Sermons for Christmas Eve

A People in Training

The Nativity of the Lord; December 24, 2018

Titus 2:11-14

5:00 pm service

Paul to Titus: Christ has come to show us how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life and take on a God-filled, God-honoring life. What quality do we most need for a God-filled, God-honoring life? I have an answer for that; let's see if you have the same one.

How has this year been for you?

Wait for answers; discuss as appropriate.

People's answers were generally positive: new grandchildren, graduations, the like. I noticed, however, families present who had lost a loved one and others who had gone through difficult experiences during the year. Without using names, I mentioned some of those.

What has kept you going?

Wait for answers; discuss as appropriate.

People's answers ranged over "family, faith, love, hope, community" and the like.

For me, the quality I most need is hope. My spiritual training is training in hope: to hope in God, to have confidence that no matter how screwed up things seem to be, God is still in charge. I have said from time-to-time that I don't think of God as a law-giver, or absolute ruler: you know, do this or God will get you. And I don't think of God as having planned everything down to the smallest detail. I think of God as an artist; and if God is a musician, God is a jazz musician. Why? What's different about jazz?

Wait for answers; discuss as appropriate.

One boy said that a jazz band has saxophones; I pointed out that a marching band does, too, and I played sax in a marching band. Then several folks shouted out, "Improvisation!"

Although a jazz chart is carefully structured and the musicians keep to the right chords, the melodies are improvised upon and constantly reshaped. God has carefully structured the world but left it open for improvisation, not only by human begins but by the creation itself. The thought of the powerful, creative God coming into the world as a peasant baby is about as surprisingly improvisational as I can imagine, and it gives me hope that God can make things work out no matter how screwed up things seem to be. There is a chord structure underlying the universe and God will resolve all things.

Christ has come to show us how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life, and to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life. That is, a life in which we hope in God. Merry Christmas.

Come to Train Us

The Nativity of the Lord; December 24, 2018

Titus 2:11-14

11:00 pm service

How many times this year have I wanted to just stay in bed and wish the world would go away. You too? When I listen to the news I don't know whether to laugh, scream, or cry. And life closer to home than Washington has had its issues, too. Hearing about "Glory to God in the highest; peace on earth, goodwill to all" at the end of a year like this one feels like either a joke or wishful thinking. Well, it reminds me of the many times I say to someone, "Good morning" and that one replies, "No, it isn't." I retort, "It's a wish, not a statement of fact."

Two years out of three one of the readings for Christmas is from Paul's letter to Titus. I usually avoid it, because it doesn't feel very Christmassy. You know, there's no little drummer boy or cattle lowing. This year I thought it was time to spend a few minutes with Titus, listening to Paul's words to him as words to us. The letter was written in a difficult time in everyone's life, including Paul's, and yet it includes this wonderful encouragement to get into training "to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly."

The preacher is tempted to use this opportunity to nag you about what to do for your training, but I don't respond well to nagging so I'm not going to use it on you. Besides, we know what we need to do and no nagging is going to get you to do it. Instead let me remind you of what you already know: that the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all. That's the Christmas theme in a "Let's just stay in bed and pull the covers over our heads" world. The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.

Some of you believe that with all your hearts. Some of you would like to believe that. Some of you are here because going to Church is what you do on Christmas Eve, right? You don't really believe this stuff, but you enjoy the music. I get you, you know. There are days I'm not sure that I believe it, really. But I know that I want to believe it, and that's good enough to keep me going.

I think that's a major part of our training in godliness: a discipline of the mind that helps us stay focused on what keeps us going. It is easy to get lost in the negative, to what pulls us down, and then to grow cynical about Christmas. God has come to us as a peasant baby? Sure; let's take the Knight Bus to Hogwart's.

Then I ask myself: what sort of world do I prefer? What sort of world will encourage me to push down those covers and get out of bed in the morning: a world in which nothing ultimately matters? A world in which God appears only in thunderstorms, earthquakes, tsunamis, and the slaughter of our enemies? Or a world in which the grace of God has appeared, to train us in godliness, not in an army but in a child whose destiny is to give his life for us all?

So I get up in the morning, read and listen to the news, and say my prayers for the Church and for the world, hoping that the grace of God will use those prayers as part of my training in godliness. Most days I believe that the grace of God has appeared for that; on all the other days I want to believe.

What I'm trying to get across is that at times like the ones we are living through now we need hope, and hope is one of the fruits of spiritual training. You can't talk yourself into hope, but you can discipline your mind to look for signs of hope. This morning I went out the front door of the church because I saw that there were two boxes on the bench. During the night someone had left two boxes of non-perishable foodstuffs (canned goods and Ramen and the like), no doubt because they figured someone would need it and a church is a good place to leave it. When I'm inclined to lose hope in humanity, something like that happens.

And when I'm inclined to lose hope in God, Christ happens. God comes, not shouting and thundering, but crying and nursing. This Baby goes on to teach difficult lessons in generosity, forgiveness, and hope. He touches lepers and listens to women and blesses children. When they come for him, he lets them take him. The Manger and the Cross are both signs of God's way with us. And the ultimate act of hope is his restoration from the dead. When I'm inclined to lose hope in God, Christ happens.

Whether you are here because you believe and so you celebrate, or you want to believe and you're looking for reinforcement, or because you enjoy the music on Christmas Eve: Merry Christmas.

Robert A. Keefer

Presbyterian Church of the Master

Omaha, Nebraska

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