A Gift for Jesus

Titus 2:11-14a Christmas gift

Poor Titus! I chose to focus on Titus because Christmas Eve is the only time in the entire, three-year lectionary that Titus is ever recommended reading; and even now, shoehorned in alongside the Christmas story as told in the Gospel of Luke, poor Titus doesn’t stand a chance. Besides, on the eve of the most anticipated, most costly, and most celebratory holiday on our culture’s calendar, Titus spends his meager time in the lectionary limelight reminding us to live “self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.” I mean, is this the guy you want sitting next to you at Christmas dinner?

In Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling novel The Kite Runner, there is a phrase that stirs the heart and drives the plot: “There is a way to be good again.” The central character, Amir, betrays his boyhood friend, Hassan, in a way that leads to tragedy and suffering. The knowledge of his transgression plagues Amir throughout his life. As an adult, he receives a note from an old family friend who knew about this transgression. The note contains the simple words: “There is a way to be good again.” This eventually leads him on a journey on behalf of Hassan who, with his wife, was murdered several years before. At great risk to his own life, Amir locates and rescues Hassan’s son.

“There is a way to be good again.” This is an evocative phrase. It’s not just about exploiting an overactive conscience; rather, it taps into that deep yearning we have to be better than we are. It also reveals the deep doubt we harbor that there is any real hope of becoming other than what and who we are. Perhaps some of you went to church on Christmas Eve because somewhere in your subconscious mind, you felt a yearning to hear words like, “There is a way to be good again.” On this night, of all nights, it seems like maybe—just maybe—there is something to this outrageous, mysterious claim that God in Christ has made a way for redemption. That, to use Titus’ phrase, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.” If you are straining under the weight of accumulated lost opportunities, betrayals, broken promises, and failures to love others as you ought, God has a gift for you.

It’s remarkable, when I think about it, that God could have anything for one such as I. Surely I have done nothing to deserve God’s favor. And yet the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,” and in this truth, I find that “there is a way to be good again.”

It is at this crossroads of thought that Titus—silly little Titus who wants to be heard over the clamor of singing choirs of angels and the bleats of shepherds’ sheep—has wisdom to share. Did you notice that in his few verses, he invites us to juxtapose “self-control” with being “zealous for good deeds?” How can someone be self-controlled and zealous at the same time? What’s this about?

The driving force behind Titus’ exhortations is not buttoned-down behavior. He’s not trying to repress our passions; he is trying to redirect them. What Titus has in mind is a release of redemptive energy, a full-throated celebration of God’s gift of grace—a celebration that not only acknowledges the grace of God which has appeared but also participates in that gift of grace, bringing salvation to all. Titus teaches us to “renounce impiety and worldly passions,” and to live self-controlled, upright, godly lives instead. In the context of Christmas, I hear Titus saying, “By all means, be overjoyed during this season and on this night! Sing songs! Give gifts! Kiss your crush under the mistletoe; why not? But celebrate the grace of God which has appeared, bringing salvation to all, not the awesome deal you got on a Blu-ray player for your son by chop-blocking an old lady in the electronics department of Wal-mart to get it first.” When we talk about “impiety and worldly passions” in our modern context, nothing comes to mind more quickly than the soul-crushing consumerism that has become so synonymous with Christmas itself that some families have to cut their Thanksgiving holidays short so that retail workers can cater to our “worldly passion” for getting our shop on. Titus reminds us that it doesn’t have to be this way; Christmas is about something else! “There is a way to be good again.” What if we loved our neighbors—feeding those who are hungry, clothing those who are naked, visiting those who are sick or in prison—with the same passion with which we chase the latest fad, stalk our favorite celebrities, or stampede one another for the best discounts?

Titus empowers us to consider how our preparation for God’s grace can become our participation in God’s grace. By all means, let us be zealous for Christmas! Not the world’s Christmas, but the one that participates in the appearance of God’s grace by sharing God’s grace with the world. Let us be zealous for “good deeds,” as Titus says, that show that we have received God’s grace and that God’s grace has transformed us into something different—something “good again.”

See, the heavy weight of our unworthiness is not to be shoved out of sight and out of mind when we enter the sanctuary. Rather, it belongs there. Amidst all the flickering candles and lowing cattle and shining stars and watching shepherds, we are drawn to the light of the manger—we of imperfect lives and impious hearts—and to God’s promise that with the appearance of his grace in the one who was born in Bethlehem, “there is a way to be good again.”

