Tuesday, December 24, 2019

"All" Year A, Christmas Eve, Titus 2.11-14, Luke 2.1-14 [15-20]

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.  .  .
Dare we believe in a love so deep, so broad, so high?
A love so lavishly given that there is no one beyond its reach.
Dare we believe in a God who so loved the world that he would come to us, not in power and glory, but weak, vulnerable, and lying in a manger as a little baby?
Dare we believe in a God who would empty himself and become obedient even unto death on a Cross?
Dare we believe in God, at all?
And is that in which we DO believe, truly God?

There is something about the Christmas Story that we lose, after hearing it throughout our lives.
It is so familiar.  We take it for granted. 
And yet there is this question mark hanging over it, and that question, is the question of belief.
“How can this be?”
“Born of the Virgin Mary” our creeds declare.
Born of a Virgin, free from all sin, Child of God.
For many this is a stumbling block. 
And it certainly was for Mary as well.  “How can this be?”  She would ask.  “How can this be?”

That question, how can this be?, would not, will not, go away.
A census.  An unscheduled trip back home to Bethlehem.
And a make shift shelter among the animals in the stable.
The Word made flesh.
God incarnate.
And there was no room for him in the inn.  Just in a cattle stall.
How can this be?

Humble shepherds, asleep on a hill side.
Angelic messengers filling the night sky.
"Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
I haven’t personally seen an angel.  There are people whom I have known who have been to me, angelic.   Their words were of God.  Their love touched me.
But to look up and see the sky full of the heavenly host, praising God and shouting out for joy. . .
Nope, haven’t witnessed that.
What a contrast.
Shepherds and Angels.
The one so common, so ordinary, so everyday.
The other so extraordinary.  So uncommon. So “I’ve never seen anything like it.” 
How can that be?
I don’t know what is more remarkable.
That angels were present at Jesus’ birth, or shepherds.
How can that be?

They saw a star in the East and journeyed from afar.
Wisemen.  Magi.  Perhaps astronomers.  Certainly foreigners.
They came bearing gifts fit for a king.
The star led them.  The star led them.
Lost in the wonder of such a night is this simple statement, “the star led them”.
How can that be?
Again, I don’t know what is more difficult to believe.
That three wise men from the east would come to greet Jesus at his birth?
Or that they would do so at the beaconing of a star.
And how can a star, a real star, lead them to a place, one house in Bethlehem?
How can this be?
But for all the questions we might come up with, for all the things that challenge our sense of how things should be, it’s that first question that reasonates with me.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.  .  .
Dare we believe in a love so deep, so broad, so high?
“O love, how deep, how broad, how high!
How passing thought and fantasy,
that God, the Son of God, should take
our mortal form for mortals' sake!”
Gathered around the manger this evening is not only Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men.
Singing God’s praises are not just the angels.
But every living thing as the whole creation shouts for joy.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.  .  .
How can this be?
We struggle with this.
That God’s grace might cover all.

Our human nature demands that there must be winners and losers.  Some who will be saved and some who will not.  And that somehow, what we do, makes the difference.
But grace is of God, not of us.
Grace is about what God is doing in Christ Jesus, not about something we must do.
Anytime we talk about  what we must do to inherit eternal life we are no longer talking about the grace of God, and the salvation that God has created through Christ Jesus.
When we talk about what we must do, we are talking about the righteousness of the law, in which we, by our own actions become righteous.
But we cannot.
Paul writes in Romans:
"There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
there is no one who has understanding,
there is no one who seeks God.  (Romans 3:10-11)
No one can do this.
That’s what the Bible says.
No one.
Yet WE say that salvation belongs to those who seek God.
That salvation requires our correct understanding and belief.
And that only those who repent and live righteously can be saved.
But the Bible says that since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;  they are now justified by his grace as a gift.  (Romans 3: 23)
“A gift.”
How can this be?
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.  .  .
That is the most unbelievable dimension of the Christmas story.
That God so loved the world that his grace would appear in the form of the baby lying in the manger, and that through that one, small, vulnerable child, all might be saved.
But we can’t handle it.
Every time the Bible says “all”, we want to say “some”.
There will be some reading this sermon online that will scream out at me for even suggesting that Christ brought “salvation to all”.
The thing though, is that’s what the Bible says. 
The Bible.  God’s word.  Not mine.
Could it be that God’s grace is deeper, broader, higher that we can ever imagine.
And would Jesus be any less God if he was able to accomplish what the Bible says he accomplished, namely bringing salvation to “all”?
How can this be?
The miracle of Christmas, and of Jesus, is grace.  And love.  And God’s gift.
The miracle of Christmas is not about virgin birth, or guiding stars, or angelic hosts.
The miracle of Christmas is about the salvation of our God.
Two words to meditate on this Christmas.
And “All.”
When we grasp those words, we will grasp the marvel of God’s grace and love and salvation.

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