Someone has observed that there are three types of people: those who make things happen; those who watch things happen; and the overwhelming majority who have no idea what is happening.
At Christmastime most of us, it seems, are in all three groups. Each year we make Christmas happen; we plan and prepare for Christmas with our pre-holiday activities. We also watch Christmas happen as we listen to the Bible story and the sermons, and as we sing the hymns and carols that communicate the message of Christ’s birth. In the final analysis we do not really understand what is happening. We can’t celebrate Christmas effectively because we can’t really comprehend it.
The late W. E. Sangster underscores this problem by relating a personal experience concerning an invitation to a party held to celebrate a wedding. He arrived late, and he really didn’t know anyone except the friend who had invited him. Seemingly everyone was in high spirits. They danced and shouted; they sang and laughed; they played games and indulged in all sorts of entertainment. Streamers were strung all across the hall. The people pranced about the scene in paper caps. Apparently everyone was having a good time.
As the evening progressed, however, Sangster noticed a young lady sitting alone in a corner. She appeared to be cheerful and happy. She smiled very pleasantly when he caught her eye but seemed a bit neglected. No one was paying her any attention. Sangster whispered to his friend, “Who’s the young lady in the corner?” His friend replied, somewhat startled, “Don’t you know? I must introduce you to her. She is the bride.”
Can you imagine being left alone and unnoticed at your own wedding party? That is how Jesus must feel at Christmas. Most of the celebration of His birth has little to do with Him. How sad it is, not just for Him but for us as well. We cannot genuinely celebrate Christmas until we recognize what Jesus Christ has done for us and what we are to do for Him.
Paul, writing to his young understudy named Titus, set forth a proper pattern for us as we seek to genuinely celebrate Christmas. Paul’s message centers upon the two advents of Christ and their relationship to our present age. Bringing these three dimensions — past, present, and future — into proper focus will help us genuinely celebrate Christmas.
In examining Paul’s words of wisdom to Titus we can discover four perspectives concerning Christmas that will help us enjoy a genuine celebration of its meaning.
I. A Genuine Celebration of Christmas Involves a Commemoration of the Past (v. 11)
Paul declares, ” For the grace of God has appeared, with salvation or all people” (HCSB). The grace of God is the message of Christmas. In the birth of Christ God’s grace to sinners burst upon our sin-darkened world and the whole drama of God’s redemptive plan for man was personified.
Without a doubt “grace” is the most beautiful and descriptive word in our Christian vocabulary. The word essentially means that God has acted in the person of Christ to rescue us from our sin. It is an unmerited gift from God. If we could earn it or deserve it, grace would no longer be God’s gift.
The word “appeared” which Paul employed in verse 11 is most descriptive. It affords us our English word “epiphany” which literally means “came to light,” “became visible.”
Jesus Christ is the grace of God in person. He left heaven’s throne and came to earth as a man in order “to bring salvation” to us. John depicts this event in a graphic way: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, NKJV).
There is an old story about a teacher who did not believe in God. Not content with that, however, this teacher sought to discourage his students from believing in God as well. One day, as the Christmas season approached and questions about God were being posed, he sent a pupil to the chalkboard with instructions to write: God is nowhere! The student obeyed but inadvertently divided the word, placing the “w” with the “no” so that it read, “God is now here!”
That is the message of Christmas! God is now here in the person of Jesus Christ. His purpose is to bring salvation to sinful man. You cannot genuinely celebrate Christmas until you understand that fact.
II. A Genuine Celebration of Christmas Involves a Consecration of the Present (v. 12)
This verse contains both a negative and a positive word of counsel concerning the challenges of being a Christian in a non-Christian world. Negatively, Paul declares that Christians are to deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts.”
The word “deny” is reminiscent of the command of Jesus, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me” (NKJV). In order to follow Jesus, Christians must practice self-denial in this present world.
