Summary: Cherish and share God's Christmas greeting.
It’s a topic that perhaps drives you nuts. Is it “Merry Christmas,” or “Season’s Greetings”? “Blessed Christmas,” or “Happy Holidays”? Which greeting do you prefer? I believe most Christians would say they like a greeting with the word “Christmas” in it. After all, the reason for the season is Christ’s birth. But what exactly do you mean if you say to me, “Merry Christmas!” Are you expressing your hope that I have a good time opening presents with family? Oh I think we Christians can do better than that. The Son of God didn’t take on human flesh and endure a birth in a barn so that we could look forward to unwrapping a doll or a new tablet under the Christmas tree. His birth has brought so much more meaning to our lives than that. The Apostle Paul helps put this birth into perspective by offering his readers a greeting which could be described as God’s Christmas greeting: “Grace and peace are yours!” Let’s find out why that greeting is worth sharing.
“Grace and peace are yours.” That’s a greeting Lutheran pastors often speak from the pulpit. Because we’ve heard it so often have we stopped thinking about what those words mean and treat the greeting like the starting gun for the sermon? It was a greeting that the Apostle Paul loved too, and included in twelve out of thirteen of his epistles. His use of this greeting in his letter to the Romans makes it clear that this was not just a throw-away phrase. The Christians in Rome could be certain that grace (undeserved love) and peace from God was really theirs even though Paul would also say to them: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men” (Romans 1:18). God is angry, explained Paul, at our sexual impurity, our envy, gossip, and the disobedience we show our parents (Romans 1:29, 30). These were just a few of the sins that Paul specifically pointed out in his letter to the Romans.
But does such talk about sin get tiresome – especially at Christmas? Aren’t we supposed to be talking about cheerful things like sugar plum fairies, eggnog, and presents under the tree? If that’s what we think, then we are like the people of the prophet Isaiah’s day. God said of them: “They say to…the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. 11 Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!”… 15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it” (Isaiah 30:10, 11, 15).
God wants your pastor to talk about sin because he loves you. He’s like the doctor who subjects you to various medical tests and then tells you everything that’s wrong with your body, not because he gets a kick out of seeing you squirm, but so that you will take action before the bacteria and viruses lurking in your body can do fatal damage. So friends, don’t treat your sins like the salt and grit you track into your car at this time of year. You can shrug off that mess because what can you do about it? That’s life in Canada. Keeping your car mats clean at this time of year is impossible so why waste time worrying about it? Likewise we sin every day, often committing the same sin several times in an hour. What can we do about it? Just shrug it off? No. God says that every sin is a problem, for it has the potential of forever separating us from his love. God’s message to us this morning is to be sorry for those sins – the way you would be sorry if you tracked mud across Mom’s clean kitchen floor whether you meant to or not.
But being sorry for my sins doesn’t repair my relationship with God any more than being sorry I muddied Mom’s clean floor will make the floor clean again. Action must be taken…but not by us when it comes to the matter of sin; God must act to restore the broken relationship. God did act in the person of Jesus. Paul said of Jesus in our text: “…who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:3, 4).
Jesus is like no one else in this universe. He has human ancestry, yet he is God from eternity. Ponder this mystery with me for a minute. When Jesus was brought to the temple eight days after his birth, he was at the same time eight days old…and older than the dirt on which his parents stood. At that point in his life his legs weren’t even strong enough to support the weight of his tiny body…and yet he was powerful enough to keep earth from being pulled too close to the sun and scorched. Later in his stepfather’s wood shop he learned for the first time how to nail two boards together…while at the same time was the one who had put hydrogen and oxygen together to make water on Day 1 of Creation.