The Birth of the Grace of God (Titus 2:11)
The Nativity of our Lord (Christmas Eve Service) December 24, 2021
As the song says, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” Amidst all the sights and sounds that have become Christmas today, thank the Lord, many Christians are still keeping the message of the Nativity of Jesus Christ front and center of their observance. After all, without the Nativity there would be nothing to celebrate, nothing to bring us comfort, nothing to leave us true peace.
Unfortunately, there clearly is a push in society today to sideline the Nativity and make Christmas a secular holiday. This has included the intentional, systematic and, in some places, even the court ordered, removal of Nativity scenes from public venues. This open attack on the Nativity has left many scratching their heads in amazement, asking, “What is so offensive about such a humble and pastoral scene that merely depicts a baby lying in a manger surrounded by figures of barnyard animals, his parents and some adoring shepherds. Besides, the same ones calling for the removal of Nativity scenes, seem to have no objection to leaving up the Jewish Menorah’s, which are also religious symbols!
The incessant drive to remove the Nativity from the public square is not merely, as some portray it, an innocent attempt to preserve the American principle of separation of church and state. A government allowance for the public celebration of the Nativity of Jesus is hardly the government’s endorsement, or even promotion, of the Christian Faith, anymore than say the allowance of the display of the Menorah be the government’s insistence that all citizens adopt Judaism. Neither ought the government or public at large fear that the displaying of the Nativity or the allowance for its celebration be any kind of threat to its beliefs or power. All would agree that the infant Jesus poses no threat to the State. In fact, anyone who has bothered to read the Bible knows that Jesus reinforced legitimate government rule. Jesus teaches that we are to give honor to whom honor is due and even pay taxes the government choses to levy against us. Jesus’ apostle Paul goes so far as to call government “God’s minister” to protect the weak and innocent and to punish the guilty.
I’m afraid the real driving force behind this contemporary purge of Christmas is fear... fear of what that Creche’ preaches concerning the true God and the only way of salvation. For proof look at the world’s ambivalence toward the display of the Jewish Menorah. It is also a religious symbol, as well as a symbol of salvation, yet there is no crusade to rid the public square of it. The Menorah is a 9 branched candelabrum used in the celebration of the Jewish religious festival known as Chanukkah (Hanukkah).
This eight day festival, is a commemoration of the victory of the Jewish Maccabees over the Syrians in 165 B.C. and the re-dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. The world is not threatened by the Menorah, however, because it only pertains to a historical, worldly deliverance of the Jews. It means nothing to Gentiles or anyone else. It has no eternal significance.
The Nativity of Jesus, on the other hand, proclaims a message that is universal and exclusive. The angel said it quite succinctly to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
What makes the Nativity even more offensive, is that unlike the Menorah, or even the sword and crescent moon of Islam, both of which proclaim salvation by might and force, the Nativity depicts salvation by weakness and grace. This offends the sinful flesh within all of us. For the flesh wants to take charge of its own destiny and to take some, if not all credit, for its own salvation. But the Nativity simply does not allow for a theology of salvation by works, nor does it evoke fear in the hearts of sinners. The Nativity’s sole message is this; as the apostle Paul wrote to the young pastor Titus, “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11).
Aside from the cross of Jesus itself, no where else is God’s grace for sinners so wonderfully brought to light than in the Nativity of Jesus. Holy God could not have chosen a less threatening manner to bring His saving presence into the world than the birth of a child. Who’s afraid of a baby, besides someone trying to avoid changing its diapers! Babies are helpless and non-judgmental. They come in love and acceptance. They are not a danger to anyone. They have no axe to grind, no agenda to push down anyone’s throat.
How especially true this is with the Infant born of Mary. He was, according to His divinity, the Creator and Preserver of the whole earth, yet according to His humanity, He was totally helpless, dependent upon His mother for nourishment, warmth, protection, and daily care. She had to wrap His tiny, frail, and weak flesh in strips of cloth to give His back and bones support and facilitate their proper growth. Who should be threatened by such a weak and helpless infant? On the contrary, in this Child of Bethlehem, the whole world is given to see in tangible human flesh the pure grace and love of God for sinners.
Now, imagine if God had instead chosen to come into our world in the fullness of His divine power as the stern and demanding Judge of Heaven and Earth as He has every right to do given our disobedience and waywardness? Confronted with such holiness, we would do as the guilty Adam and Eve did in the garden; cover ourselves and hide, or we would, like the unbelievers pictured in John’s revelations cry out in our fear for the rocks and hills to fall on us so that we might not have to contend with the wrath of the Lamb.
The Nativity casts no shadows of fear, but rather emanates the light of grace. The Nativity calls out to us tonight just as the angel proclaimed to the terrified shepherds that Holy Night so long ago, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The poor, helpless, baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a dirty, old, cattle trough is God’s sign to the whole world of His grace and favor toward us. This helpless Child born for you and me is Emmanuel; God among us… with us… and for us, not God against us.
In this bundle of swaddling clothes is “The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6) come into your world to save you not with sword or might but by being defeated Himself. By God’s grace His swaddling clothes were replaced with the filthy garments of your guilt and sin. This innocent Babe was made a sinner that God might make you in Him saints! He was wounded to bring you healing. He was brought low in suffering and humiliation that you might be exalted in glory. He was put to death in your place under the wrath of God so that you could be made alive in the forgiveness of your sins. He was afforded no room save in a cattle stall so that you might be given permanent residence in God’s mansions of Glory.
All this despite the fact that in and account of your sin you have deserved nothing but God’s present and eternal punishment. This, dear fellow sinners, is unadulterated, unearned, divine favor; that is, pure grace born to you!
Is it any wonder then that the whole army of angels sang in the skies above Bethlehem, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” The Nativity of Jesus is to God’s glory. The Holy Nativity has manifested to us God’s saving grace and infinite wisdom that has conquered sin, death, the devil, and even hell all in the frailty of human flesh and has brought eternal peace between the sinner and a just God.
“Let us, then,” as Martin Luther once preached, “meditate upon the Nativity just as we see it happening in our own babies. I would not have you contemplate the deity of Christ, the majesty of Christ, but rather his flesh. Look upon the Baby Jesus. Divinity may terrify man. Inexpressible majesty will crush him. That is why Christ took on our humanity, save for sin, that he should not terrify us but rather that with love and favor he should console and confirm... Look upon this Lord of Peace and your spirit will be at peace. See how God invites you in many ways. He places before you a Babe with whom you may take refuge. You cannot fear him, for nothing is more appealing to a man than a babe. Are you affrighted? Then come to him, lying in the lap of the fairest and sweetest maid. You will see how great is the divine goodness, which seeks above all else that you should not despair. Trust him! Trust him! Here is the Child in whom is salvation. To me there is no greater consolation given to mankind than this, that Christ became man, a child, a babe, playing in the lap and at the breasts of his most gracious mother. Who is there whom this sight would not comfort? Now is overcome the power of sin, death, hell, conscience, and guilt, if you come to this gurgling Babe and believe that he is come, not to judge you, but to save” (Martin Luther Christmas Book; Bainton, Fortress Press, 1983, p.40.)
Yes, the grace of God has been born to you in the flesh of Jesus. This is the light of Christmas that enlightens every person. This is why you can have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Amen.