Sunday, December 25, 2016

Preparing for the Glorious Appearing; Titus 2:11-14

Tonight we celebrate the end of the Advent season. Jesus Christ is born! He is the grace of God that brings salvation. He has made Himself known to all. The coming of Christ was a cosmic event which forever changed the world. God became flesh. God is not only with us, but became one of us. In Jesus Christ, God fully entered the human experience. And as He lived, we caught a glimpse of the divine experience. He died and rose that we could be united with Him. And we ought to be different because of Christmas. Still, there is more to come. Christ will one day return in a glorious appearing. We live in the time between, and Paul gives us instruction on how we are to live. There are those who say Jesus was a great teacher. Indeed He was. Paul tells us what Jesus taught us by His life—that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age. If we have been saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, we are to live differently according to what Christ taught, not only through His words, but through His life’s example. We are to deny ungodliness. Ungodliness is wrong thinking. It is thinking differently than the way God thinks. How can we know the mind of God? We certainly aren’t going to know what God knows, and that’s what got us in trouble in the first place in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve wanted to know what God knows. But we can think through things in a godly manner as we have choices put before us. In I Cor. 2:16, Paul tells us that we have the mind of Christ. If Christ lives in us, we can use His mind to discern God’s will. Remember when “What Would Jesus Do?” was so popular? This is what the originator of the campaign had in mind. Think like Jesus would. And certainly this is what Paul says in Titus 2—deny ungodliness, repent of it, stay away from it, have nothing to do with it, and live in a godly manner instead. Jesus also taught us to deny worldly lusts. He did not succumb to the temptations for wealth, power, and bodily appetites. He knew the difference between needs and wants. Through His life and teachings, we can learn to distinguish between needs and wants and not give into our greed and desires for worldly things. Instead, we are to live as Jesus did, soberly, righteously, and godly. We have already talked about godliness. To live soberly is to the opposite of giving into worldly lusts. It is to live sensibly, to be intellectually sound, rational, logical; it is not to be carried away by what we feel. It is self-control. To live righteously is to do what is right and just. Thankfully, we don’t have to try to do this on our own, because we cannot. But Immanuel came to be with us always. When Christ ascended, He poured out the Holy Spirit upon us, to dwell in us, to apply what Jesus taught and to empower us to live as He lived. The values that we emphasize this time of year—generosity, hospitality, kindness, forgiveness, compassion, charity—God wants us to live out every day. It takes discipline and so we are disciples of Jesus Christ. Though the Christmas season has reached its peak, we live in the season between Christ’s two comings, and we do not know when the 2nd one will be, so let us strive to make each day count. Jesus was a great Teacher, but He was so much more than that. Jesus is God’s visible grace. He is our great God and Savior. Salvation is now available to anyone, no matter what culture, or ethnicity, or station in life, no matter how wealthy or poor, no matter how sinful or how seemingly good. He came to redeem us from every commandment of God we’ve broken. He came to take away our sin, guilt, and shame so that we can become children of God by believing in His name. He came to make us God’s special people. He was made like us, so that we might be made like Him. We are to become more and more Christ-like. He came so that we could continue God’s good work in the world and to grow God’s family by introducing people to Jesus Christ. Jesus wants us to be passionate about serving Him. In that way, we are prepared for His return. And that grace that has appeared will sustain us until He comes again. Yes, our Savior is coming again as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He will make everlasting peace on earth. There will be no conflicts and wars. There will be no darkness nor sorrow. There will be no more confusion. All of creation will be perfected. Tonight is a glorious night! Our Savior is born. God’s grace has been lavished upon us. But Christ is coming again, and that will be even more glorious. But it could not have happened without His first coming. We wouldn’t be prepared without Christ. If you have not received the gift of Jesus, then you are still not prepared for His glorious appearing. The greatest gift has been given to you. God has given Godself in the person of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Will you accept the gift that given? If you have received the gift, then be zealous for good works. God wants you to live and share the Good News. Serve God through acts of justice and kindness. Live as those with the sure hope of your salvation and the kingdom that is to come. Love with the love with which God loves you. Jesus wants us to practice the life which we will live when He returns. Every time we successfully live into His will, we get a glimpse of the Kingdom to come and hopefully allow others to see those glimpses as well so that it will be something they desire. In a short while, we will share in the sacrament of Holy Communion. In the prayer of Great Thanksgiving, there is usually an acclamation in which the congregation is invited to join: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. This is a summation of the central truths of the gospel. These truths have eternal implications. In this Titus passage, the acclamation is slightly different, and will be the one you hear in the Great Thanksgiving tonight. And you are welcome to join in saying it when you hear it: Christ is born, Christ has ascended, Christ will come again.

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