4But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7 (ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
One of the greatest joys in the world is looking at, or even holding, a baby. It doesn’t matter what kind of a mood you are in, when you get a baby in your arms you automatically go into ‘care’ mode. Anger drips away as you look into a baby’s eye. And if it smiles at you, all you can do is melt. If the baby is your own flesh and blood, if you carried it those nine months of nurture, that baby may even hold the whole future in its face. It’s impossible to fell bad or think evil thoughts as you look at a baby in your arms.
I think that’s one of the reasons why people like Christmas so much. It’s all centered on a baby. It’s what makes the holiday cross over so many boundaries. People understand Christmas, because they understand babies. And they relate to it. If you say to people, “the goodness and loving kindness of God is shown in that baby in the manger.” They’ll pretty much know what you are talking about. A baby is goodness and loving kindness personified. If someone were going to make a new designer holiday, the best kind would be one that was wrapped up in the symbolism of a baby.
Christmas isn’t a designer holiday, or even a manufactured holiday. But it is about a baby. It’s a holiday about a real live baby not a symbolic one or a pretend one. All those years ago in that stable a real live mother actually gave birth to a real live flesh and blood baby. I’m sure that Mary and Joseph had many of the same feelings, fears and joys that all parents have when a child is born. And when they held their baby in their arms, they were looking the future in the face. Right there in their presence was the goodness and loving kindness of God. They could reach out and touch it, and hold it, and caress it. It’s as if God were saying, as much as you love this baby, I love you. As much as you will be father and mother to him, I care for your. Yes, that baby, born in an animal shelter is God’s declaration of how much He loves human beings.
And it seems that love is a part of the holiday, too. You see things in people this time of year that you don’t see any other time. In some ways, we get the feeling that this time of year shows the ‘real character’ of people. They just seem to care more, help more, and love more. Red buckets are hung by ringing bells, toys for tots are stuffed in boxes all over town, people even give more blood at this time of year than any other. It’s nice that, for a few weeks at least, people show that kind of love for one another. But before we pat ourselves on the shoulders for a ‘job well done’ we should remember that even a full year full of Christmases wouldn’t be enough to make up for all the ugliness, pain and selfishness that people inflict on one another for the rest of the year. Christmas good deeds aren’t the ‘real character’ of people. The ‘real character’ of all people is sin.
Actually, we are exactly the opposite of the ‘goodness and loving kindness’ shown to us at Christmas time. How many different ways have been invented by people to cause each other pain? Christmas joy is the blip on the radar; it’s the exception not the rule. A quick perusal of the news will quickly confirm it. The top stories of most every day show the dark nature of human beings. Murder, theft, abuse, and greed top the list of evils. And worst of all, children are often the targets of those same evils.
Now, let’s make it personal. It’s one thing to point to the world out there and say that it’s full of evil people, it’s quite another to turn that finger on ourselves. But that’s exactly what we have to do. We can see our own guilt very quickly by just looking at one of God’s Ten Commandments. “You shall not kill.” It says. Jesus, that lovable little baby accuses us when he says, “22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. Matthew 5:22 (ESV)” Who among you hasn’t been angry? I know I’ve been angry with someone and recently, even during the month of December! The time when there is suppose to be ‘peace on earth,’ the peace was shattered by anger. Insults are the same and even calling someone a fool. What Jesus is really saying is that you don’t have to spill someone’s blood to violate God’s will for your life. Just like everyone else on the planet, your ‘real character’ isn’t shown at Christmas. There is blackness in your heart that you can’t erase with any amount of ‘good deeds’ at Christmas time. No matter how much ‘good’ you do, that evil will still be there and will spill out again.
You might be able to fool the people who live around you by doing good things, but God sees your heart. God sees my heart. He sees the evil, the selfishness, and the deceit that is there. And God doesn’t judge the things we do by how good they are; He judges the things we do by our hearts. When He looks into our hearts, He sees that we don’t deserve goodness and loving kindness at all. What we really deserve is punishment.
But it’s Christmas; can’t we put aside that punishment stuff for even one day? Can’t we just enjoy the “Joy” of the season without talking about sin, death and hell? Can’t we just look at the stable and revel in the goodness and the loving kindness that we see there in a newborn baby?
That is precisely the point. The text for this message says when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, that’s what the Baby is all about, the goodness and loving kindness of God appearing. It comes in a little baby wrapped in rags. It comes with poor parents and even poorer shepherds that looked on. It comes in the middle of a stable instead of a birthing room. The goodness and loving kindness of God comes in a Baby, Jesus. We look with loving kindness on this Baby not just because he is a baby, but because he came for punishment.
In goodness and loving kindness, God sent Jesus to suffer punishment for us. That’s the mercy of God. That instead of punishment for our sin, God punishes Jesus. We deserve it. Jesus takes it. Instead of turning away from you and me, God turns away from Jesus and allows Him to be nailed to the cross, to bleed and die in great pain. God looks at His Son and deals out punishment to Him, and goodness and loving kindness to you and me. That’s a different way to look at a baby. But that’s the only way to look at this Baby. If we fail to see the Baby Jesus as the one-and-the-same Jesus bleeding on the cross, the joy we have at Christmas is meaningless.
But God’s goodness and loving kindness goes way beyond the punishment of Jesus in our place. There is more to what this Baby came to do than die (although that is essential!). In a few months, we’ll put these white cloths back on the altar again and we’ll say to each other “He is Risen!” The baby in the manger grows up to die, but more importantly, He grows us to rise again from death. The loving kindness of God goes so far that God isn’t content with just paying the penalty for our sin; He wants us to live forever. That’s God’s ultimate act of kindness for us. He gives us the resurrection of Jesus. It’s the washing of regeneration and renewal that we read a few moments ago. God makes us clean; and regenerates us, that is makes us a new person, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our punishment is His and so is His coming back to life is ours. We inherit eternal life in Jesus.
Now let’s make this personal, too. Jesus didn’t come just for the multitudes of people living everywhere out there. He came for you. That little baby was born in the manger for you. He lived and He died for you. The punishment He suffered is the punishment you deserved. The new life that He rose from the dead to live is yours, too. You are a child of God! How do you know? Well, it’s not because of anything you’ve done. Remember he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy. You’ve been adopted. You’ve been washed and regenerated. God poured out on you all of this when He poured over your head, water together with His words of forgiveness and life. Baptism is God’s promise to you, that all that Jesus did He did for you. That’s the goodness and loving kindness of God made personal for you.
So, all of Christmas is wrapped up right here in the joy of seeing a baby. When we see a baby, we know what goodness and loving-kindness is. We know it because we feel it; it’s automatic; it comes with the territory. Babies bring it out in us. Maybe that’s part of the reason Jesus came as a baby, to show us that that’s how God looks at you and me. To show us a love so great that Jesus lived and died and rose again to give us life forever. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.