Now and for the next 12 days the holy Christian Church and her dear Christians throughout the world will celebrate the birth of Jesus our Savior. At this time we celebrate that the very God Himself, the Second Person of the Blessed and Holy Trinity, took into Himself human flesh and blood and became one of us and dwelt among us. At Christmas we celebrate the fact that because He took into Himself our human flesh He also redeemed our bodies as well as our soul.
The Christmas Gospel that we read last night from St. Luke is perhaps one of the most familiar portions of Holy Scripture. We heard about the decree from Caesar Augustus; we heard about Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem; we heard that there was no room for them in the inn; we heard that Jesus was laid in the manger; we heard about the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks and that the angel announced the birth of Jesus to them and they got a view of the heavenly angelic chorus, singing praises to God—including the Son/ the Second Person of the Holy Trinity in the manger. What a marvelous account! How these words of Holy Scripture so vividly proclaim the love of God to us.
Our text, the Christmas Epistle, proclaims so clearly the love of God for us sinners. And our text too proclaims the wonderful Christmas account but there is no mention of Caesar, Mary and Joseph, the manger, the inn, the shepherds and angels. So how does our text proclaim Christmas to us? What does our text say? For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to reject ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope, that is, the glorious appearance of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He gave himself for us, to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are his own chosen people, eager to do good works. Notice the Christmas miracle in our text: For the grace of God has appeared. St. Paul writes nothing about the life of Jesus, which the Gospels so beautifully and fully describe; but St. Paul here in our text tells why Jesus came and what a great blessing and benefit His coming is for us!
Here in our text we see the centrality of the manger to the Christian faith. Here we are taught what happened that first Christmas. We are taught, first of all, about the grace of God. Christmas—the birth of Jesus, the God-man, is the ultimate act of God’s grace toward us. At Christmas, at Jesus’ birth, God’s grace was made manifest; it was revealed; God’s grace was revealed—even in human flesh and blood.
For the grace of God has appeared… Dear Christian, God’s grace brings us the exact opposite of what we deserve; it gives us exactly what we do not deserve. We deserve God to come in wrath and punishment; we don’t deserve the forgiveness of sin, life, salvation, peace with God—but that’s exactly what God’s grace brings us and gives us. Christmas—the grace of God has appeared!
When we hear of that Baby born to the Virgin, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger, we hear of God humbling Himself. We hear of God who loves us so much—even though we don’t deserve it. This love of God for us led Him to take on our human flesh/ become one of us and to be born of the virgin.
But this grace of God that revealed itself/ that appeared in the Person of Jesus did not stop with the incarnation and birth. God’s grace appearing did not stop with Jesus the Son being born in the stable; it continued on. It continued throughout His life as He lived, in our place, the holy, perfect life—a life without sin. That grace of God [that] has appeared includes what happened after that: Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. That grace of God [that] has appeared/ was made visible as Jesus took all of our sins with Him to the cross and endured God’s wrath over those sins; that grace of God has appeared when Jesus died on the cross the death that we earned and deserved by our sins. That grace of God?—Although we merited only His wrath and damnation, He instead came and rescued us. Our text: Jesus Christ…gave himself for us, to redeem us from all lawlessness. We are rescued from/ forgiven of our sins and declared righteous freely by His grace through the price Jesus paid.
Our text: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. Notice the result of Jesus’ work; notice the result of God’s grace being made manifest—it brings salvation to all people. This is the wonderful result of Christmas. The thing is, Christmas is not merely a one-time event separated from all the rest of God’s work for our salvation/ His grace. Christmas is not celebrated in isolation. Christmas has meaning and significance as it is together with Jesus’ baptism, with His miracles, with His sufferings, with His death and resurrection. For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people… It all began unfurling that first Christmas: Jesus’ work, His life, sufferings, death and resurrection brought salvation to all people. Jesus’ work was not just for some people but not to others; instead, Christmas/ Jesus’ coming was for all people. Jesus brought salvation to all people—none excluded—even to you and to me. Didn’t we just hear the angel tell the shepherds: “Do not be afraid. For behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for all people? And later on we read: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward mankind.” [Lk 2.10,14]
It is the grace of God that brought all this about, that brings us our salvation. We do not earn or merit God’s grace and favor by our works and virtuous life—after all, if we lived a truly virtuous life worthy of heaven, what need would we have for God’s grace, for Christmas. But Christmas so clearly teaches us our helplessness when it comes to salvation—God Himself had to send His Son/ had to come Himself born in the flesh as a Baby in order to save us, in order to bring us salvation.
