For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. [NRSA: Titus 2:11-14]
“Open House for Christmas”
Some of my earliest memories of Christmas Eve have been shared with church families from around the state: Cliftondale, Forest Park, Eatonton, Breman, Oxford, Elberton, Emerson, Gainesville, Covington, Atlanta, Fairburn, Blue Ridge, Jackson, and now Rock Spring. Every Christmas Eve of my life I have spent in church. Other churches opened their doors on Christmas Eve before my memory. So here we are in 2020 with our virtual doors open on a messy, cold, and windy night. It seems fitting to experience Christmas Eve in 2020 in ways that are less than ideal as a reflection of the reality we have shared this year.
One of my favorite years was the open house at the parsonage in Eatonton, Mom had not only had us baking, cleaning, and decorating for the congregation to come to the house between the two Christmas Eve services, we were suppose to be singing and remembering lines for a Christmas program that year. Anxiety levels were high. Christmas joy was not in sight. It was simply busy business and far from celebrating Jesus.
The note that mom had left on the hand towels that afternoon was not removed when the doors opened for the neighbors, friends, and congregation. All through the evening guest at snacks, toured the collection of nativity scenes in every room of the house, they also made mini pilgrimages to the guest bathroom. After the events of the evening were over Mom was in the guest bathroom and let out a horrible scream. She found her own note that had not been moved: “Keep you damn nasty off the towels.” For years people asked if we every dried our hands on those towels.
But that year, was moment, we had to ask what was more important, the festivities or faith? This entire year has been a testing of our faith in God, in our society, in our neighbors and with one another.
Our Need to See God is Open for Business
Titus in those early days of the church also needed to be reminded: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
- Grace has appeared in acts of service and kindness that we have shone through one other.
- Sometimes we, myself surely included, have missed important opportunities, but we have also learned how important our faith, our ministries, our loving-kindness is needed.
- Tomorrow begins our season of Christ; of giving birth and rebirth of the hope, joy, love, grace, and salvation Christ has promised, delivered, and continues to reveal.
Titus was weary and needed to hear it; so do we.
Titus needing encouragement and training to decern Godliness from worldliness. This season of pandemic and political carnage reminds us that we need to encourage, train, and retrain one another in the areas of self-control, righteousness, and what is Godly, while we wait for hope to be revealed.
Most of us, have the idea of what we will do when we do not have the pandemic to deal with every day.
- This is a goal, but are not there yet, and do not have specific end date. We are living in a time of waiting.
This parallels our waiting for Christ. We do not just put off being good and righteous until Jesus shows up. We are called to share the gospel even in the waiting. Share the hope because we have not arrived at the promised land. Share grace because we are surrounded by fear, greed, lies, and lawlessness.
- Christmas comes for Mary and Joseph at an inopportune time.
- It messes up their plans and dreams.
- It changes their lives forever.
- We can say the same of the era in which we find ourselves.
This year, 2020 Christmas is more than a story retold
Christmas is the challenge to see Christ revealed, his love birthed in the darkest night, in the threatening doom, in the weariness and apparent free reign of what is evil and broken.
We are being called to share Jesus NOW, in the middle of the mess, in times of uncertainty and division, in unsettle times, for these very reasons:
It is Christ, himself, that redeems, restores, renews, and makes us right, true, and whole.
Titus needed to hear it: “He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”
This Christmas and with every day, we can unwrap the mysteries of faith, sing the joy of the Gospel, share the Good News, EVEN for world that driven inward and fleeing from God.
- We can sing the hymns, carols, and songs of faith that break through the dark of the night.
- We are lift high the light of Christ when all around us is vile, empty, or dark.
- We share gifts of kindness all year long, but especially when we are so sequestered and separated.
Being Zealous for Good, for God, for Christmas
Zeal is great energy, enthusiasm, and passion in pursuit of a cause or an objective.
- Our cause is Christ and our objective is to let his light shine through all we do.
- Where you hear fear, hate, and lies: Stand up and speak hope, love and truth
- Where you see despair, empty, and want: Show acts of hope, fullness and wholeness
- Where you know patterns of behavior, poor-choices, and sin: Give and Seek help to make good habits
- Where you are tired, frustrated, and afraid, Give yourself to the Christ again, and again
- Where you are lost, seek God’s spirit to Guide
- Where you are broken, give yourself to restored in God.
And here are on a hallowed night:
- Tonight and tomorrow, practice telling each other you are glad you have time share the love of Christ in new and creative ways. – yes, we miss some traditions, but our calling, our Christ is not on vacation.
- Tonight and tomorrow, unwrap the scriptures, open your hearts in prayer, sing your strongest chorus and celebrate Christ’s arrival and revealing in your life now. – not just when things get easier or more familiar.
- Tonight go to sleep anticipating what God has planned, hoped, and dreamed your Christmas will be.
- Tonight rest in the peace that Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection have given and will give all who claim life in him.
- Tonight know Christ is with us, call us to give hope and life to the world in its darkest hour.
- Tonight Christ lives in you, and me, connecting with a world that hungers and thirsts for Christ.
- Tomorrow is a day of Zeal, Passion, Beginning, and tonight is our anticipation of that gift made whole in for us.