Eternal Hope

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  December 25, 2022

The Service was unable to be recorded this week.  We apologize for any inconvenience. 
Read Titus 3:4 – 7 (NIV)
The day has finally arrived.  It is Christmas.  The day when we “officially” celebrate the birth of Jesus, although, if the truth be told, we began celebrating the Christmas holiday in one way or another, long before today.
From the decorations that adorn the sanctuary, our homes and various places of business… to the incessant Hallmark movies that have literally been airing around the clock since the end of October… as well as all of the retailers who have managed to stretch out the holiday shopping season much longer than ever… we have been seeing and hearing about Christmas for a really, really, long time.
But the problem, at least as I see it, is that for as much energy as we put into the Christmas holiday… we do not always talk about the real reason for the season.  As I mentioned in the message last evening, we get so distracted by the hustle and bustle and busy-ness that has become the norm for the Christmas holiday that we lose sight of why we should be celebrating in the first place.
So today, as we reflect on our New Testament lesson from Paul’s letter to his protégé, Titus, let us focus on the ETERNAL HOPE that should serve as the very foundation of our celebration at Christmastime and beyond.
Our text this morning contains just a few short verses that call for our attention.  These verses were originally written to a young man named Titus who Paul nurtured and taught before placing him in a position of leadership as an overseer of the churches in Crete. 
Now according to the Scriptures, the Cretans were known for being “liars, evil animals, and lazy people who do nothing but eat” (Titus 1:12).  And as one commentary described it, “By the time of Paul the society had a despicable reputation.  Greed was god.  Schemers were admired.  Cheating was wrong only if you got caught.  Right and wrong were determined by the situation, and rape was not a crime” (The Inspirational Bible, 1995, p. 1387).
YIKES.  And sadly, that does not sound so very different from our society today, does it?
Now as we take a closer look at these verses from Paul’s letter to Titus, we do not find the traditional Christmas story that we are used to hearing at this time of year.
There are no angels or shepherds or wise men mentioned.  There is no gold, frankincense, or myrrh being brought as a gift to the Newborn King.  There is nothing about a manger or any animals that we read about.  And there is not even a star in the East for anyone to follow.
But… there is Jesus! 
The One who always has been and always will be the ultimate reason for the season… despite the world’s best efforts to suggest otherwise.  That is why, as His followers, as His disciples, we have a duty and a responsibility to keep Christ in Christmas.
Each of us has been commissioned by Jesus to, “… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19).
And let me just say, this is not something that is reserved for us to do only during the Christmas season.  The fact of the matter is that the story of Christmas is just an introduction… simply a starting point… for us to understand what Jesus really came down to Earth to do.
Listen again to our text for the morning, only this time, let’s hear how it reads in the Contemporary English Version:

God our Savior showed us how good and kind he is.  He saved us because of his mercy, and not because of any good things we have done.  God washed us by the power of the Holy Spirit.  He gave us new birth and a fresh beginning.  God sent Jesus Christ our Savior to give us his Spirit.  Jesus treated us much better than we deserve.  He made us acceptable to God and gave us the hope of eternal life.
Jesus treated us much better than we deserveHe made us acceptable to God... 
God did not give us the gift of His Son and our Savior because we deserved it…
On the contrary, God so loved the world and gave us the gift of salvation because we NEEDED it.  We NEEDED saving from our sins.  We NEEDED a fresh start… a new beginning… a second chance… (and a third and a fourth...)  We NEEDED Jesus to make us acceptable to God.
And so, God gave us just what we needed.  He gave us Jesus… and through Him we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit… and as a result we have ETERNAL HOPE for the future.
So, I want to pose a question…
How many of us can remember back to when we were just a few years younger and our parents encouraged us to be good because otherwise Santa might not bring us any gifts at Christmas? 
I wonder if any of us might also remember the threat of getting coal in our stockings being used as a way to inspire us to engage in good behavior.
And as if that were not bad enough, let us not forget the lyrics to the classic song, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town…

You better watch out, you better not cry
You better not pout, I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He's making a list and checking it twice
He's gonna find out who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness' sake.
Oh, you better watch out, you better not cry
You better not pout, I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town.
(Songwriters: Haven Gillespie, J Fred Coots c. 1934)
In a nutshell, the promise of getting gifts at Christmas was predicated on our living up to a certain standard or behaving in a certain way…
But if a gift is given based on the fulfillment of certain conditions, it begs the question… is it really a gift?  Or is it simply a reward for proper performance?
Well, isn’t it good to know that the gift of salvation that God has given to us through Jesus’ death on the cross at Calvary is not a reward for proper performance?  Because, let me just say this… if it was, none of us would make the grade.
Paul reminds us in his letter to the Roman church that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and that at the time that Christ died for us, we were STILL sinners (see Romans 5:8).  
But let me suggest, that the reason we can live in ETERNAL HOPE… is because our salvation and the promise of everlasting life that has been given to us is not based on anything we have done or ever will do to deserve it. It is all because of God’s love and kindness for us.
So, then just what are we supposed do with this gift of salvation and the ETERNAL HOPE it brings?
We pass it along and share the Good News with others… through our words and our actions. 
We do as Christ commanded… loving God with all of who we are and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
We live our lives with the understanding that we have been blessed to be a blessing.
Keep in mind, when Paul wrote this letter to Titus, the community where he was sending him to serve was filled with people described as liars, evil, and lazy…
People who had greed as their god… and where scheming and cheating were traits to be admired… and where right and wrong was all relative.
And while we may be living in a day and time when those same things could be said about our society… it is definitely NOT how God intended us to live. 
It was the Prophet Micah who wrote, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)
Or as it reads in the Message Paraphrase:

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women.  It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.
Did you catch that?  “Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love…”   Sounds an awful lot like what Jesus meant when He told us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
“And don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously…”  Which goes right along with Jesus telling us that we are to love “God with all [our] heart and with all [our] soul and with all [our] mind” (Matthew 22:37) ... loving God is serious business.
Because at the end of the day what it all boils down to is fairly simple… we have been called to love God and to love the people of God.  It is not rocket science… and yet we do our best sometimes to complicate the matter.
But aren’t you glad to know that God has made things so much less complicated?  He has given us ETERNAL HOPE through Jesus’ sacrifice for each and every one of us… without exception and without qualification… all we have to do is believe… “for whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
And so as we think about the Christmas story, let us remember that it is really the precursor to what was yet to come… it got the ball rolling so to speak. 
For without Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, we cannot get to His death at Calvary… And without His death, burial, and resurrection, it would not be possible for us to receive the gift of eternal life… along with the ETERNAL HOPE that brings for us all.
So, on this Christmas morning, let us give God thanks and praise for the greatest gift ever given… the gift that far surpasses anything we may have found underneath our Christmas tree… because it truly is the gift that will keep on giving from now until eternity.