The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians 2:4-10
Today is December 1st and so we begin to think and preoccupy ourselves with the Christmas season. We are thrilled to hear the festive music on the radio station and to see the decorations in all the stores. There are television Christmas specials and everywhere you turn you find a reminder of this wonderful season. One of the things we are most preoccupied with during this season is the duty of buying lots of gifts. There is a pressure not to forget anyone and even more pressure to get the perfect gift for each and every person. We also see this in the way that people go crazy during black friday sales. So crazy that they would trample their fellow man to death. Sadly, this has happened more than once.
I think it is fine to get reasonable gifts for the family and close friends. Gifts are a sign of our love for one another and in fact the giving of gifts makes sense during the season of Christmas because Our Lord Jesus received gifts as a newborn babe. But whatever we do for one another we can never forget that nothing we do for another can ever compare to the gift that God the Father gave to each of us.
St. Paul writes “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.” St. Paul tells us that we are saved by grace through faith. What does it mean to be saved by grace? Does it mean that we are saved by doing absolutely nothing? Does it mean the God saves those who say they believe in Jesus? Does it mean that God simply chooses whom He will “grace” with the gift of salvation? What does it say about God that He picks and chooses some to be saved and others to be condemned?
When St. Paul speaks of grace he is speaking of a gift. During this season we are reminded that the greatest gift that anyone has ever received or ever can receive is Jesus Christ Himself. Would people trample down others to fight to get in the Church? Would they wrestle one another to get closer to Jesus? You and I both know the answer. Perhaps if they only understood the love that God has for them. Perhaps if they understood that the communion we receive each Sunday is the medicine of immortality according to the words of Our Lord.
Think about it….what did we ever do to deserve such love? Could humans have done anything to convince God to send His Son? In fact we see the opposite is true. No matter what, humans kept falling short of God’s expectations and laws for us. We are great sinners in the eyes of God. We have almost always chosen our own selfish ways rather than obedience to God, yet through all this we find that God has been as generous as possible.
Grace is the very definition of the incarnation and life of Jesus Christ. He didn’t have to take flesh. He didn’t have to be bound by space and time. He did not have to know suffering, pain, and hunger. Jesus Christ did not have to be born as a human. He did not have to die. All of those aspects of His life remind us that His mere presence on earth was given as a gift. This gift is the sign of God’s love for the whole world and specifically of the human race. This gift we call the grace of God is open to every man, woman and child in the world.
Grace makes it possible to know God and His Son. Grace makes it possible to be saved….but grace does not guarantee salvation. Grace opens up the gates of heaven….but grace cannot make us look towards those gates. Grace opens up the embrace of God, but cannot force us into His arms. Through the birth, life and crucifixion, the whole world has received the grace of God and the possibility of being saved, but not all men will accept this freely given gift. Some will reject Jesus Christ and doubt that God could ever love us. Some will accept the whole thing in theory but never actually live out that belief. But that is not the definition of faith. Faith is a firm and life changing belief as the Apostle James reminds us saying “Faith without works is dead.”
As we draw closer to the Christmas feast, is it time for us to draw others to God’s greatest gift? If we won’t do it now, when will we ever? When our kids harass us all day long about Santa Claus and presents do we ever turn their thoughts to God’s gift to mankind?
I see a world around me that is struggling and ultimately it is not because a certain political party is in office. It is not because a certain man is president. The world is not struggling because of some bad decisions by misguided judges in the courtroom. The world is not struggling because of bankers on wall street or corrupt congressmen. The world is struggling because somewhere along the lines, we forgot to teach people about God’s greatest gift to every man. We forgot to tell others that because of Jesus Christ they can receive forgiveness of their sins. Because of Jesus Christ, they can know God the Father and the Spirit. Because of Jesus Christ, they can receive healing and peace and joy that nothing else can bring. Because of Jesus Christ, they can live forever. Because of Jesus Christ, they can become human again.
All of this is possible because of the God who pours out His grace. And glory be to God forever, AMEN.