment of His conception on – through all eternity – God the Son is human, your brother and mine. How can we fear Him when He comes to us as our brother? In fact, He comes not only as our brother; He comes as our little brother. Yes, a poor, weak, helpless human being, a little baby lying in a manger, just like the poorest children of his day.

Now how can anyone be afraid? When you see this little boy, how can you look at Him sleeping in the manger and see God’s anger? How can you look at him in his mother’s arms and see God’s curse? How can you look at Joseph changing his diapers and feel fear or terror?

In this God in the manger, in this God who became one of us, we find nothing but kindness and love. Here we see only one who has come to help, to rescue and to save what is lost. It is no wonder that Martin Luther declares about this text (Titus 3:4-7), “I must say, that in all the Scriptures I have not read more precious words about God’s grace.”

But we still have not answered that question – Why? Why is God so kind and gracious to us. “Not because of works done by us in righteousness,” our text says. It’s certainly not because of what He sees when He looks at us. Our text makes that very clear. No, “according to His mercy” He saved us. That’s what Paul says. “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, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Why has God been so kind and gracious to us? Last night we spent the evening with our daughter and her husband and their two girls. The youngest girl just turned a year old. You can’t believe how cute she is. And I don’t just say this as a grandfather. She is objectively a cute, little, darling girl. You just want to hug her and kiss her all the time, she is so cute. Is that why God is so kind and gracious to us? Because He looks at us and sees something so attractive and endearing, that He thinks to Himself, “They are such beautiful, wonderful, fine people I just can’t help myself. I must do everything for them that I can.” Is this what is in the mind of God when He comes to us with His kindness and grace?

No, we are not so cute that God just can’t resist us. In the verse immediately preceding our text for today Paul says to Titus, “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.” Paul is not just talking about himself and Titus. He’s talking about all of us – the way we are by nature, by birth. We’re not at all like that little baby in the manger. Well, we’re like him in our humanity. But He’s without sin. Not us. I don’t know how often I have stood on a street corner and seen a sign on the other side of the street which says, “Don’t walk!” and I have walked. God in His law has said to us over and over again, “Don’t walk!” And we have walked.

Thank God His goodness and loving kindness appeared. It was the turning point in human history. The Son of God came into the world, lived for us, suffered and died for us, saved us and turned God’s love and mercy toward us.

Yes, that’s the reason, the only reason why God can look upon us with such grace and mercy, “not because of works done by us in righteousness,” but because of works done by Him in righteousness.” That’s why the Father sent Him – so that through His life, suffering, death and resurrection He could do what sinful people could never do. After all, He is God and He does everything right. And so He came to us, the perfect God-Man and was obedient to God’s law and took upon Himself our sin and offered Himself as a sacrifice for all people.

And for that reason God no longer requires from us righteous works and lives before He is gracious to us. Rather, for Jesus’ sake He pours out His grace on us freely. He looks at us and says to every one of us who confesses his sins and believes in Jesus and recognizes that little child in the manger as God and Savior, He says to us, “My grace, my love, my friendship belong to you. I don’t think about your sins any more. And so there is nothing in all the world that can separate you from my love and from entering heaven and from receiving that crown which I have prepared for you.” Now which one of us will not want to cry out, “Praise be to this Savior who has done all this for me”?

Yes, praise be to Jesus who not only came that first Christmas Day and then lived, suffered, died and rose for us, but who even now blesses us with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.’” When a sinful man or woman or child listens to the message of the birth of the Savior, and repents and asks God for mercy, this has been accomplished by the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul says in our text that the Holy Spirit has been “poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” The gift of the Holy Spirit is part of that salvation which comes to us through the birth of the Son of God. The fact that God’s Son became a man for us moves the Father to pour out His Holy Spirit on us.

And He does that, says Paul, through the washing of regeneration, that is through Holy Baptism. Through Baptism the Holy Spirit brings us that goodness and loving kindness of God which appeared when Jesus came. Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we have been made holy in Baptism and heirs of Heaven. As Lutherans we say that Baptism is God’s means of grace; it is the hand of God which offers us His grace. But the cause, the founder of this grace, the one who earned this grace for us and brings it to us is our Lord Jesus Christ. He became one of us and in Him God’s grace appeared and came to us.

One more point needs to be made before we conclude our attention to the Christmas story this morning. The Holy Spirit has been poured out upon us to give us faith in Jesus but when He does that, He also gives us a new heart and a new mind. When God’s love and kindness have shined into our hearts and filled them with their holy light, we as God’s children want to live for Him. We want to love Him and serve Him. It is a joy for us to do what pleases Him.

And if it isn’t that way for you, you may know the Christmas story, but God’s kindness and love for you, God’s salvation for you through Jesus, His Son, do you see that? That’s why He came – to save you so that you could belong to Him. As Luther puts it, “That I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true!”

May our heavenly Father send His Holy Spirit to open our eyes and our hearts this day so that every one of us can see in His Son Jesus our Savior; and confess Him as our only hope of forgiveness and life; and serve Him and glorify Him in all that we do. Then this Christmas Day will be for you and me a joyous one, a happy one, a truly merry Christmas. Amen.

Rev. Daniel Preus
December 25, 2011
Soli Deo Gloria

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