God Is in the Manger: Christmas Eve 2018

Nativity

A meditation given on the Feast of the Nativity, December 24, 2018 at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD by the Rev. Justin Clemente. 

A Good Christmas or Good News?

Titus 2:11, “ For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,” is the guiding passage our meditation this evening. And let me start this evening by saying, welcome to the scandal. Yes, this is a scandalous evening, for God himself is in the manger. Come to give what only he can give and come to do what only he can do. Christmas is nothing less than the culmination of the movement of God toward his sinful, broken, and alienated creation. Tonight is a scandal – a scandal of pure, unearned grace which works exactly the opposite of how people think – especially at Christmas, I might add. Most folks want a good Christmas (which, it turns out, can be quite expensive, these days!) while often missing the Good News of Christmas.

Titus 3, verses 4 and 5, get even more explicit about the scandalous grace of Christmas: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.” You see, whether implicitly or explicitly, running through each of the passages read this evening is the proclamation that what we have in the manger is the Savior. Not an example, not a good teacher, but the Savior. As John Stott said, understanding Jesus and knowing Jesus happens as we see the giving of his life, not merely the living of his life. This is what we cannot miss out on if we are to receive the joy and fulfillment Christmas brings.

Tim Keller, in his now very popular book on Christmas called Hidden Christmas, tells the story of one woman who received the Gospel of Christmas, as well as how others around her reacted. He writes,

“When I was a new young pastor in a small town in Virginia, there were a number of dilapidated homes and trailers surrounding our church, inhabited by people who were poor and who had many social and personal problems. Occasionally one person would say to me that it was wrong for our more middle-class church to hold its services in the midst of that neighborhood without reaching out to the residents. One day a deacon in our church and I walked across our church’s parking lot to visit a woman who lived in a rented house. She was a single mother whose broken relationships with men had left her impoverished, depressed, living somewhat in disgrace in that conservative, traditional community, and raising her children with almost no help or support. We sat down and had a long talk about the Gospel, the glad tidings, and she responded with joy to the message. She trusted in Christ.

I came back to see her about a week later, but when we sat down she burst into tears. That week she had called up her sister to tell about her conversation with me and about her new faith, but she had been laughed at.

“My sister said, ‘Let me get this straight. This preacher told you that a person like you could do all the foolish, immoral things you have done all your life, and five minutes before you die, you can just repent and trust Jesus and be saved just like that? He told you that you don’t have to live a really good life to go to heaven? That’s offensive. It’s too simple; it’s too easy. I’ll never believe that! And you shouldn’t either.'”

You see – the Gospel is offense and Christmas is scandalous, if we understand it and embrace it for what it is.

What Will We Do?

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.” If we cannot receive Jesus as God in the manger, a gracious gift to us for our salvation, what will we do when we’re told that this child must die on a Roman cross for our sins? Will we call him an example? A good teacher? Or will we receive the grace he brings?

Not Too Good to Be True

I’ll end here. This Christmas we started a new tradition. We watched, via Livestream, Behold the Lamb. This is Andrew’s Peterson’s concert slash Old-Testament-retelling-in-music of the hope of the Messiah. It was wonderful, but the guest musicians he had with him were probably the most memorable part of the show. In particular, we’ve been walking around the house singing the songs of Jess Ray. She performed a song that night that particularly caught our attention. It is utterly appropriate for Christmas. Here’s part of the lyrics from her song, “Too Good”:

“It is not as we’ve seen, it is not as we’ve read, it is not as they’ve said. How we need to forget, we need to reset and be like children again. Are you hungry and have no money? You can sit at this table. Are you thirsty and unworthy? You can draw from this well.

It may be too good to be understood, but it’s not too good to be true. He may be too good to be understood, but he’s not too good to be true.”

Friends, the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation cannot be circumscribed by our minds, but if it is anything, it is utterly true. Test him and see. Be embraced by his grace – either for the first time or once again. Merry Christmas. Amen.

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