God Comes Near - Birth and Renewal

Luke 2: 1-20     Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Titus 3: 4-7       December 24, 2018

He saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”

Prayer:  Holy One, Holy Child, come near to us.  Be born in us today.  Amen.

Did you know that the first recorded Christmas was in the year 336 A.D. (Anno Dei, which is Latin for ‘Year of the Lord)?  The first Christmas happened as the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.  The date of December 25th was already dedicated for celebrations of pagan Roman holidays, so it was convenient to make the shift to the celebration of Christ’s birth, or Christ’s Mass as it used to be known.  That’s why we call it Christmas.

Tonight we lit candles, we sang Christmas carols, we’ve offered lots of wonderful music and gifts, we’ve prayed prayers of praise and thanksgiving, all celebrating what we’ve said all along… that God comes near in the birth of Christ.  It is good and wonderful and right that we do this.

In a deeper sense, however, all our sacred practices mixed in with our secular ones mixed in with our colossal “to-do” list and our marathon baking and cooking sessions cannot measure up to the power of the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The scriptures do that beautifully all by themselves.  Listen to what our faith affirms as God comes near in Jesus’ birth:

¨ That Christ Jesus saved us as a human race from our own spiritual death and destruction… his birth begins that saving grace.  This means that your inner spirit is never lost to death.  Ever. Amazing, right? That alone is worth celebrating, right?

¨ We affirm that we receive this incredible gift of saving grace not because we earn it, not because of what good things we’ve done, but because of what good thing God has done… because of the extravagant tender mercy God has for humanity.  This means that you can always receive God’s gift.  You never DO something to receive it.  Just believe that it’s given because it’s in God’s nature to give it to all of us.  And everyone else.  Maybe that thought can give you hope that no matter who you are or what you’ve done, you are gifted with God’s saving grace.  Hmm?

¨ We affirm that by our belief in God’s saving grace, God is justified in giving us a new life through the waters of baptism, and we continue to get renewed in that new life through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This means that God knows you.  God claims you.  And God says, “You are mine.  My life is in you.  Know who you are.  And, remember whose you are.  Receive my gift of new life.  New hope.”  Whew! That’s the Mother of all Christmas gifts!

Now, you won’t remember much of what I’ve said here tonight, but never forget what God did through Jesus Christ way before 336 A.D.  It’s an age-old story that’s as old as the hills.  A story whose ending never changes.  Maybe it is for us to be so dedicated to the power of God’s gospel in Jesus Christ’s story that our lives start to change.  Our hope while we live deepens.  Our relationships have more meaning.  We develop faithful responses to the world and its issues around us.  And maybe, little by little, our world around us changes, too.

Because God comes near.  In our lives.  In our circumstances.  In our world.  Let’s receive his birth and be renewed tonight and all days and nights going forward.  Amen.