Jesus Christ is God’s gift to us. We didn’t earn this gift—for one cannot earn a gift, it can only be given freely. But as the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, how can we respond? What gift have we to set before the newborn king? Might I suggest one of the most time-honored of Christmas traditions: re-gifting?

We’ve probably all “re-gifted” at some time or another, right? We’ve taken a gift given to us and—because it didn’t fit, or we already had one, or it wasn’t the right style, or we were simply desperate—we rewrapped it and gave it to someone else. I want to actually recommend that we re-gift this Christmas, giving to Jesus the only gift we can give: the gift he first gave us. Since, in Jesus Christ, God has reconciled us to himself, renewed our relationship with him, given us the gift of “a way to be good again,” and given us our very selves—the selves that God had always intended us to be—the only things we can reasonably give in return are those same selves. The only gift appropriate for us to give to God, given the gift we have received in Jesus Christ, is our whole self: all of us, from our bodies to our actions to our thoughts to our attitudes. As we prepare for the glory of God which is to come, let us also participate in it by being who God has created us, redeemed us, and continually sustains us to be.

What irony, that amidst all the poetry of the prophets and the pageantry of the Gospel of Luke, Titus is the one who reminds us what Christmas is all about. “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all… While we wait for the blessed hope and the epiphany of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,” let us renounce our impiety and worldly passions, and instead embrace the self-control, uprightness, and godliness that glorifies God and marks us as God’s own people, zealously living a life of hope, peace, joy, and love.

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4 thoughts on “A Gift for Jesus

  1. If you are seeking Jesus….. a poem

    The Star of The Show

    Jesus calls us to Himself
    When The Show begins
    We’re infants – so He humors us
    It’s “Rocky and His Friends”

    Like a little squirrel dressed up
    As a flying superhero
    We give ourselves the Title
    And zoom around the atmosphere Oh!

    I have come to save the day!
    We proclaim with a big smile
    And Jesus is my co-pilot
    So I’m always top of the pile

    God our Father loves his children
    He is patient as we grow
    So we take another step
    It’s “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show”

    As we journey with The Moose
    Faithfully by our side
    We get a revelation
    We have to swallow our pride

    “He must become greater”
    He really is The Star
    “I must become less,” but still
    with Him I’ll travel far

    “You must follow me,” says Jesus
    In His eyes I see a twinkle
    He is not My friend I am HIS
    Jesus is The Star – like Bullwinkle

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  2. Can you recognize the voice of JESUS?

    Poem – Looking forward (Rocky)

    Jesus never calls us out
    For what we used to be.
    His voice is so much greater
    Than paul the Pharisee.

    “You are Simon son of John”
    said Jesus, without elaboration.
    No mention of a cloudy past
    No hint of condemnation.

    No accusation against the brothers
    No comments dark and obscure,
    Writing to the Church in Corinth
    “that is what some of you were.”

    Not the voice of the accuser,
    Boss Paul the Pharisee,
    Telling the redeemed people of God
    About what they used to be.

    Jesus never said right is wrong,
    He never said wrong is right.
    He came so we can turn from darkness
    And into His glorious light.

    “Neither do I condemn you” said Jesus,
    to a woman entrapped by dogs.
    The game the dogs play is the same today,
    Except now they do it on blogs.

    “Go and sin no more” said Jesus,
    Don’t relive that history.
    Look forward, not back, don’t dwell on your past.
    “You will be called” Rocky.

    Looking forward – Chapter 2

    “I am he who searches hearts and minds”
    says the Risen Jesus Christ
    “Repent and do what you did at first”
    Don’t be lazy since He paid the price

    Yes, Jesus sees our sins today
    Don’t think that He is blind
    But the words of paul the Pharisee
    Will put you in a bind

    Jesus washed away your sins
    Don’t listen to paul the accuser
    paul abandoned the Church in Corinth
    And then paul became an abuser

    When you put your trust in Jesus
    Yes, your stains were white as snow
    You didn’t need to wear a Scarlet Letter
    Everywhere you go

    “I will repay each of you
    According to your deeds”
    This is Jesus speaking to The Church
    Not a business selling felt needs

    For “those who claim to be apostles”
    Jesus said they must be “tested”
    Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos
    Persevered and were not bested

    They exposed the false teachings
    Of paul the Pharisee
    So the Church in Ephesus rejected paul
    And had a chance to be free

    Bibliography for Chapter 2
    All quotes are the words of Jesus, in Revelation Chapter 2

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  3. Can you hear the voice of Jesus?

