Christmas Gospel of Paul the Apostle
(Romans 1:1-7 ; Titus 2:11-3:8)
Service of Christmas 2015 at the Oratoire du Louvre
Preaching in two parts from Pastor James Woody & Pastor Marc Pernot
On this page:
- What Christ induces (Romans 1:1-7) by James Woody
- The grace of God has appeared to all men (Titus 2:11-3:8) by Marc Pernot
1. What Christ induces
Preaching from Pastor James Woody
Dear brothers and sisters, when it comes to Christmas, the language of Paul the Apostle is accurate, restrained, protestant. No marvelous, no magic for
Christmas, no supernatural in his way of looking at Jesus as the seed of David according to the flesh. What did you expect? To learn how he was conceived,
how he was born? Forget it. By the way, in Paul’s view, Easter is Christ’s true birthday: Paul writes that by the resurrection from the dead is the Son of
David declared the Son of God. In the view of Paul the Apostle, Jesus is Christ, not as a result of a special conception, but because he is the mighty
Incarnation of the Spirit of God. In the view of Paul the Apostle, Jesus is Christ, not because he had holy molecules in him, but because he has put the
hope of God into words and deeds. Better than that, Jesus is Christ because he has opened new paths in human history; by doing so he has allowed us to
behave in a way we call Christian today.
What Paul is interested in is what Jesus induces in us, what he allows us to live. This finds expression in Paul’s salutation that has become the opening
of any Christian service: grace and peace. What Jesus induces is introducing grace and peace in everyday life.
In the place of the typical Roman salutation “joy and prosperity”, the apostle puts grace and peace. We don’t even pay much attention to these most usual
words anymore. They belong to the routine service, like the “amen” that punctuate the prayers. And yet, these two words upset the social routine in the
Roman Empire; they burst into an established order. They throw light on how Jesus upset history.
Christmas can be told from the standpoint of grace. Grace is a very outstanding outlook.
If anything is supernatural in the story of Christmas, it has got to do with grace. Grace breaks with the usual way the world works. Grace asserts that our
intrinsic value is granted straightaway, apart from any merit, apart from what we have been done with. Grace bypasses every human authority that would want
to assume some power on souls. The Eternal is the one who gives us our true worth, by grace only.
Christmas can also be told from the standpoint of peace. Peace, then, is not only the autocentric pleasure of prosperity at the others’ expense anymore.
Peace brings in those around us. Peace entails responsibility, since Jesus says he does not give it as the world gives (John 14:27). Pax romana was
enforced by use of force; it was imposed to peoples that had to submit slavishly. To that, Jesus opposes peace, which is obtained on a voluntary basis, the
obedience in faith as Paul says: subscribing to a common outlook. The unity of the people does not require a common enemy anymore.
Beyond Jesus’ call Paul talks about, a divine call to life according to the Eternal fills Christmas. Far greater, far more serious than a republican
outburst, further reaching than the calls for closer ranks, for more citizenship – which often come to playing off the one against the other in one way or
another – the Christmas call to life rings beyond trends and divides.
Grace asks us to value our individual freedom and never sacrifice it, for our freedom is the best way to give the human community our proper genius and
prevent history from exhausting itself in an endless repetition.
Peace asks us to act responsibly towards each other. Peace according to the Eternal excludes selfishness. It challenges petty tricks and private interests.
Peace is the search for the common good with solidarity, without partisanship, without supporting any specific coterie.
Christmas ushers in the history of freedom of acting with a spirit of service. According to Christmas, we are able to transcend our survival instinct,
which so often comes to numbing withdrawal. Christmas is an invitation to apostolate, Paul the Apostle says. Apostolate, being an apostle, means being
sent: sent on the borders of life, the borders of human experience, where life may have become inhuman, often unbearable; sent where life is no more life,
by the own reckoning of those who suffer a history that is not exciting anymore, in which every outcome is a foregone conclusion…a life in which they do
not have their say anymore.
On the contrary, grace states that everybody has a say, that nobody may be deprived of his or her dignity as son of David, son of Adam, ultimately son of
Man. As for peace, it teaches us how to turn our speech to serving the Eternal, not our interests alone.
Grace allows us to express ourselves, to play our part. Peace invites us to renounce divisive, despairing speeches and schemes.
Paul the Apostle is right: Christmas is far less a gynecological issue than the great opening of a new history in which everybody is entrusted with the
responsibility of arousing faith, in other words adhering to the dynamics that heat life until glowing.
2. The grace of God has appeared to all men
Preaching from Pastor Marc Pernot
Paul the Apostle has sent Titus to churches all across the Roman Empire to help them improve. In Corinth or in Crete, he sometimes comes across a temporary
touchy situation, with lots of lies, stabs in the back, abusing petty minds…Paul advises to come back to basics: the beautiful things Jesus brought to
mankind. We should be able to hear something about the Christmas Gospel there.
The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men!
This is the Christmas Gospel. This is a major innovation indeed; it may even be what in Christ’s teaching is specific compared to his religion, Judaism,
but also compared to major religions such as Islam and Buddhism, or the Greek philosophies.
“Grace” is a way of being, a way of functioning. This is a specific way of looking at God, what He gives and what He expects. It teaches us a specific way
of being in connection with each other and looking at our own life.
The large impact of the novelty brought by Christ appears well in the verb translated with “appeared” (“grace has appeared”): the verb “epiphaino”
(ἐπιφαίνω, which has given the English word Epiphany) means “to light up around”. Our text insists twice (2:11, 3:4); it explains that God’s grace, which
lights life up so, is “the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man”, literally God’s “philanthropy”. This is one of God’s quality, there is nothing
we can do, neither can He, actually. He is this way. This way God “brings salvation […] to all men”. You did hear “to all men”, unconditionally.
This is like a light that lights up our theology, our understanding of salvation, our way of being, our ethics, our understanding of what is right.
But what is the point in praying, in bothering attending church, or acting right instead of doing evil, if God’s goodness saves each and everyone? We try
to act the best we can just because this is “good and profitable unto men”, the passage concludes. What better reason to do good, what happier, more
exciting way of living, than acting right just because it is good and profitable? As a result, human life does not look like a chore anymore; instead, one
lives and acts looking for the chance to make a good and profitable gesture.
But even before teaching how to put such goodness at the heart of our life, the first thing the grace of God teaches is finding enough courage, strength
and wisdom to find out what is rotten in our way of living. In the Gospels likewise, before the grace of God appeared in Christ, John the Baptist incited
to embark on a new life. A bath works the same; it removes what is rotten in our lives, our theology, our way of being.
From now on, the point is not to fear God but, in the light of grace, to make the difference between good and rotten, then, thanks to Him, to love what is
good and find what is rotten unpleasant. The rest belongs to God, to His active grace. That is why this bath is called “the washing of regeneration, and
renewing of the Holy Spirit”. The power for change comes from God like this, like an immersion in youth and renewed enthusiasm for good.
The grace of God, Paul says, teaches us how to live. The verb “to teach” Paul uses (παιδεύω) has given the English “pedagogy”, teaching children. This
meaning gives us a flavor of God’s kindness to us and His tireless patience. He is the Master like those fantastic professors some of us had the
opportunity to meet, who succeed in arousing the best in their pupils. It is up to us to catch the virus of God’s good pedagogy.
That is how God saves us in Christ, using this wonderful expression of His goodness, His philanthropy. This clarifies much the Christian theology of
salvation, in particular concerning the real value of the idea according to which Christ would have given his life (to whom?) as the price for freeing us
from damnation. Nothing is further from grace that this idea of morbid bargaining. Grace is exactly at the opposite of counting misdeeds, sufferings and
merits. This theory comes from the erroneous translation of some Hebraic notions. Some versions of the Bible would rather be corrected, by replacing
“Christ redeemed us” by “Christ freed us”, by replacing Christ “expiatory victim” by Christ “sign of God’s forgiveness”, and so on.
But beyond theology, our whole life benefits from the teaching of this great grace. We can work and place this source of goodness at the heart of our
humanity according to three trends: wisdom, justice and piety.
First wisdom: in the light of grace, we know that God does not have any legion of angels dedicated to thought policing, checking whether our
beliefs are truly standard! But we know that working on our theological and ethical thinking may truly be good and profitable to men. Indeed, the
angels the magic tales of Christmas in the Gospel of Luke mention are reminiscent of how much God can light this search for wisdom from inside. Grace
also changes our way of debating with each other, not only to find what enriches one another but also to make our disagreements prolific.
Then justice: isn’t it good and profitable trying and living in this world in accordance with what we think is right in the light of God’s grace
appeared in Christ; then thinking with God about which situation, which person in particular we might be entrusted with, which words or which silence,
which gesture, which fight will boost justice in this world? Thanks to God’s grace, this justice will encompass goodness, beauty and philanthropy,
friendship and respect, as far as possible.
Finally, Paul suggests piety. Piety too is saved by grace. Here again, one does not look for God because he has to but because it is good and
profitable to search for Him and become more and more sensitive to His so invigorating strangeness. Piety is a little time, concentration, availability
dedicated to praying, it is the third and essential pillar of life in this world. Calling piety the first pillar may be more adequate though, as it is
through piety that God’s grace is most able to spread in our wisdom, our justice, our way of being even in the smallest things.
Above all, may this Gospel of God’s grace not be a pillow of laziness to us! It would be such a rotten shallow answer to God’s way of being so beautiful,
so profitable, so prolific and so happy.
Merci à Florence pour la traduction !
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1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, an Apostle by the selection of God, given authority as a preacher of the good news,
2 Of which God had given word before by his prophets in the holy Writings,
3 About his Son who, in the flesh, came from the family of David,
4 But was marked out as Son of God in power by the Holy Spirit through the coming to life again of the dead; Jesus Christ our Lord,
5 Through whom grace has been given to us, sending us out to make disciples to the faith among all nations, for his name:
6 Among whom you in the same way have been marked out to be disciples of Jesus Christ:
7 To all those who are in Rome, loved by God, marked out as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
11 For the grace of God has come, giving salvation to all men,
12 Training us so that, turning away from evil and the desires of this world, we may be living wisely and uprightly in the knowledge of God in this present
13 Looking for the glad hope, the revelation of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ;
14 Who gave himself for us, so that he might make us free from all wrongdoing, and make for himself a people clean in heart and on fire with good works.
15 On all these points give teaching and help, and make clear what is right with all authority. Let all men give you honour.
1 Make clear to them that they are to put themselves under rulers and authorities, to do what they are ordered, to be ready for every good work,
2 To say no evil of any man, not to be fighters, to give way to others, to be gentle in behaviour to all men.
3 For in the past we were foolish, hard in heart, turned from the true way, servants of evil desires and pleasures, living in bad feeling and envy, hated
and hating one another.
4 But when the mercy of God our Saviour, and his love to man was seen,
5 Not by works of righteousness which we did ourselves, but in the measure of his mercy, he gave us salvation, through the washing of the new birth and the
giving of new life in the Holy Spirit,
6 Which he gave us freely through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
7 So that, having been given righteousness through grace, we might have a part in the heritage, the hope of eternal life.
8 This is a true saying; and it is my desire that you may give certain witness about these things, so that those who have had faith in God may give
attention to good works. These things are good and of profit to men;