Paul’s Christmas Letter

It isn’t often that Christmas Day falls on Sunday.  This is just a double-good reason for having a worship service.  We are so pleased that you decided to join us this morning to celebrate the birth of Jesus and to offer God our praise and worship on Sunday morning.  Last night we had a fun time as a church family enjoying the Christmas Story and sharing Holy Communion.  Our Christmas Eve traditions are always fun to share.  This morning we have another opportunity to celebrate Christmas, but from a different perspective.

This morning we are going to look briefly at a Scripture text that we rarely encounter.  Paul writes a letter to his follower Titus.  He tells Titus of the great miracle that is the Incarnation and looks ahead to the day when Christ will reign over all the world.  It may seem like a strange text for Christmas, but it is much like the newsy, family letters many of us write each year.  Talking about what has happened this year and looking forward to what is planned for the next year.

We sincerely hope that this Christmas has been good for your family.  Last night’s celebration, maybe a family dinner, and a few presents; this morning’s family breakfast, fellowship, and a few gifts from Santa all come together to bring us a joyous weekend to enjoy family and friends.  We are glad to be part of your family’s celebration this year.

Ω¬ºπ

“Paul’s Christmas Letter”
Sunday, December 25, 2016
Christmas Day
#5 in series: Awaiting the Already

It’s Christmas morning and I’m guessing that we have all received our share of friendly Christmas letters from family and friends this year.  At some point, many people decided that a simple Christmas card wasn’t enough to share the spirit of the holidays.  It does seem natural, this close to the end of the year, to do a kind of “year in review” letter for folks.  It also seems like a good time to listen to Paul’s Christmas Letter as he shares with Titus about the wonder of the Incarnation.

Titus 2:11-13, NRSV
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  This is the Word of God for the people of God.  Thanks, be to God.

Our normal routine says that we have worship on Christmas Eve; we listen to the familiar Christmas story each year and then we go home to celebrate.  We stay home on Christmas morning; it isn’t often that Christmas Day falls on a Sunday.  But there is something special about having Christmas Day on a Sunday.  It gives us one more wonderful reason to come praise and worship God.  And, it gives a chance to encounter a Scripture text that we don’t often come across.

Let us pray…Lord, this morning we gather to give you our worship and to listen to your word.  We hear from Paul today and we ask that you would help us to discern the message you want us to take away from this letter.  In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen.

In modern terms, the opening of this passage could be called the perfect Christmas tweet: “the Grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all!”  It really is the Christmas message in a single sentence.  Taken together with the rest of this passage, this is not just the Christmas message, but it is also the message of the entire Gospel: The birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus are summed up in one word – GRACE.

Paul’s letter to Titus is a lot like those cheery Christmas letters we get every year.  He reminds us of the wonderful things that happened recently and what God has done.  He also speaks of what is to come in the glorious future: of Christ’s Incarnation and his Second Coming.  “The grace of God has appeared,” he writes.  That one sentence captures all that God has done prior to and including the arrival of Jesus: the creation of the world; the covenants with Noah, Abraham, and Moses; the care for the Israelites in exile; and so much more.  The grace of God – the unmerited gift of salvation and redemption for the world – has appeared – it’s a done deal.

And we need to notice to whom Jesus appeared.  It was not just to a chosen few.  No, Jesus appeared to and brought salvation to all; as the angel declared: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

So, how is it that Titus 2:11-13 suggests we await the already?  Well, this passage makes it pretty clear in verse 12.  “[The grace of God] educates us so that we can live sensible, ethical, and godly lives right now by rejecting ungodly lives and the desires of this world.”  This captures the full range of the spiritual life.  To live sensibly (or “with self-control”) is to live in harmony with one’s self.  To live ethically means to live in harmony with others.  To live in a godly manner is to live in harmony with God.  In just three words, Paul reminds us that every relationship we have deserves our fullest commitment to love and reconciliation.

Our journey through the gospels this Advent, along with this letter, has given us a panoramic view of the Christmas Story.  We witnessed the urgency of John the Baptist’s message to prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus.  We faced the cold, hard reality of Matthew’s depiction of life, and emerged more confident because of God who is here in the midst of it.  We warmed up our vocal chords and sang to the musical score of Luke’s Gospel, amazed by the uplifting power of the Good News.  And in John, we dared to hold a candle of hope against the darkness of the world.  Four gospels, four perspectives, four ways of holding onto expectation and hope.  How should we await the already?

  • By slowing down, turning our lives around, and making a straight path for Jesus to come into our midst.
  • By trusting God amid our fears, and learning to experience God’s presence in every moment.
  • By singing a song of obedience, both to be blessed by God and to be used by God to be a blessing for the world.
  • By claiming the light of God, which we may sometimes see most clearly in the midst of our darkness, and reflecting that light for others.
  • By living sensible, ethical, and godly lives, wholly devoting ourselves for God’s purpose.

Just as Paul left Titus behind to complete the work he began, Jesus left his followers behind to complete his work.  That work continues to be passed along to us as believers today and we are called to keep the faith alive and growing.  Jesus came to bring peace and justice to the world; we are here to continue his mission bringing all people, friends and strangers alike, the loving grace of God.  Merry Christmas!  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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