    Poem – What is love?

    Two men came to Jesus
    With different motivations.
    They asked Him the same question
    Relevant to all the nations:

    Which is the Most Important?
    The answer was the same.
    Jesus did not manipulate
    He was not there to play a game.

    “Love the Lord your God” said Jesus
    as He quoted from The Law –
    to fulfill and not abolish
    was His purpose, full of awe.

    Jesus did not make all Scripture
    Into one new great commandment.
    He summarized The Law and Prophets
    “First and Greatest” and “The Second.”

    The Love of God is higher
    Than the love of any man.
    Receive from God, give back to God-
    Then to others, that’s His plan.

    The Love of God involves much more
    Than simply “love your fellow man.”
    Worship, trust, and pray to God,
    and obey Him – that’s His plan

    To worship and pray to neighbors,
    Whoever they may be,
    Or trust and obey our enemies
    Would be idolatry.

    The love of God is first and greatest,
    And the love of man is second.
    “All we need is love” are words
    of dead Beetles on the pavement.

    “The entire law is summed up in a single command”
    are not the words of Jesus our Salvation.
    It’s false teaching of Paul the Pharisee
    an “accuser of our brethren.”

    “Love” without God is Satan’s word through Paul
    in his chapter to the Corinthians.
    “I will show you the most excellent way”
    is the road to eternal perdition.

    Where is God in Paul’s chapter on love?
    Nowhere in view of the eye.
    Paul sings about himself like a Mexican Mariachi
    “I, I, I, I.”

    Jesus is The Most Excellent Way
    Not the words of a Pharisee.
    The words of Jesus are very clear.
    Jesus said, “You must follow ME.”

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  4. Listening to Jesus speak for Himself would be a great gift to give Him – especially regarding what is Most Important. No, it’s not simply “love”….. that was the Beatles (and Paul)..

    Parable of the House Painters

    A homeowner called his friend, who was a painting contractor. “Friend, I want to hire you and your team to paint my house and my garage. Paint the house first, and I’ll stay in the garage until you’re done. Then when the paint is dry, I’ll move back into the house, and you can paint the garage.”

    The painting contractor hired a new foreman named Paul, and gave him the homeowner’s instructions. (Paul insisted that all the workers show respect for him by addressing him as “Boss Paul.”) Paul called the team of painters together and told them:
    “Boys, we need to paint this garage and house. The quicker we do it, the more profitable it is for us. So get to work! Since the garage is smaller, we can finish that quicker. Then those who finished the garage can go help the others finish the house.”

    One worker objected: “But Boss Paul, those were not the owner’s instructions! We are supposed to paint the house first. Only after the house is finished and the paint is dry can we go and paint the garage.”

    Paul replied: “I’m Boss, you work for me, and you do as I say. We are painters, and we paint. We don’t have time for debates about ‘which one is first’. We need to get to work applying that paint to the garage and house as quick as we can. Which owner would be upset if we finished early? The job is to paint the garage and house – what difference does it make ‘which one is first’”?

    “It makes a big difference to the owner,” the worker objected. To which Paul replied, “you’re fired.” Paul then took his team of painters, and started painting the garage and the house.

    When the homeowner returned in the evening, he was furious. He had nowhere to sleep, and had to go stay in a hotel for several days. The homeowner’s friend, the painting contractor, apologized, and explained:

    “I hired a new foreman named Paul, but that was a huge mistake. He ignored your instructions that I passed on to him. You don’t know him, and I’ve just barely met him.
    To be extremely polite, I could say that Paul ‘says some things which are difficult to understand.’ To be more direct, I could say Paul talks like an arrogant megalomaniac with a messiah complex, proclaiming; ‘I am not under the law’ but yet making up his own laws as he goes along, that everyone else has to obey. Paul said: ‘I became your father…. therefore I urge you to imitate me,’ and ‘I have become all things to all men.’ Paul thinks he’s Boss, and doesn’t need to listen to your instructions that I gave him.”

    In Matthew 22 and Mark 12, Jesus identified two commandments, saying one of them is the first and greatest most important one. Which one is it? The one in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, or the one in Leviticus 19:18 ?

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