“Ungodliness” and “worldly lusts” are terms used to describe the self-willed life that forgets all thought of God. They represent a style of living which is antithetical to God’s will and diametrically opposed to God’s rule in the human heart. Paul is saying Christians must say ‘no’ to that kind of lifestyle.
Positively, the grace of God educates or trains us to live “soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age.” “Soberly” literally means “with self control.” As Christians we are to live a life of self control, a disciplined life. This, of course, is done under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Further, we are to live “righteously.” The word “righteous” indicates how we are to conduct ourselves toward others. We must live in such a way that we do not take advantage of, are not unkind to, nor critical of others. We do not bear hatred toward those around us. This is a much-needed word of counsel, especially during the busy Christmas season.
The third positive word is “godly.” That basically means we are to live like God. To be godly is to maintain an unfailing attitude of reverent devotion to God and a constant fellowship with Him.
To genuinely celebrate Christmas we must live consecrated lives in the present. This involves both self-denial and Christ-likeness. We need to remember the sad words of Paul concerning Demas, one of his contemporaries: “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” A genuine celebration of Christmas involves a consecration of the present.
III. A Genuine Celebration of Christmas Involves a Contemplation of the Promise of the Future (v. 13)
Turning away from the past and present, Paul calls our attention to the future. During this Christmas season Paul is challenging us to be “looking for the blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (NKJV).
The term “blessed hope” is most optimistic. It reminds us that Christianity is not an exercise in futility but rather a life of assurance and confidence. The Christian message pulsates with hope. It is not a pessimistic or cynical philosophy that thrives on keeping us in gloom and despair. On the contrary, it is energetically and enthusiastically hopeful. The second coming of Christ is a cause for hope, not despair.
Paul describes the second advent, the second coming, as a “glorious appearing.” Note that the word “appearing” is the same one used to describe the first advent of Christ mentioned in verse 11 of our text.
However, there is an obvious distinction between the two usages. Paul uses the word “glorious” in verse 13 but not in verse 11. This indicates a contrast between the first coming of Christ as a babe in Bethlehem and His second coming. What is the difference? When Christ first came to the earth His entry was quiet, and His birth was only announced to a chosen few. Only a few people recognized and received Him as God.
In His second coming He will appear in glory rather than in humiliation and shame. He will return in such a way that everyone will know Him as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The first time Christ came to redeem; the second time He will come to reign. The first time Jesus came to die; the second time He will come as the giver of life to all who have accepted Him. The first time Christ came in poverty; He shall return in power. The first time He was given a crown of thorns; the second time He will wear a crown of glory. That is a “glorious appearing” for sure.
Roland Q. Leavell, who was president of New Orleans Baptist Seminary, served with the YMCA in Paris following World War I. While there, he got the word that on a given day King George V of England would visit Paris. The very thought of seeing a real king was most exciting to a Southern boy. So at the dawn of that day he was on the Champs Elysees among a large crowd, trying to secure a good vantage point. After hours of seemingly endless waiting he heard the words, “The King is coming.”
The excitement of the gathered host of people was contagious, and young Leavell felt that none present was more thrilled than he. As the parade moved he mused to himself just how it would be to tell the folks back home that he had seen a real king! As the royal carriage passed, in his most mannerly fashion he bowed in respect. But as he turned away to leave the scene, Leavell felt something different than he anticipated. He wondered why he felt so empty, so dismayed about this historic privilege.
As he analyzed his emotions more completely he thought, “The reason I felt nothing was because he was not my king! He didn’t even know my name. And he brought no gift to me as his subject.” (James Carter, What Is To Come, Broadman Press, 1975, pages 42-43.)
Rest assured when Christ comes again He will know our names. He will be our King of kings. He will bring as a gift the crown of righteousness to those who believe in Him and love His appearing. That makes it “a blessed hope” and a “glorious appearing.” A genuine celebration of Christmas involves a contemplation of His promise concerning our future.
