10.23.11 Celebrating Christmas Ephesians 4:17-5:2 Sermon Notes
Christ has come, and it’s supposed to make a difference. Those who go to worship at Christmas remember that. But what about all those who don’t? If it doesn’t make a difference for us, it will never make a difference for them.
- Comparison of people of faith with those of non-faith
- Four ways we can cultivate faith in our lives
- Why it especially matters at Christmas
The letter to the Ephesians uses the word “Gentile” to refer both to non-Jews who have been reconciled with Jews as recipients of God’s promises, and people who live without faith. This passage compares “Gentiles” who do not have faith with the believers around Ephesus who do.
On one hand (verses 17-19), Gentiles are “futile” in their thinking and “darkened” in their understanding. Their hearts are “hard.” Ephesians 4 characterizes them as “sensual” and “greedy.”
On the other hand (verses 20-24), people of faith are those who have “put off the old self” and “put on the new.” They are people who replace their “deceitful desires” for “righteousness and holiness” because they are created—or better, recreated—in God’s image.
In general terms, Ephesians 4:25-32 lists some behaviors that characterize the community of faith. We are supposed to be:
- Truth tellers (25)
- Peacemakers (26, 31)
- Honest workers (28)
- Generous to the needy (28)
- Encouraging (29)
- Kind, compassionate, and forgiving (32)
Later chapters in Ephesians list characteristics that are more specific to their time. But these characteristics from chapter 4 are more timeless and independent of culture. This is important as we prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, because so much of our activity at Christmas is driven not by what characterizes people of faith, but rather by what characterizes people of non-faith. In other words, our Christmas celebrations are more sensual and greedy than generous to the needy.
Where can we begin to cultivate attitudes and activities that appropriately celebrate Christmas this year? In other words, How can we grow as people of faith? Ephesians 4 offers four starting points.
- Remembering our oneness in Christ (verse 25). It is primarily in the celebration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper that we remember, enact, and effect our oneness in Christ. Living according to the truth of our oneness in Christ will guide us in how to celebrate Christmas appropriately.
- Acquiring a new mindset (verses 20-22). Being a disciple of Christ isn’t something we’re born with. It’s something we have to learn. We learn it through study and service. Christ’s “Great Commission” of Matthew 28 tells us to “make disciples of all nations (those Gentiles who don’t have faith), baptizing them and teaching them.” In other words, becoming better disciples through the sacraments and learning will guide us in our Christmas celebration.
- Becoming more sensitive to the Spirit (verses 19, 30). Ephesians contrasts people of non-faith as “having lost all sensitivity,” whereas people of faith are not to “grieve the Holy Spirit.” One way to become more sensitive to the Spirit is to pray in a silent, open, listening way. Another is to read Scripture in this same open, listening spirit. This will make us soft- instead of hard- hearted, and we will celebrate Christmas more appropriately.
- Meditating on God’s example (verses 4:32-5:1). Perhaps the best way to grow in our faith is the same as beginning our faith, namely to look at God’s revelation in Christ. In Christ, God reveals his kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. The more deeply we meditate on Christ, the more like Christ we will become, and the more appropriate our celebration of Christ’s coming will be.
Every Sunday is a mini-celebration of Easter. If we miss it or mess it up, there’s another Sunday coming soon. But we only celebrate Christmas once a year. Let’s make it count this year. For if we miss it or mess it up, we (and those watching us) have to wait a whole year to do it again. Let’s appropriately celebrate Christmas by avoiding sensuality and greed and by giving generously to those in need.
Questions for Further Reflection and Discussion
- How can the gifts you give this Christmas reflect your faith, rather than reflecting a person who has no faith?
- Which one characteristic of people of faith (verses 4:25-32) would you like to see enlarged in your life? What can you do to assist the Spirit in this work?
- Decide now that the way you celebrate Christmas will be as a response to the gift God gives at Christmas. What will that look like in terms of your activities, spending, and attitudes?