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12.24.12 Why This Gift? Titus 2:11-14 Sermon Summary

by on December 26, 2012

One of the most bigoted statements found in the Bible comes from the same book as our Christmas Eve reading. It comes from a letter written in Paul’s name to Titus, a new pastor in Crete. Titus lives in a chaotic, godless culture. The author has this to say about Cretans: they are “always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.” (Titus 1:12)

Bigotry aside, some wonder whether we are living in a “Cretan” culture today. What with human trafficking, debilitating poverty, glorification of violence for entertainment, and horrifying violence in reality.

In Titus’ situation, the solution was rigid discipline of particular behaviors. Some of these seem odd, out of place, and even embarrassing to us today. For example, Titus requires the submission of women to men, and slaves not to talk back to their masters.

Fortunately, we in the Presbyterian Church USA believe the Bible must be interpreted. Everything must be considered in context, and we don’t advocate female submission or slavery (anymore).

Still, embedded is this contextual letter of only three chapters is an everlasting, universal truth—our passage for tonight: “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.” (Titus 2:11-14)

All of us have received presents that made us wonder why we got them. Like the present I got from my mom 15 years ago: an extension cord and a very large pair of women’s underwear. That was a little confusing. Five years ago my dad gave us a rice-cooker. No confusion there—we were expected to use it whenever he came for dinner.

Not every gift comes with a “why?” But some do. When a young man asks his girlfriend’s parents to coffee? There’s a why. When you receive an abrupt text that reads, “You’re welcome!” you’ve received a gift that came with a why. And if a gift comes with a why, you better know it.

Christ, the gift we receive at Christmas, is a gift that comes with a why. As a pastor, I know that people come to ask this “Why?” a number of ways. Some thought being a Christian meant they would never be unhappy again, and when they experience trouble, they ask “why?” Some just discover their Christian joy has left them—nothing dramatic, they just aren’t excited anymore. Why? Some have been disappointed by their church.

Some, when they look at world, conclude that it isn’t any better because of Christ, or maybe it’s even worse. However we come to it, eventually everyone asks, “Why, God? Why did you give this gift?” Is it merely as the carols say, that you are “Emmanuel,” “God is with us”? Is it merely to “save us from hell,” whatever that means, because “Jesus” means “one who saves”? Or is there more to this gift?

One reason we give gifts is to demonstrate a thought, intention, or emotion. Gifts express things we can’t express with words alone. This is why we give gifts to those we love, or out of profound gratitude, because just saying the words isn’t enough. Jesus is God’s gift. He demonstrates God’s vision, God’s dream, God’s intention for all creation. Jesus reveals what God wants to say to us, but that words can’t express.

More than anything else, Jesus demonstrates God’s desire to save the world. He demonstrates this by the way he lived. He demonstrates it also by his resurrection from the dead. It is God’s desire to save the whole world from death.

In ancient world philosophy, including Christianity, “salvation” included liberation. But this liberation didn’t refer to an evacuation plan. We aren’t saved from the world. Instead, we’re liberated from worldliness. Or in the words of Titus, from “worldly passions.”

It isn’t that we want to leave Newtown—just forget about it, put it in the past, and move on. That would dishonor the slain and diminish the event. What we want is liberation from the kind of evil that motivated the shooter. We want liberation from the agony and sorrow that has resulted. This is what Titus is saying in the words, “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.” This is what salvation means.

And this salvation has appeared, Titus says, in Christ: “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.” God’s intention to save is demonstrated and promised in Christ. At Christmas, we remember this gift of Christ. And it seems the whole world is eager to celebrate this gift—at least the first giving of it.

Because Titus also directs us to a future giving: “We wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” This is what makes the church the church. While the rest of the world looks back at the first giving of Christ, and gives thanks, the church then looks forward, hoping in Christ’s coming again.

Our language for this from the Christian tradition is the “second coming of Christ.” But it’s not just some kind of future apocalypse. It’s much more practical. Christ comes again when we receive him into our lives. The church does that tonight, and tomorrow morning, and as often as we do so, Paul writes, we are “transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.” (2 Cor. 3:18)

And this is the answer to the why question. Why this gift? Why the gift of Christ? Yes, this gift reminds of God’s presence. Yes, this gift redeems us from iniquity. But this gift, when we receive it day by day, also purifies us as God’s people.

This is a gift that comes with an expectation. God wants us to receive it with thanksgiving. God want us to receive it every day, for God is present every day. God wants us to be transformed into Christ’s image. And in the words of Titus, God wants us to be a people “zealous for good deeds.”

When we understand why God gave this gift, when we truly understand why, then we can have hope when we experience trouble. We can have hope when we don’t have joy. We can have hope when the church disappoints. And even when the world doesn’t seem any better because of Christ, we still have hope.

Why this gift? So you can receive it every day, and the whole world be saved. Amen.

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