God in grace sent His Son to be the world’s Savior. And because He came that first Christmas and carried out His saving work even to dying on the cross and rising again, God can have mercy on all. His grace and mercy extend to all people. And what is so glorious is that the grace of God—the forgiveness of sins—is freely offered to all people in the Word and Sacraments. God’s grace toward all people that appeared visibly/ in the flesh that first Christmas is an objective reality. Jesus was born—that’s God’s grace; that’s an objective fact of human history: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. That grace is also now offered to us and given us through the Word and Sacraments. Only in the word of God do we hear of God’s love for us in Jesus; only in the word do we hear of God becoming man—Christmas, of His sinless life lived on behalf of sinners, of His suffering and death for our sins and His glorious resurrection from the dead. Not only do we hear of these things but in the word and that word made visible—the Holy Sacraments—does Jesus offer and give us the fruits and blessings of His saving work. Only in word and Sacrament do we receive the forgiveness of sins Jesus earned because only through them is the Holy Spirit at work to create and preserve faith—the hand that reaches out and grabs ahold of God’s promises and the fruits of Jesus’ work. Faith believes that for me Jesus came; that for me Jesus humbled Himself, suffered and died for my sins.
Of all the Christmas gifts that we may get, the best one is the one that God gave us, the one which brings salvation to all people. This/ He is the gift that we need the most—we are given new life in Jesus. In our text, St. Paul describes our life before we are brought to faith this way: ungodliness and worldly lusts. Before we come to faith, we can do no good thing spiritually—in everything, because of sin and our sinful nature, we are in rebellion against God in everything; our minds are set on ungodliness and worldly lusts –that means that our desires are connected only with this life and we seek nothing higher.
But once we come to faith/ once God creates faith in us by the Holy Spirit’s work in word and sacrament, we begin to live a new life. This new life we now live—led and empowered by the Holy Spirit—is the best Christmas gift. This new life is a life lived to the glory of God; a life lived in service to Him. It turns our gaze from the things of this world—things which promise great happiness and fulfilment but do not/ cannot deliver—things like: money, pleasure, power, etc. These things—ungodliness and worldly lusts—are things only for this world/ life and therefore cannot grant fulfillment and contentment to us who are spiritual beings.
God’s saving grace/ its saving power saves us from the grip of ungodliness and worldly lusts and from their terrible ultimate consequences—eternal death and damnation. If we indeed have only this life, if indeed we look no further than this world no wonder there is such fear and dread of pain, suffering and death.
But there’s Christmas! – The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. What a blessing the grace of God really is! Faith looks for, grabs ahold and trusts in the Lord’s grace. The fact that God became man/ that the Word became flesh shows us what a loving and gracious God we have. That is what Christmas is all about. Here is the source of the joy of Christmas: God is gracious to all people; He did not spare His Son but gave Him up for us. When we in faith believe this and rely on it what a change Christmas then makes in our daily lives!
Today we celebrate a birth—the birth of Jesus, the God-man. But may we also be reminded of our new birth! By God’s grace we have been born again/ from above in the waters of holy Baptism. Because of God’s work for us, in us and on us we now have a new life and live holy lives. It trains us to reject ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope, that is, the glorious appearance of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. God’s grace teaches us and leads us into a life rich in good works. Jesus came and saved us not so that we could continue on in sin but so that the Holy Spirit can change us. Jesus not only came because of God’s grace; He not only gained grace for us but also the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we should not only have the forgiveness of sins but should cease from sin. He saved us not only from the guilt of sin but also its dominion over us, from our slavery to sin.
Because of God’s grace, we now live differently. We trust in Him and His mercy and grace that was made visible for all to see that first Christmas. We now literally see that same grace in the holy sacrament: we see in the Holy Supper that same Jesus—His body and blood—who was born that first Christmas. And now He comes to us to make our hearts His manger. He comes to us in grace and gives us all the fruit and blessing of His saving work. He comes to us and gives us the Holy Spirit so that we trust in Him and His saving work. And now led and empowered by the Holy Spirit we begin to live lives of holiness.
At Christmas we look upon that Baby born in the stable and see God’s love and grace toward us. As we look at that Baby we see the Savior of the world, the One God promised to send to take away the sins of the world. And as we look at this Baby in the manger, we know that He will come again—this time in glory—to take us soul and body into heaven. This is our hope in these uncertain times. This is our joy this Christmas: we wait for the blessed hope, that is, the glorious appearance of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas!