The Rev. Ian Emile Dunn
On Christian Happiness
A Homily for Christmas Eve
December 24, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Precsott, AZ
Text: Titus 2:11-15
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
What is happiness?
What is it that gives us true and unwavering contentment in the shadow of darkness? What gives us true pleasure?
Perhaps some are prone to thinking that it is getting the toy they’ve always wanted, or a new big screen TV, maybe a new car will do it or some device that will give them status or satisfaction.
Perhaps for others it is getting the opportunity to be with loved ones, dotting on children, or finally experiencing a scene from a Hallmark Christmas movie, where snowflakes fall, and their true love finally kisses them.
But we know these pleasures are fleeting. Surely there must be more. Surely there must be some other happiness that can sustain us.
Christians are called to a persistent happiness – a persistent joy and contentment and when we read that we are called blessed hope, when we read that we are called to happy hope this evening from St. Paul – we are reminded of this calling.
Do you experience the persistent happy hope? Do you experience daily contentment in Christ?
A second century philosopher baffled by the early Christians wrote his emperor with the following observation:
Every morning and all hours on account of the goodness of God toward them, they render praise and laud Him over their food and their drink; they render Him thanks. And if any righteous person of their number passes away from this world, they rejoice and give thanks to God and they follow his body as though he were moving from one place to another. And when a child is born to them, they praise God, and if again it chances to die in its infancy, they praise God mightily, as for one who has passed through the world without sins.
I wonder if we have the courage to live in such a way. I wonder how we come to live in the joy – in the happiness that the early church experienced day in and day out – despite the oppressive conditions, despite being minorities, despite being despised by many, despite being habitually scorned?
I wonder what the key to that happiness was.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
For unto you is born this day a savior.
What happy news this is! What good news this birth is! What contentment has been given to us!
Tonight, we gather to celebrate the birth of our savior, the birth of one who would redeem not just the people from whom he came – but he came to redeem all people. He came to redeem all who would believe on his name.
Before we hear these words in scripture before we read of the Angels announcement of it to lowly shepherds or St. Paul penned the words of his epistles – we see a testimony of this.
The angels did not go to the palace of Herod, or some other king’s castle, they did not go into the houses of the rulers of the synagogue, or seek wise sages, they did not go to the scribes, they did not go to the great lawyers of Jerusalem.
They went to the shepherds.
They went to those who were despised by society. They went to the lowly and unto them they announced:
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
The angels announced the lowly birth of our heavenly king first to the lowly themselves.
And he was born for all people.
The lowly and the haughty.
The broken and the proud.
The sorrowful and the pleasure-filled.
Christ came to redeem all who would receive Him.
This evening we read the words of St. Paul to Titus his spiritual son. In it he unpacks the theological significance of Christ’s Birth. As he spells out these thoughts, he says to Titus that we as Christians are called to wait for our blessed hope. We are called to wait for our happy hope – which is the appearing of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ.
Tonight – as we celebrate the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, that God became man in Christ, we are reminded by St. Paul’s word’s that grace came into the world – that grace came and dwelt among us.
It is hard for us to imagine a more glorious promise than this. But I wonder if we are too often swept up by worldliness and have cheapened grace.
Do you spend time pondering how incredible the grace of Christ is? Or have you diminished it by lowering your incredible need for it, or by overtly abusing it.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer found himself disturbed watching his fellow Christians in Germany during World War II. He saw them swing into pluralism and place their hope not in Jesus but in a man, hoping that somehow, he would save them. He saw them ordain things that were clearly against the gospel, clearly sinful and as he mourned, he wrote:
"We gave away the word and sacraments wholesale; we baptized, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation without asking awkward questions, or insisting on strict conditions. Our humanitarian sentiment made us give that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving. We poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus was hardly ever heard."
My dear friends – we are called to follow Jesus, we are called to place our happy hope in Him, who’s birth we recall this evening and will return in the fullness of God’s glory. We are called to take up our cross and follow him, regardless of the cost to us.
And when we recognize how amazing grace is, when we recognize how great a gift we have been given by the coming of Christ into the world, when we realize how good it is that we have come to know him. We realize that our hope as been fulfilled, we realize that the grace we have been given in him is not cheap. Our freedom, our bodies and souls, our lives have been bought at a high price, we have been freed at considerable cost to God himself. And so we ask the awkward questions – we forsake anything else that makes false promises – we forsake it all for the sake of Christ.
And this is the good news of Christmas – this is the happiness of Christmas
– that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
That in that meager and lowly manger two thousand years ago laid the baby that would live to die to save us all.
This birth is the fulfilment of what men and women had hoped for since Adam and Eve. This the fulfilment of what God promised our first parents in their rebellion and foretold in the prophets before him – this is the hope that was foreshadowed in Israel throughout the centuries – this is the hope and promise – that they would not be left alone – that they would not be left to suffer. That we are not alone, that we are not abandoned, that we have not been left alone to suffer – that our suffering our heartbreak is not in vain – but Christ has come to redeem us – and to draw is near to Him.
In our joy and suffering alike we find the opportunity to dwell at the more richly in Him – all the more richly in His goodness and grace and promises.
This grace is not cheap – but costly – and so we are called to leave those worldly happiness behind – called to rejoice – and be glad for Christ came into the world – called to put our hope in the one thing that will never fail.
Be glad and rejoice if you have family to spend time with.
Be glad and rejoice if you have a roof over your head.
Be glad and rejoice if your life is bountiful.
Be glad and rejoice if the world around you trembles.
Be glad and rejoice if it feels like everything is failing.
Be glad and rejoice when the world crumbles.
Be glad and rejoice – because the hope you have is not only a completed hope, but a hope that will be fully realized when Christ returns.
We are waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
It is for this blessed hope – it is for this appearing that we have left behind worldliness. It is for this blessed hope that we have forsaken sin, that we flee from sinful pleasures, it is for this blessed hope that our old selves have been put to death and we are being made new, that we are being made alive.
What happiness is this! What a happy hope this is!
When we realize the gift that we have been given in the incarnation of Christ – when we realize that we are being made alive in His coming and not only that but that the future hope is filled with more joy than we can imagine.
And so – this Christmas – amidst political turmoil, amidst disease, amidst distress, amidst uncertainly, amidst cultural darkness – the gospel points us back to Christ. The gospel points us back to a babe in a manger, born of humble means,
born to save sinners such as me,
born to save sinners such as you.
Let us not cheapen this message by abusing it. Let us not cheapen this message by taking advantage of it.
Rather let us be a people that with hearty happiness join the Angels in singing to the Lord, that with hearty happiness, singing: “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Let us be a people that rejoice that Christ has come into the world – and will come again in the great last day.
For this is the happy message of Christmas, the happy hope of Christians every, in all places, and in all time – in tribulation and peace, in sickness and in health, in richness and poverty – this is their hope – this is our hope – that unto us a child is born and he shall be called Immanuel, God is with us and one day he will return as our triumphant king, and he will reign and we will dwell with God in all of eternity.
Let us rejoice and be glad in this incredible news. Let us wish one another a happy Christmas – for the birth of this child brings us a hope that will never fail.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.