Titus 3:4-7 & Luke 2:8-20

Christmas Eve 2021

What are you like at wrapping presents? I’m okay, but not fancy. I can do the standard box shape, three bits of sellotape and you’re there. If you want each end to look exactly the same, or a fancy bow, then you’ll need to find someone else to do your wrapping. And to be fair, I don’t do much of the present wrapping in our house. Do you ever have that thing when you order something on line, and it arrives, but you don’t think it can be the thing you ordered because the package is so big. You open it, and dig through all the packaging to find a small thing in a very big box. On the other end of the spectrum, some people seem to be experts at packing in an awful lot into a very small space. When we move house, I’m always amazed at the way in which the movers do this 3D tetris in their heads to work out how to get the contents of a house into a lorry.

It seems to me that the verses we read in Titus this evening are a bit like that lorry, or a parcel packed by an expert packer. There is just so much in there. It’s a bit like the Tardis, bigger on the inside than on the outside. So how can we unpack it this Christmas Eve, and once we’ve done some unpacking is there anything that is particularly relevant for us as we celebrate Jesus’ birth, and look forward to the new year.

The first thing to deal with is the, “But”. The first word of this passage. But. It implies that there is a link between what is about to be written, and what has just been written. We can’t get a full understanding of this if we don’t understand that connection. Whenever we read a, “but”, or a “therefore” we have to go back a bit.

So, in the verses leading up to this, Titus has been describing the state of the Christians he’s writing to before they knew Jesus. He says that they were, “foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved, living in malice and envy, being hated and hating.” He doesn’t pull any punches. And he includes himself, he says, “we were like this”. This is the mess we were in. But when…. We’ve had the reminder of the bad news, so here comes the reminder of the good news.

I wonder if you have any friends or family who use too much sellotape. You know the ones. You come to unwrap the present from them and you just can’t get into it. It’s so wrapped up. When I first looked at these verses from Titus, I felt a bit like that. I didn’t know where to start, but then as I read it, three themes started to emerge for me. What God is like, what God has done, and what we’ve received.

Let’s start with what God is like. What words in these verses describe God? Let’s go through – verse 4- kindness and love, verse 5 – mercy, verse 6 – generous, verse 7 – grace. Kindness, love, mercy, generosity, and grace. That is what God is like. I wonder if that’s the picture or understanding of God that we have? There’s a children’s song that was on a CD that we used to play in the car on long journeys were little that I really like. It’s called, “What is your God like” The first verse goes, “Does the Lord make you sad, does He make you really mad, does He worry you and fill you with despair? Is He full of lies and greed, does he keep what you need, does He laugh at you and say He doesn’t care?

And then the chorus is. “No Way! He is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, rich in love, always good to all, compassionate to all that He has made.”

This is what the Bible tells us God is like. This is what Jesus showed us God is like. That’s one of the reasons he came to live among us, as we celebrate at Christmas, so that he could show us what God is like. This is not to say that life is always shiny happy when we Christians, or that our relationship with God is always easy, but I believe that we can trust in God’s character, what God is like, in the good times and the hard times. Sometimes our mental image, our picture, our understanding of who God is needs a bit of a revisit, and chewing over these verses over Christmas and into the New Year might be a really good way of doing that.

So, now, we’ve got a good idea of what God is like. But what do these verses say God has done?

Let’s go through again. Verse 4 – appeared. Verse 5 – saved. Verse 6 – poured. Verse 7 – justified. God has appeared, saved, poured, and justified.
The first thing for us to notice is that these are all given in the past tense. These are things that God has done in the past – they are completed actions.

God appeared (well, yes, strictly speaking it says that the kindness and love of God appeared – but I think we can take that as short hand for the coming of Jesus to earth) This is what happened at the first Christmas – God appeared on earth. Jesus came, as we’ve already said, so that we could experience what God is like. Jesus is God’s love and kindness in physical reality.

God saved. Jesus did come to show us what God is like, what God’s love is like, not just in the way he lived but also in the way he died. John famously writes, “God loved the world in this way, that he sent his Son that any who believe in him may not die, but have eternal life”. Jesus has rescued us from the guilt and shame of all the things that we have done wrong. He has saved us from the death that is the consequence of our rejection of God. The last thing he said on the cross was, “It is finished”. Everything that needed to be done, has been done. Our rescue is complete, we just need to step into it.
God poured out his Spirit. This happened for the first time at Pentecost, when the first followers of Jesus received the promised power from God to tell of the great deeds of God. It was a permanent change in the relationship between the Holy Spirit and God’s people. The Spirit has been poured out, and has not been unpoured.

God justified us. We are made right with God, not because of us earning it, or because we deserve it, or because we have worked hard at it. It is the free gift of God. Two cheesy ways of remembering what unusual Christian words mean. Justified. It is just as if I’d never done anything wrong. Grace – God’s riches at Christ’s expense. It’s like I said a moment ago. Jesus has done everything that needed doing to put us right with God – he has paid the price, and now it’s just as if I’d never done anything wrong.

So, that is what God has done, because that is what God is like. But these verses are a present that just keeps on giving. There is more to unwrap. Because of what God has done, because of what God is like, we have received some things.

Let’s go through again to find out what. Verse 5: rebirth, and renewal. Verse 6: the Holy Spirit. Verse 7: an inheritance and the hope of eternal life.

I quoted John 3 a moment ago, and I’m going to go back there. Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, and he says, “you need to be born again of the Spirit”. Titus is reminding us of this conversation. We have a new life in Jesus, and the only way to enter a life is to be born. At Christmas we celebrate the new life of Jesus on earth, that he was born into. In Jesus we too are offered new life, which we are born into by the Holy Spirit.

We are born into families. Jesus was born into the family of Mary and Joseph. As he grew he gained brothers and sisters. When we are born again, we are born anew into God’s family. We become heirs of God’s kingdom – who have a royal inheritance. John puts it like this in the introduction to his gospel, “to all who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” So, if we receive Jesus and believe in his name – which means “God saves”, so if we acknowledge that we need rescue, and that we trust Jesus for that rescue, then we are children of God, born on the Spirit of God. And as members of the family, we look forward with confident expectation to life in our family – eternal life.

So, as we celebrate Jesus’ birth, as we come to communion to remember his death and resurrection, let’s hold on to what Titus has to say to us about who God is, what God has done, and what we have received – the best Christmas present of all.

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