December 24th, 2021 – Grace Has Appeared

Sermon for Christmas Eve, 2021, Random Lake          12/24/21            Theme: GRACE HAS APPEARED

Text: Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14, Isaiah 9:2-7

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.  He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Introduction.    We all come to Christmas Eve with certain expectations.  Entering the church, we look for the beautiful tree and lovely poinsettias, the warm glow of candlelight, and the familiar carols.  We want to hear again the beautiful Christmas story from Luke’s Gospel.  Tonight, in these anticipations, we are not disappointed.

            But, perhaps, we expect more.  In a world often harsh and hard-hearted, we also dare to look for love, for hope, and for a sense of belonging.  Alone, or with family and friends, we come to church with a sense of deep longings.

            Our gracious God welcomes us.  The Lord wants us to be whole.  Not only does God give temporary good feelings.  He also wants all to be capable and willing to act effectively.  He wants Christmas to launch us into a new growth phase of faith-filled living.

            As I see it, this is the surprising message of our text in the letter to Titus.  Welcoming us home to the roots of our faith-family in Bethlehem, the Lord sends us out to live well.  Nourished by the holy fellowship in the glow of the Christmas candles, we go out to the hard places of everyday experience to serve Christ.  Touched by the tender story of Jesus’ birth, we are called to touch the human hurts that we encounter every day.  This is why we are thrilled that  GRACE HAS APPEARED.

I           Grace is a powerful word. It speaks of something undeserved and unexpected.  In Christmas 1984, grace came to our family in a surprising way.  On the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving, I felt a sharp pain in the abdomen, like a horse kicked me.  A couple of days later I woke up from surgery and became aware that I could have died of peritonitis.  I might need further surgery.

            At the very least, I would require a month of recovery and new regimens of health management.  I certainly would not be doing the usual December work of a pastor.  My family was in more trouble, for my wife was on bed-rest with back pain, and our two teenagers were wondering what was happening to their family.

            Yet that Christmas, grace appeared.  For nine days a kind and capable surgeon made excellent decisions and gave good directions.  Nurses, technicians, and cleaning staff came as angels of God’s healing.  Visitors brought genuine care.  Some offered prayers.  Church leaders made arrangements to fill the roles needed in our large and busy congregation.

            When I got home, church members delivered evening meals.  A Christmas tree was set up.  Carolers appeared at our door.  Our family worked together.   Mary and I received excellent therapy.  God’s gracious healing came.  In a way, it was all a surprise. But that is how grace comes.

II.         When God became visible to the world as an infant through his human mother, all the people were surprised by grace. 

            You remember how an angel appeared to Mary in Nazareth, when she first conceived the child.  At first, Mary was “greatly troubled.” A young woman from a small town, recently engaged to Joseph, but not married, Mary wondered, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 

            It took a powerful explanation from God’s messenger, including: “With God, nothing is impossible.,” for Mary to say, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

            And what about Joseph?  He was surprised to learn that his intended bride was pregnant before their marriage, or as Matthew puts it so delicately, “before they came together.”  But by sudden grace, an angel appeared in a dream to reveal the child’s origin and destiny.  The baby would be called Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.”

            Of course, about nine months later, the shepherds were startled when heavenly messengers broke into their boring watch “over their flocks by night.”  What grace it was to hear the good news of great joy for all people! 

            What had Mary or Joseph or these crusty shepherds done to deserve such news?  Each seems to be interrupted in the middle of their ordinary lives.  The Scriptures give no hint of their merit.  They were almost forgotten members of King David’s family.  All the credit goes to God for these wonderful events that shaped world history. 

III         Titus tells us that the grace of God has a way of motivating people to new ways of thought and behavior.  The writer explains:

For the grace of God 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.

            Look!  Christmas is to quick start us to new actions.  Filled with joy, we’ve got important work to do.  The world is hurting out there.  Some are cold-hearted and cynical.  They may not make it to church this year.  Some are depressed, caught up in alcohol and other addictive drugs.  Road rage, air travel rage are just symptoms of deep angers and frustration.  People are maxed out on patience;  some trapped into silos of negative opinions, nourished by misinformation.

            But, that’s where we come into the story.  We get to tell the good news of God’s surprising grace.  We get to promote healing—another Bible word for salvation.  We get to act in loving and caring ways that melt frozen hearts.

IV         Learn from the Christmas characters.  Mary went skipping over the hills to her cousin Elizabeth, 85 miles south.  She had good news to tell her news and to hear from the older woman, who carried in her body John the Baptist.

            And don’t forget Joseph!  He showed courage and restraint.  It wasn’t easy becoming a husband and legal father, knowing what he knew and not being able to have intimate relations with Mary until the child was born. 

            For sure, Joseph acted honorably, responsibly.  He and Mary followed all the religious laws regarding circumcision and purification in the temple.  When threated by Herod Joseph led the family to Egypt.  Later, he worked as a carpenter in Nazareth, sharing the role of parenting.

            Of course, the shepherds carried through.  When grace appeared, they went to see the baby, wrapped in cloth, lying in a feed trough.  There was no one else like him in Bethlehem or anywhere else.  The shepherds—rough and disrespected as they were—proclaimed the good news to everyone.   Then, they went back to work without overtime pay.

Conclusion      Friends in Christ, grace has appeared to you tonight.  You have heard the good news of Jesus, the Savior of all.  He embodied the truth, the way to God.  He is the one we are all called to serve with love and hope.  The words of Titus proclaim Jesus’ purpose:

He it is who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

            Respond to him.  Grace has appeared to you.  Be gracious to others.  What will you do to help our hurting world?  You can decide your role in the great mission of love.  It may involve simple things, like child-care, phone calls, emails, or work on the computer.  You may have to hold your temper or swallow the first words that come to mind.  But be gracious.  Care.  Worship.  For GRACE HAS APPEARED.

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