For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. Amen.
1 John 3:1-5
In the name of our Savior whose birth we celebrate, dear Christmas worshipers;
“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” What a treasure! What a sight for those shepherds! What a sight for us also. Yes, there in that manger of Bethlehem, we see Christ, the Lord. This is the long-awaited Messiah. This is God in the humble state of a baby. This is your salvation. A precious sight indeed! So on this Christmas morning we are urged: See your salvation in the manger!
Yes, here is the gift of the Father’s love. A gift that the apostle John writes about in grand and glowing words: How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. In his love, God sent his Son to be born of a woman, under law to redeem those under law. Because of sin – sin inherited from our parents and sins we have actually committed or things we have failed to do – we are slaves to sin. We couldn’t escape the grips of sin on our own. All we could do is slavishly follow what the sinful nature wanted us to do. Only God’s love could rescue us and set us free from such slavery. God did far more than just love us a little. John says of the Father’s love, “has lavished on us.” Literally, “Behold, what sort of love the Father has given us!” We peer into the manger of Bethlehem and we behold the sort of love the Father has given us – he didn’t spare his own Son, but graciously gave him up for us. Because of his great love and because of his Son – we are God’s children! This status as God’s children does not come from us or our behavior or choice – it comes only because of God’s love, it comes only as a result of God’s Christmas gift, it comes only as a result of this child. Jesus, the only begotten Son of the Father from eternity, became the son of a virgin – so that we might become God’s children. John writes in chapter one of his Gospel: Yet all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God … Jesus has also sent his Spirit into our hearts through his gospel to give us the gift of faith – all who believe in Jesus have the assurance that their sins are forgiven and are the recipients of the gift of eternal life. This is what we celebrate today as we see our salvation in the manger!
The status we have as God’s children through faith in Jesus is one that places us at odds with the world in which we live. They frankly do not understand us, because they do not understand God’s undeserved love, his grace. The folks of the world assume that salvation is something they can earn or even that salvation is something God owes them. So they go about life trying to balance out bad things by doing good things, they try to compare themselves to others, and they tend to have a rather high opinion of themselves and what they have accomplished. God’s children understand that salvation is totally a gift from him – not something we could in any way earn or deserve from him. Our salvation was earned by the child in the manger. This baby boy lived a perfect life for us. This baby boy went to the cross to die for us. This baby boy sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts through his Word to bring us to faith in him. The one in the manger did it all! So we are God’s children, people who heed the warning John gave back in chapter two of this letter, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” So there is something amazing awaiting the children of God. John writes, Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. When Jesus, who has gone to prepare a place for us, comes back to take us to be where he is we will be like him. That is, without sin. As we wait for that glorious day when Jesus calls us home to heaven or when he returns at the end of time – we strive now already to live without sin. We certainly can’t live a perfect life as long as we live here on earth and sin clings to us, but we are not proponents of cheap grace either. So many times people think of forgiveness as a license to sin. They think that they have come to church enough over Christmas and that perhaps they have banked up enough forgiveness to cover them during the New Year’s Eve hedonism. That is no way to think. For our Savior has come. He has forgiven us. We don’t want to keep on sinning. We want to avoid sin as our humble way of thanking him for rescuing us. As Paul writes in Titus 2, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious reappearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” As we see the great love the Father has lavished on us in the manger we are moved to eagerly do what is good! We celebrate the salvation God has won for us in Christ today in Word and song and everyday in the words we say and the things we do.
We are God’s children, that’s one comfort we take home from Christmas worship. But there is more! There is also – the gift of deliverance from sin.
Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.
Let’s come to the sober realization that there is a need for law preaching even on Christmas. The whole reason the eternal Christ took on human flesh and was born of a virgin was sin. From conception we were lawless ones. Even now we break the law. Consider the sins that show themselves especially during this holiday season: gluttony, drunkenness, laziness, greed, and self-pity are a few of the most popular one. Certainly jealousy and even hatred can show up for Christmas dinner as well. We have spent the season of Advent preparing for Christmas by repenting of our sins and refocusing on our Savior and his forgiveness. Let us repent today of all our sins. Let us trust that Jesus forgives us. Let us celebrate the birth of Christ by rejoicing in and living in his forgiveness.
The good news of Christmas is that in Christ we are forgiven! Just consider the great love that the Father has lavished on us in the gift of his one and only Son. Paul summarizes this thought when he writes in 2 Corinthians 5: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. We participate in gift exchanges at Christmas – just think how we have benefitted from this great exchange. Christ took our sins on himself and in exchange gave us his perfect righteousness! This means we are the children of God!
In the Christmas manger we see our Savior. He is the gift of our heavenly Father’s love. He is the gift of deliverance from sin. And friends, where sin is forgiven there is a new way of living life free from sin’s slavery and eternal life in heaven. Christmas says to us – you are the forgiven children of God! Christmas urges us – live up to your high calling as God’s dear children! Amen.