Luke 2:1-20; Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
The late Erma Bombeck, was one of America’s best-loved columnists. I like what she wrote about something that happened to her one time in the post office.
“Most of us have never seen anyone smile in the Post Office. The Post Office instead is like a clinic for lower back pain. Well, I was in line yesterday, when the door opened and in walked a lady with a big smile on her face weighted down with boxes for mailing. She held the door open for her three little girls who filed in, each carrying a package. It was quite obvious that they had never seen the inside of a Post Office.
“She bounded over to a man standing over a counter pasting stamps and asked, ‘Are you a carrier?’
“Of what?” he snapped.
“Another one in line growled, “To the back of the line, lady!”
Her eyes fairly danced with excitement as she announced to no one in particular, ‘It certainly is a nice day, and just think, girls, Christmas is only one week away.”
“Will granddad get his presents?” asked one child.
“Of course, he will,” said her mother “We’ve got it all timed just about right. On Christmas Eve he’ll be sitting around the fire, the door bell will ring and a postman will knock and say, with a big smile, “Merry Christmas from your family in Arizona.”
Every eye in the Post Office turned to stare at this cross between Mary Poppins and Tiny Tim.
“Look girls, doesn’t the Post Office look like Santa is on his way?”
We all looked around. With the exception of Santa pointing his finger at us from a poster and warning, “Mail early” the place had the spirit of a Recovery Room.
Finally she got to the head of the line. “When will dad get these packages?” she asked.
The postal clerk shrugged, “Depends. Maybe by New Year’s or we could get ‘em there in one day.”
“One day would be fine!” she exclaimed.
“It’ll cost you,” he said, scribbling down some figures. “$45.83.”
The woman hesitated, then picked out one box and said, “This one must get there by Christmas Day. It’s my father’s birthday.”
The clerk shook his head and said, “Boy, that guy’s a loser. Imagine having a birthday on Christmas. One present fits all. Thank God I don’t know of anyone born on Christmas Day.”
The man behind me whispered loudly, “Thank God, I do.”
My apologies to any of you whose birthday is either the 24th or the 25th. My beloved wife Nancy with whom I am well pleased – celebrates hers on the 21st. She never liked the fact that her birthday was so close to Christmas. She always felt cheated. Early in our marriage I made a joke about it. I have never, ever joked about it again! The marriage obviously survived that episode, and so did I!
Nonetheless, I like this story told by Erma Bombeck. And I don’t even think I need to ask, but I’m going to ask anyway, “Do you know anyone—do you know THE One—whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas?” Can you say like the man who whispered loudly in the Post Office, “Thank God, I do.”
Because I know you know the story. And what strikes me about this story – this story that most of us know so well—is that it – well – it’s kind of a game changer. It contains all the joys and hopes and celebration that we are looking for – that perhaps each of us has come here to this place tonight to experience. This is kind of a big deal, wouldn’t you agree? In fact – I’d say it is a game changer. And that’s a good thing – for us!
Still there are some who might question why it is that there is so much fuss and bother. If you’re here tonight – and you’re not sure what this is all about – you’ve heard the story – you know the story – but perhaps you’re a bit skeptical about this whole “God come to earth through Jesus” stuff. Well, let me tell you why it’s such a big deal – a game changer.
At Christmas we talk about giving gifts. And we make a fuss. But let me tell you what all the fuss is really about. The real gift – the real focus of this night – is on this one great gift that God is giving to all of us.
It is the gift of God himself. The gift of God with us. In the person of His son Jesus Christ. And let me tell you – what a joy it is to receive Jesus Christ into our hearts, into our homes, into our lives. The greatest gift. The only gift we really need. I’m not diminishing all those other gifts and presents, but this is the one gift that we really need.
And the gift God gives is not just the gift of God’s Son Jesus Christ, but the gifts that comes along with the gift. The reading from Titus tells us what some of these gifts are: First grace. Then salvation. Hope. Goodness and loving kindness. Mercy.
Now listen! Those are all kind of big church words. But these words let us know who God is – that God is good, and loving, and kind – and that what God wants to give us is grace and mercy. And it’s all because of Jesus. Through his life, death and resurrection – God makes it possible for us to be forgiven. And because we are forgiven – we have eternal life with God forever. That’s kind of a big deal, yeah?
So all these big church words – grace, mercy, hope, loving kindness and so forth – all pretty much mean the same thing. So how would it be if I focus on just two of those words – words that we use to talk about all that God does for us. Grace and mercy.
Now, traditionally I use the definition I learned in confirmation class – I can’t believe I’m going to say this – nearly 50 years ago. You’ve heard me say this before – “Grace is God’s undeserved love and favor.” Say that with me. Grace is what? “God’s undeserved love and favor.” Underscore the word, “undeserved.” Ok? Alright? God loves you just because that’s who God is and that’s what God does.
Another definition I like is this. “Grace is what we get that we do not deserve. Mercy is where we don’t get what we truly do deserve.” Grace is what we get that we do not deserve. Mercy is where we don’t get what we truly do deserve. Ok. Chew on that for a while. In other words, God’s undeserved love and favor.
Philip Yancey is the author of many best-selling Christian books. Yancey was once asked if he could define grace.
He said, "I don't even try. Jesus talked a lot about grace, but mainly through stories. So Yancey proceeds to tell a story that happened to him. “I remember once getting stuck in Los Angeles traffic in a rental car, and arriving 58 minutes late at the Hertz rental desk. I walked up in kind of a bad mood, put the keys down and said, ‘How much do I owe?'
"The woman says, ‘Nothing. You're all clear.'
"I said I was late and she smiled, ‘Yes, but there's a one-hour grace period.'
"So I asked, ‘Oh really, what is grace?'
"And she said, ‘I don't know.' (They must not cover that in Hertz training classes.)
"I guess what it means is that even though you're supposed to pay, you don't have to." That's a good start to a definition.
Even though you’re supposed to pay, you don’t have to. You see, Jesus paid the price for the gift that God is giving you tonight so that you wouldn’t have to. You don’t have to pay for Grace. Mercy. Peace. Pardon. Forgiveness. Eternal life with God forever. These are the gifts Jesus gives. God our Immanuel – and again, there’s another big church word. Immanuel simply means “God is with us.” So God – our Immanuel – has come to us in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. And that is why we make such a fuss.
So, what do you make of all this? This Christmas story? Cute little story? Shepherds and angels – a baby born in a stable? What do you make of all this? Whatever your answer – you’d better be right. Why? Because eternity is too long to be wrong. Eternity is too long to be wrong. We have got to get this right.
Think about it. You know the story – but do you know the Jesus whose story we celebrate tonight? AND I think – more importantly – what are you going to take away with you tonight when you leave this place? Before you leave here – I want you to think about what it is that you’re going to take away with you tonight.
BECAUSE – and I say this a lot – no matter where you’ve been – no matter what you’ve done – and if you’re prone to wander – no matter how long you’ve been away – please know this. God is giving you a gift. The gift of Himself – in the person of Jesus Christ. And along with Jesus – you get grace – God’s undeserved love and favor. You get mercy. Peace. Pardon. Forgiveness. Eternal life with God forever. Kind of a big deal? Yeah! A real game changer. In fact, I would say that it’s Hu-jah! Ok, I’ll try to stop saying that.
Hey! Just accept the fact that you’re accepted. It’s all gift. And that’s why we make a fuss. This is what we celebrate – the night when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared. Amen