For the grace of God has appeared. This statement from our Epistle in Titus 2:11 explain the message of Christmas perfectly. God’s bestowing of grace to us was not just words. His Word was backed up with the reality of the gracious appearing of His Son to save the World at Christmas. Christianity is a religion that has presence or Incarnation at the center. Without the presence of Jesus Christ to be born as the rest of humanity, to live a life as the rest of humanity, to suffer as the rest of humanity, and to die as the rest of humanity, we would be nothing. Without the presence of Jesus Christ to live perfectly according to the Law and to be present to withstand all the temptations perfectly we are unable to resist, we would be nothing. Without the presence of Jesus Christ to defeat death and be raised up in a glorified body to pave the way for us to be raised, we would be nothing. Without the presence of Jesus Christ, very man and very God, in the ascension to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, we would be nothing. We need the presence, the appearing of the grace of God in Christ. From His birth to His current presence at the right hand of God the Father as King to His presence in us as His people, we know His grace is with us. This morning as we give our time through our presence to Christ as most important in worshipping Him on His birthday above all other human institutions and customs, let us meditate on the message of Christmas through the lens of our Epistle from Titus 2.
First as we read in Titus 2:12 is Christ’s presence to train us in His graceful love, “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly live in the present age.” Renouncing ungodliness is a daily act in and through submission to Jesus Christ. Renouncing ungodliness is known through what is outlined in Holy Scripture. We have to identify where evil is in our lives and call it out in the name of Christ through renouncement. This is called repentance. This involves presence as well, not just something we “say.” It means we ask the Lord’s help and grace to remove ourselves from participating in all ungodliness. Yet, at times we lose sight when we slip into sins we may have problems with to the point we justify them. This is where the Church comes into importance, the presence of fellow members of the Church to help one another “see” when blinded to sin. Renouncing in the name of Christ must be daily. God through the presence of the Holy Spirit enables us and assists us to renounce daily.
The same is true of worldly passions. Now, these can tend to be a little tougher as they do not seem as “bad” as some of the more blatant forms of ungodliness such as sexual immorality, drunkenness, taking the name of the Lord in vain, and so forth. When we participate in worldly passions such as gossip, slander, anger, and so forth, we choose to be present with the way the world operates than to submit to Christ in how He calls us to live. Since the manifestations of the passions of this world are not necessarily physical, we are called to ask for the grace of God to help us give these all to Christ. Renouncing all of these is to repent of the areas of the passions we know we fall victim to from time to time in life. Again, this is only possible in submission TO Christ.
It is to replace our presence in participating in these passions with godly passions and love such as encouragement, edification, exhortation, and admonition. God’s grace to help us renounce ungodliness and worldly passions leads us to live self controlled, upright, and godly lives in our present lives. This is the way of holiness as described in Isaiah 35. This is the fear of the Lord being clean as described in Psalm 19. This is to order our lives in letting the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts always being acceptable in God’s sight as our rock and redeemer from Psalm 19.
Waiting for our blessed hope
This manner of Christ training us brings us to what submission to His training looks like in Titus 2:13, “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” We often fail in the training because we take such upon ourselves with the mindset that we have the power and strength to renounce evil and live in godliness. Rather, we are called to constantly pray for such help. Such praying entails patience, waiting on the Lord.
When we become impatient, we will force things and we will revert to worldly passions and ungodliness. The key here is the appearing of Christ. This is why the Christian Year is so important. In Advent, we remember the preparations for the first Advent or appearing of Christ to be born on Christmas Day. In such, we now wait through preparing for His Second Advent, His second appearing to judge the living and the dead, to raise us up in glorified bodies. This takes preparing every day of our lives in submitting to the reminding we need through Holy Scripture, the Church, worship, preaching, and the Church Year. Yes, waiting is difficult. It is difficult because preparation is difficult.
There is a difference here between passive waiting and active waiting on the Lord. Passive waiting is to be indifferent to the commands of Christ to renounce worldly passions and ungodliness, whether all of them or just the ones we do not want to let go of in our lives. Active waiting is to see all we say and do in Christ through submission to Him in renouncing through repentance ungodliness and worldly passions as necessary preparation for His second appearing in glory. Often, we just want to skip preparation to jump to the main event. In such, we will find ourselves not ready nor even understanding of our need for Christ. A lot of preparation involves learning why doing something is important in the first place and then how it is accomplished. This connects us to our last point, how Christ and His finished work accomplished at the Cross-, enables us to live in Him through submission to Him.
Gave Himself for us
Titus 3:14 places all of this in the context of Jesus Christ’s presence in our lives and history to make all of these exhortations possible, even as we fall short as we all do, “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Christ purifies us through His death upon the Cross, paying for the just penalty we all deserve for our ungodliness and worldly passions … finally for all eternity.
He redeems us from these things. On this side of eternity as we celebrate all the feasts of redemption, the realities of redemption, we experience the not yet of daily living, that sin is still present in us. God through sanctification shows us everyday how Christ has defeated these sins for us to renounce and repent. Waiting on Him in patience is to apply His redemption of our sins to the sins in our lives that are exposed by His light. The command in this is not to justify our sins to continue in them, but to call them out through renouncement and repentance. The “presence” of this manifests itself through the call for all Christians to daily practice and submit to repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation through the help of the Holy Spirit. We are not called to make it “look” like we have it all together. No, we are called to admit we do not have it all together and that we need to daily cry out for the Lord’s help and the help of each other to live Christ.
Jesus purifies for Himself His Church as His own possession, His Body the Church. We do not do this through approaching purification as if it is something we earn and merit through our grit and determination. No, it is admitting we do not have it all together and desperately need His grace in this present age. We do this through asking for the help that these sins not get the dominion over us as we read in Psalm 19:13. We do this through clinging to Christ through His Body the Church that He has done all in our presence perfectly to redeem us … giving us as we read in Isaiah 35:10 everlasting joy and gladness to drive away sadness and sighing. Presence in the Body of Christ is crucial. Presence means participation just as Jesus participated in all things we endure and through in life. Without participatory presence, accountability is non-existent. Without participatory presence, growth is non-existent. Without participatory presence, joy in Christ that it is finished in Him is non-existent.
St. Paul concludes our passage in Titus 2 with this in verse 15, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” We do not do this in hypocrisy. No, we do it from the standpoint that we repent of our ungodliness and worldly passions. We do it through daily waiting on the blessed hope in the return of Christ through preparing His way. We do it through submitting to God’s work of sanctifying grace to slowly chip away at our efforts to hold onto ungodliness, worldly passions, and delusions that we can save ourselves. The message of Christmas is that the grace of God has appeared in Jesus Christ our Lord, “without spot of sin, to make us clean from all sin.” Amen.