But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
According to His Mercy
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Let me begin by wishing you all a very merry and blessed Christmas! Ordinarily, I would not say Merry Christmas until Christmas, but tonight is our celebration of the holiday as a congregation, so tonight is when we celebrate. We celebrate Peace on earth, goodwill to men. We celebrate "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord." We celebrate Immanuel, which means "God with us": God come among men as a man, to live with us and for us, and to die in our place to redeem us. Our text looks at the celebration without staring into the manger tonight. It is the Epistle lesson appointed for the Second Christmas day, December 26th, actually. I chose it because we almost never hear it, and it is one of my favorite Bible passages, and we don't usually celebrate the Second Christmas Day in the modern Church. I took our sermon theme from the passage, which reminds us that our Christmas - as well as our Easter and our salvation, is according to His mercy.
Paul writes, "when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us". The first thing Paul mentions here, in this letter to Titus, his student whom he left behind in Crete to pastor the congregation there, is the kindness of God. God is not often viewed by man as kind. He is usually viewed with fear and suspicion. But God had planned our salvation, and when Jesus came, the goodwill of God towards us, His desire to save us became evident in Jesus. The "love for mankind" mentioned here is the Greek word "philanthropy". The love for mankind shown here is greater than our modern understanding of "philanthropy", simply sharing some wealth with those in need - although that is one way to look at the Gospel. This Philanthropy is true love of friendship from God toward man. Nothing shows that love of friendship better than what Jesus did: for, "A greater love has no man than this, that He lay down His life for His friends."
When that kindness and friendship made itself evident, God our Savior saved us. He didn't send a servant, or a stand-in. He loved us so much He came to do the job Himself. After all, they say if you want the job done right, do it yourself. So God saved us, which raises the question: what is He saving us from? The answer: Ourselves - and our sins and the justice due to us for rejecting Him and life and choosing death and pleasure or personal agendas of the moment over all the good He would give to us.
That is what Adam and Eve did in the garden. They chose themselves, their will and their agendas and their moment of pleasure over the will of God and the plans for blessings and life from God. Of course, they did not fully recognize that this was what they were doing. They were deceived. They were rebellious, and they were willing to be deceived, and they were not of a mind to allow God to make their choices for them, and so they sinned.
We are the same. Our culture is a huge demonstration that we individually serve ourselves first, and everything and anything else second. As we cast personal liberty aside for womb to the tomb government providing for us, we show that same haste to do what seems advantageous without ever considering the reality of it or the cost - those unintended consequences. It demonstrates that we choose without considering the cost - and yet the cost must be paid, even if we do not know what the price is which we have accepted by our decisions. Crime in the streets, welfare abuse run amok, Islamic terrorism, inflation, HIV and STD's epidemic in our nation, child abuse and sexual deviancy becoming mainstream - these problems are not the fault of the Republicans, or the Democrats - the Liberals or the conservatives. They are our fault. We - the nation of us - have made bad decisions, permitted the impermissible, and allowed ourselves to be deceived by those with other agendas because we want to promote, pamper, or pleasure ourselves first, and we do not always weigh the cost of those values, and the decisions we make pursuing them, honestly. We do not read the price-tags. And in our personal lives, we have each reflected this thing called "sin" in various ways to one degree or another by equally short-sighted and self-serving choices. That is what He saved us from - Ourselves, and our sin.
He saved us. That is the hard part to keep clear. Paul emphasizes that fundamental part of the Gospel by stressing that it was, quote, "Not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness." Somehow men and women - even in the Church - can look at the Manger in Bethlehem, the Incarnation, the entire Passion of our Lord, the Cross and everything Christ has done, and still try to make our salvation about us and our behavior, or our decisions, or our prayers. But it is not us - He saved us. Salvation began to rain down upon us in real time when Mary laid the infant Jesus in the Manger.
It was, "according to His mercy". It is that "kindness of God" thing again. The word we usually use is "grace", you know, God's choices for God's own reasons, with no particular factor being found in us at all. He saved us because He wanted to - theologians say it is because of who He is, and that may be true, but the Bible says it is because He wanted to - because of His great love for us - a love which we clearly do not deserve and have not earned. So, He saved us.