IV. A Genuine Celebration of Christmas Involves a Concentration on our Purpose (vv. 14-15)
These two verses reveal for us two distinctly important facts about the Christian life. First, we learn what Christ has done for us. Paul states it this way: “… who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (NKJV). Notice Paul says that Jesus “gave Himself for us.” That important fact must not be overlooked during this Christmas season. Jesus, our Lord, “gave Himself for us.”
On March 15, 1985, Wayne Alderson, a successful labor negotiator from Pittsburgh, appeared on “The Today Show.” The significance of the date was that it was the 40th anniversary of Alderson’s being wounded as the first American soldier to cross the Siegfried Line into Germany in World War II. He had a permanent crease in his head from the wound he received during the war.
Asked for his most important memory of the occasion, Alderson replied that it was of a red-headed friend who saved his life that day. Alderson had come face to face with a German soldier. The German threw his hand grenade at Alderson’s feet and Alderson shot the German. The grenade exploded almost instantly, sending Alderson to the ground, face down in the mud with a wound to the head.
Nearby, a German pillbox began to open fire in his direction, and he thought that though the grenade had not killed him the machine gun would. But his friend turned him over so he could breathe, then threw himself across his body to shield him from the deadly fire. His friend died protecting him from certain death. With tears welling up in his eyes Alderson said, “I can never forget the person who sacrificed his life to save me. I owe everything to him. I can never forget … I owe everything.”
This is precisely what we should say about Christ. He took our place. He died for us. We should never forget that. We owe Him everything. (Gordon MacDonald, Restoring Your Spiritual Passion, Oliver Nelson, 1986)
Why did Jesus give Himself for us? He had two reasons for doing so. First, Jesus gave Himself in order that He might “redeem” us. The word “redeem” is a first century slave market word which means that Christ paid the price for our sin.
The second reason Christ gave Himself for us is to “purify for Himself His own special people, zealous of good works” (NKJV). This indicates to us what we are to do in response to the work of Christ for us. Christ is resident in our lives, purifying us to live in such a way that people will see our “good works and glorify” the Father (Matthew 5:16, NKJV).
Speaking to the issue of Christian service, author and pastor Paul Powell writes, “In the early part of the twentieth century, there was a hot controversy between liberals and fundamentalists. The fundamentalists were preaching ‘Get saved.’ The liberals were preaching ‘Get involved.’ I believe that each side came away from the debate with only half the gospel. The fundamentalists had only the half that saves the soul; the modernists held only to the half that ministers to the body. But we must put the pieces back together again and proclaim the whole and living gospel that declares, ‘Get saved, and then get involved.’ We can be saved through faith in the finished work of Christ, but God then expects us to become “zealous of good works.'” (Paul Powell, Go-Givers in a Go-Getter World, Broadman Press, 1986, pages 48-49)
As Christians we are fond of thinking about God’s pardon, yet we often neglect to reflect upon our purpose as pardoned people. To young Titus, who was timid about his purpose, Paul said, “Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with authority. Let no man despise you.” We are too much like Titus. We too easily retreat from our purpose of being “God’s special people” in today’s world. Discover the joy of concentrating on God’s purpose for your life so you can begin to genuinely celebrate Christmas.
I remember reading with great emotion the story of the emancipation of slaves in the British West Indies. The night before they were to be declared free, they did not sleep. Down in the valleys in the West Indian villages, the people stayed up all night. Sentries were stationed on top of the mountains and hills surrounding the villages. The sentries’ task was to communicate the coming of dawn, for at sunrise the slaves would be free. Those sentries on the hilltops would see the dawning rays of the sun well before the people in the valley were aware of the light; when they heralded the news of the sunrise the valleys resounded with joyful sounds of deliverance.
If you and I do not celebrate Christmas as slaves set free with the dawning sun we will surely miss its meaning. We are slaves set free from sin — let’s celebrate Christmas!