Text: Titus 3:4-7
St. Paul wrote to Titus, “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us…so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4, 7; English Standard Version) With just a few sentences, actually one in the Greek, St. Paul sums up the meaning of what has now come to pass. We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ today and every year because it means that we are saved. The goodness and kindness of the eternal God has broken forth into our own time and our own lives. By it, we have been made heirs of the hope of eternal life. Today we give thanks that, according to His kindness and love, the Lord has saved us for us eternal life, which He pours out on us in Baptism.
The text begins, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us.” That English conjunction “but,” is present in the Greek and it signals us that what the Holy Spirit is telling us through Paul in this verse is building on something which he’s already said. So, in order to understand this passage today, we need to jump back a few verses, or maybe even just one. Remember that one of the rules for interpreting Scripture is to look at the context. Besides, in order to be saved, you need to be saved from something. That’s what “to save” means. From what has God provided salvation for us?
Titus 3 begins,
Remind them [the Christians in Crete] to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.Titus 3:1-3
St. Paul encouraged Titus to remind the Christians in Crete how they were to behave in the world and from what God has saved them. St. Paul said that they were once lost in foolishness, disobedience, slavery to various pleasures, malice, envy, and hatred. These things may all be summed up in one word, sin. These words are also a valid description of how we once lived, and the temptations that we still bear as we live in the flesh. Each time we have given into the temptation to do these things, we have brought upon ourselves the righteous wrath of God and the eternal condemnation of hell.
“But,” St. Paul said, “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.” (vv. 4-5a) Rather than leave us to our own devices: being hated and hating in return, envying, slandering, gossiping; The Lord has had mercy. St. Paul literally praises God here for His gentleness and love of mankind. To be gentle means to be mild, tender, and kind. Rather than thunder against us in the fury of His of judgment, God has behaved gently toward us by granting us forgiveness. He has behaved so toward us not because we have deserved it – quite the opposite – but because of His own love for mankind. God is our maker, after all.
It has to be this way, too, because, even on our best days, all our goodness – whatever we may think exists in our hearts – counts as nothing before God. It says in the prophet Isaiah that all the things that we might on our own consider righteous are as polluted garments before God. (Is. 64:6) Everything we are and everything we have is tainted by the corruption of sin; everything, that is, except for the salvation that God grants to us by His grace. Rather than leave us in our sin and misery, He made His kindness and love appear before us in the birth of a savior: Jesus.
This is why we are here, is it not, to celebrate the birth of the savior of the world. Jesus Christ is the eternally-begotten Son of God. Light of Light, very God of very God, He is the one by and through whom all things were made. Yet, in our time, He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. For us, He stepped forth from His kingly hall and became an unborn child in her womb. For us, He was born and grew up. For us, He wandered in the wilderness and resisted the assaults of the devil. For us, He lived, died, and lived again. By His birth, His perfect life, His sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection, He has won for us the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life.
This forgiveness which He won and the eternal life that is in Him, He gives to us in a profound, yet simple way. You heard it, “He 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.” (v. 5) Here St. Paul clearly teaches how the salvation that is in Christ gets to us: through Baptism. Baptism is the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. In Baptism, the Holy Spirit takes what is Christ’s and gives it to us – faith, forgiveness, righteousness, eternal life. In short, everything that Jesus Christ did and won, you have received in your Baptism into Him. All the benefits of the birth we celebrate today are yours in Baptism, because God is good and kind.
For that, we celebrate. Though we ourselves were once lost in and given to sin and death, God has caused His goodness and love to be manifested among us. The eternal Son of God became flesh and blood, just as we are, so that as He lives, we might live also. He has saved us from death and sin by His own death and resurrection. By Baptism, He has poured out the Holy Spirit on us so that we now share in all that is His. We are heirs having the hope of eternal life. For all this, and more, we celebrate this day of our Lord’s birth. Thanks be to God.