God's Gifts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future
A sermon based on Titus 2:11-14
Christmas Day – December 25, 2011
In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote his classic tale, A Christmas Carol. And as you know, in his novel Dickens sent three ghosts to visit the bitter miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. After the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Future show Scrooge what had happened, what was happening, and what would happen. And once he saw these things, Scrooge was a completely changed man.
This morning as we celebrate Christmas we rejoice that God hasn't sent us ghosts, but his Spirit. And through the Holy Spirit, we're given great blessings! This morning we celebrate God's gifts to us—his gifts of Christmas past, of Christmas present, and of Christmas future. Listen to what Paul writes to Titus of the impact of Christmas and God's gifts to us in Titus 2:11-14…
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
This advent season we've celebrated Christ's coming: His first coming at Christmas where he came to bring us salvation, his second coming to us in his Word and in the Sacraments, and his third and final coming on the Last Day. These three advents of our Lord, sum up the gifts of Christmas past, present, and future…
I. Of Christmas Past
At Christ's first advent, we received the gift of Christmas past. At that first Christmas when God came in the flesh we received the gift of salvation! What an awesome gift! Paul writes, "Jesus Christ… gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own…" What an awesome gift! And unlike other Christmas gifts, it's something we really need!
You see, all too often we act like Ebenezer Scrooge. We're selfish and miserly not just with our money, but with our time and our gifts. We're really only concerned about ourselves. And for being more concerned with the presents under the tree than we are with thanking Jesus for his death on the tree for us, we're wicked. Jesus warned, "You cannot serve both God and money." (Matthew 6:24) For loving our families more than the baby in the manger we're impure. Jesus said, "Whoever loves his father or mother… his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." (Matthew 10:37) This gift of salvation is something we desperately need.
And it's something we all have. Ever find a present under the tree with no tag on it? You're left wondering who it's for. But not with this gift of Christmas past. What Jesus did for us at his first coming is for everyone. Verse 11 reads, "the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men…" but the word order in the Greek reads, "the grace of God that brings salvation to all men has appeared." We're not left wondering who this gift is for. "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…" (John 3:16)
And by his incarnation—becoming fully human on that first Christmas—so he could live under the law and keep it perfectly in our place, so he could go to the cross, suffer hell and die in our place, he redeemed us from all our wickedness, purified us, and made us his own! What a great gift of Christmas past!
II. Of Christmas Present
And what a huge impact this gift has every day of our lives! It's not a gift that sits on the shelf unused. It's not something we can use for a season and then goes into storage. God's gift of Christmas continues to bless us every day now in the present. Paul says, "Jesus Christ… gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good."
After the three ghosts visited Ebenezer Scrooge, he was a changed man. He was no longer stingy and miserly, but generous and kind-hearted. Why? Well, mostly because he was scared into changing by these ghostly apparitions. It's the same motivation many push today. Think of the lyrics of another Christmas carol: "You'd better watch out. You'd better not cry. You'd better not pout. I'm telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town." Now I know it's meant to be just a fun song, but did you get the tone of the song? It's one big threat! You'd better behave or else! Don't act up or no presents for you, just a lump of coal! You'd better be generous and kind, Mr. Scrooge, or you'll die a sad, lonely death and go to torment.
God's gift of Christmas completely changes us from miserly and selfish to generous and kind. But it does it in a much better way than the ghosts changed Scrooge. It does it without threats of the law. We're motivated by thanksgiving. We're "eager to do what is good."
When you open your presents under the tree and get that perfect gift that you really wanted, what's your natural reaction? You can't help but say, "Thank you! Thank you!" to the person who gave it. That's how God's Christmas gifts impact our present. When we're reminded of God's gift of salvation when he comes to us today in his Word and in the Sacraments, we can't help but say "Thank you."
And Paul tells us how we do that: We "…say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…" When we're tempted to be lazy at work, we remember how hard Jesus worked for us—even going to the cross and to hell for us—and we say "no" to that laziness and work faithfully in thanks to him. When we're tempted to withhold forgiveness from someone who's hurt us, we remember how Jesus has forgiven us for all of our sins and say "no" to that grudge and gladly forgive in thanks to Jesus. When we're tempted to be malcontent with the blessings God's given we remember all the blessings we have—the peace with God that we have—and say "no" to greed and give thanks to God. God's gift of Christmas present—the grace he gives us every day teaches us "to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…"
III. Of Christmas Future
And finally, one day soon, we'll receive God's gift of Christmas future. Paul says we live "...godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…"
The gifts that the changed Ebenezer Scrooge gave to the Cratchit family and to charity wouldn't last. The turkey would be eaten and gone, the money given would be spent. Similarly, the presents we give and receive under the tree won't really last either. The cookies and the candies will all be eaten. The toys will eventually break. The clothes will become worn out or outgrown. But God's Christmas gifts to us won't ever run out, but will continue to an eternal future.
"We wait for the blessed hope," Paul says. But you know that this hope is more than our typical hopes that are so uncertain. "I hope I get that new gadget for Christmas. I hope I get a raise in the new year. I hope I recover from this illness." No. Our hope in Christ is certain.
We know that every promise of God is as good as done. He promised to send a Savior and he did. He promised to forgive our sins and he has. He promised he'll come again and he will. We know he will appear again in glory to take us to be with him. And what a glorious future that will be! A future without end!
And so, dear friends, we don't need to fear the end of the world. We don't need to fear death. We don't need to grieve the death of our loved ones in the same way as others who grieve without hope. And we don't need to fear the uncertainties of tomorrow. God has promised to work all things for our good—even our pain and sorrow—until he takes us to heaven. He's promised that "our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18) And with this blessed hope—this certain hope—we are joyful, even when we're in pain. We know that at "the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" all sorrow and pain will cease and every tear will be wiped from our eyes.
Brothers and sisters, rejoice this Christmas Day in God's gifts of Christmas past—the salvation he brings to all—of Christmas present—teaching us to live godly lives—and of Christmas future—the certain hope of glory with him. And may these great gifts to you, move you to no longer be selfish and miserly, but loving and kind and selfless as you thank him for his Christmas gifts. In Jesus' name, amen.