Sermon by Kenneth Padley 25th December 2020
Readings: Titus 3.4-7, Luke 2.8-16
How do you shape your Christmas? How do you make this time of year really special? Lots of people are asking such questions this year because of having to do Christmas differently.
Decorations are clearly important for some. Plenty of houses seemed to get their deccies up right at the beginning of December, trying to bring colour amid a year of sadness.
Others use Christmas songs to shape the season. I’m not talking here about carols but the sort of music that gets pumped into supermarkets to make you buy more sprouts and brandy butter. I really haven’t found much meaning in these songs this year and have even found myself rewriting a few. For example I’d love to hear covers of:
That said, it would be a good year for a re-release of
‘… Since we’ve no place to go / Let it snow…’
Even more important than the decorations and songs, many people shape their Christmas by getting together with friends and family. This has been the particular disappointment of the last week, hasn’t it, especially since the government set out in the autumn to ‘save’ Christmas. This was their big mistake. As so often, government got things the wrong way round. To think that we can save Christmas is silly – because Christmas is part of how God saves us.
Remember what we heard in that first reading to Titus: ‘when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us’. As Christians we believe that Jesus restores men women and children to our destiny of eternal life with him, and that this is something which Jesus does through his life and death and resurrection. We usually connect this theme of being saved with Jesus’ death on Good Friday and return to life at Easter. But, of course, the rescue mission began when Jesus was born. If he hadn’t been born as one of us, he wouldn’t have lived and died and defeated death as one of us. This is why Christmas is the second most important festival of the year and why the letter to Titus links salvation to the arrival of Jesus: ‘When the loving-kindness of our Saviour appeared, he saved us.’
So God came down to earth in order to lift us up to heaven. Some people take this idea too far and say that God became human so that humans might become God. I don’t believe this. We can’t become God. This is because God can’t change – broken humans like you and me can’t turn into the perfect God. However, we can receive many heavenly gifts, in this world and the next. At Christmas, God opens the door to this opportunity.
That is why the letter to Titus continues, ‘he saved us… through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.’ That’s a long sentence. Let me unpack it a little. What the letter is saying is that Christmas is vital to the way in which God puts things right, brings us back to his loving arms. That’s what this Bible word (used in the letter to Titus) ‘grace’ is all about. Grace is a gift which we don’t deserve. It is God’s love which we can never earn. In love, God reaches out to draw our hearts back to his – even before we realise what God is doing.
Flowing from this, the Letter to Titus warns us against relying too much on our own resources. We must not strive so much: ‘he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy.’
So grace comes to us from above, the gift which puts us right with God. We accept the gift when we believe in Jesus, and the effect of this process, the letter tells us, is that we become ‘heirs … of eternal life’.
I think this message to Titus is really relevant to where we find ourselves. 2020 has been a year in which we have had to do less and to really rely on one another. So let’s not big ourselves up about what we can do or deserve. Remember that the news about Jesus is brought to Mary and to Joseph, and in today’s gospel to the shepherds. The gift is brought and they receive: poor, humble and rejoicing, running with haste to see the great thing which has been told them.
It is so easy to get frustrated by the passivity of 2020. But let’s make the most of doing less by making connections to those biblical Christmas values of grace and gratitude.
Christmas is not the lunch and luxury which we think we must save. It is the saving gift which comes to us – more priceless and life-changing than the vaccine, yet at a cost to you and me of not a single penny. So as you unwrap your presents, rejoice in the most important Gift, and ask not what you can do for Christmas, but what Christmas does for you.