"[B]y the washing of regeneration". Notice how the entire work of Christ is simply rolled up into the words, "He saved us". The cross is not explicitly mentioned, nor the tomb, or the resurrection - not even the manger scene. It all folds up into the one thing - God's great love which caused Him to save us. But, while the work was accomplished back then, it is attached to individuals one by one. It is there and purchased and won and free, and yet we cannot grasp it or choose it. We must be chosen and it must be applied to us - poured out on us and stuck to us somehow - that is how He saved each of us, once He had purchase that salvation for us. He poured it out on us, "by the washing of regeneration".
We were born again - regenerated - by Baptism - by the washing of regeneration. That is the purpose and power of Baptism. It is the washing that puts us to death with Jesus on the cross and raises us to new life in is resurrection on Easter. That is precisely what Paul describes in Romans, chapter 6. And every bit of it is according to His mercy.
Of course, as Luther said in the Catechism, "It is not the water indeed that does this, but the Word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such Word of God in the water." We were born again by the power of the Word, which is the power of the Holy Spirit - which Paul tells us in our text is the power at work here in our salvation. He calls Baptism a "washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit." We are renewed - made new again - by the Holy Spirit by this 'sacramental' washing.
And this Holy Spirit is poured out on us richly - abundantly - through Jesus Christ, our Savior. Our Lord pours out His Holy Spirit in this Baptism. We don't receive just the bare minimum, either. We receive richly - I like that word - we receive the Holy Spirit in abundance. We have all that we need, and more, to be the people of God and to accomplish the things God has planned for us to accomplish.
He does have things for us to accomplish you know. He told us that they were there - although He doesn't tell us specifically what they are for each one of us. Ephesians 2, verses 8 and 9 are favorites to quote: "By grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not on the basis of works, so that no one should boast." But verse 10 is just as true, just as much the Word of God, and just as important, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared beforehand , that we should walk in them." God has planned things for us to accomplish, and placed the specific things in the paths of each of us to discover in life - and then do. This is also part of the work of the Holy Spirit who is poured out on us - that we find and accomplish the works of God's choosing, set in our paths by His planning.
But these works do not save us. They are the works that we do as the children of God and because we are the children of God. They are according to His mercy, as well. Our Christmas Epistle reminds us that we are justified by grace - which means it is a gift. Our works, even as Christians, are often impure and done for sinful motives, but we are justified - declared holy and righteous and deserving of God's love and of eternal life - because of Jesus Christ: His holiness, His suffering and death on our behalf, and His resurrection, which proclaims the sufficiency of the payment to satisfy the justice of God on our behalf. Because of Him, we are declared righteous and holy and fit for glory with Him. It is the gift, given for no other reason than the grace of God - His choice for His reasons. Because we do not deserve it, and cannot explain why us and not another, we simply rejoice and thank God. That is part of the celebration of Christmas - Peace on earth, goodwill to men!
By this grace, we are made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. That is how Paul put it, by inspiration. Heirs inherit. We stand to inherit the hope of eternal life. It is called a hope because we do not experience it fully, and so we look eagerly forward to the full possession and realization of the hope - but it is ours. We are the heirs. Our names are in the will. Your sins are forgiven, and you have the promise of resurrection from your graves and eternal life.
And that all began, at least as far as men and women could observe it on earth, at Bethlehem. There, on the night we celebrate tonight, the impossible actually happened - robbing the word "impossible" of its meaning. A virgin girl gave birth. She gave birth to a son - scientifically impossible. She gave birth to a child that was fully human, and yet fully divine, impossible by human logic. God was busy breaking the rules - but they are only the rules of human reason and understanding. They were not the laws of God, and so breaking them was not sin, but according to His mercy.
So, Mary gave birth and angels sang. She gave birth and shepherds gathered to worship. She gave birth to Jesus and changed the world forever, because when she gave birth, the kindness of God our Savior, and His love for mankind appeared - and when it did, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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