We live in a time, in a religious atmosphere, where Christianity is often presented as something that needs to be appropriated by the individual. It's offered to you, but you have to do something, believe something, show some kind of earnestness, some kind of seriousness before it can really be yours. We take this so much for granted in our Western way of thinking, that it's hard to imagine that this is precisely how Martin Luther did not view the gospel. It was not something that was appropriated by the individual after assessing it's value. It was something that was given ... to the unacceptable, to the unworthy, even to those who didn't particularly want it. Now that is very different.
I like the text this morning ... "The Lord has bared His Holy arm before all the nations. All the ends of earth shall see the salvation of God." Translation: He's played His hand. He's let it out in the open. It has become accessible, available, real. Grace is not a hidden agenda. At Christmas we return again to that fundamental of the Christian faith.
God has shown Himself. God has expressed Himself. He's taken the mystery out of Himself, but for a very particular reason. Why does He show us what He shows us in Jesus? Why does He speak in the word so that our ears can detect what he says? For this reason ... for our salvation. God doesn't come in Christ Jesus, in the word of the gospel, to answer our religious questions, or to demonstrate Himself to us in the sense that He has to prove anything to us. He comes to do something for us. And to put a finer point on it, to do something 'to us'. He comes to give us salvation.
God didn't wait for our assessment before He came into the world in the baby Jesus. No, He came because He chose to come. He came even though He wasn't wanted. "He came to his own people and his own people didn't receive him. (John 1)" He's not waiting for us to decide something or to change our lives and get ourselves straight or right with God. He comes to us in the midst of our tangledness, our lostness, our confusion, our sin, our hurts, our hopes, our dreams, and He takes a hold of us right there in the middle of it. That's the gospel! He doesn't wait for us to make a decision. He makes the decision for us. This is a really challenging way of thinking about the faith for people today. Because we've all decided, one way or another, many of us, that somehow, "Well…that’s all well and good but we have to have the final say ... somehow."
But today we are here to proclaim God with us ... Emanuel. Not because we've asked for Him. Not because we're particularly happy that He is around. But because in His grace, and His mercy, He has chosen to be with us.
Your sin is forgiven for Jesus sake. If you heard it ... it happened. It's as simple as that. "But I have to do something…don’t I ?" And what's the answer? "No". That's why the Christian community, early on, called this message, "Good News" ... of great joy! For everybody! Born for you, this day in the city of David, is a Savior. God has expressed Himself ... like a mother gives milk to a child. Like a parent takes a child in a warm embrace. It's right there. Immediate. Present. "This is my body, for you. This is my blood, for you." Don't try to take it inside and spiritualize it. Don't try to bring it inside and write theology about it. Don't try to take it inward and figure it out. Just taste it. Let it be what it is. God for you. Pressing and impressing Himself on you, with His forgiveness and mercy, promising you life and hope.
So grace is not a hidden agenda. The gospel is not a spiritual idea for us to internalize and have to kinda figure out. It comes utterly from outside of us. Asking nothing from us. But given solely by His grace, to us, that our confidence may be in God's grace. And, as Luther said, "In God's grace ... alone." Amen.
-- Pastor Mark Anderson
From the First London Confession of Faith (1646)
Faith is ordinarily begotten by the preaching of the gospel, or word of Christ, without respect to any power or agency in the creature; but it being wholly passive, and dead in trespasses and sins, doth believe and is converted by no less power than that which raised Christ from the dead.
The preaching of the gospel to the conversion of sinners, is absolutely free; no way requiring as absolutely necessary, any qualifications, preparations, or terrors of the law, or preceding ministry of the law, but only and alone the naked soul, a sinner and ungodly, to receive Christ crucified, dead and buried, and risen again; who is made a prince and a Savior for such sinners as through the gospel shall be brought to believe on Him.