Sunday, December 25, 2016
Grace Has Appeared
Martin Luther loved the pseudonymous epistle to Titus! Every Christmas Eve we read and [hopefully] hear Titus 2:11-14 that opens with "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all..." and ends with "...purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds."
Luke the gentile physician wrote a gospel account and a second volume called Acts of the Apostles that sounds like enterprising people "zealous for good deeds," and indeed it is a fast-moving account of Jesus' followers full of the Pentecostal Spirit of Life traveling all over the map of the world that was known at that time, people zealous for good works – for teaching and preaching and healing – and performing them everywhere they went. You may recall that in Acts 11:26 we learned "in Antioch the disciples first were called 'Christians.'" Earlier in verse 26 of that same paragraph because it happened around the same time, we hear how Barnabas went to Antioch where he "saw the grace of God and rejoiced."
It wasn't economic justice, educational opportunities, or relative occupational parity attained to the hilt and then some that impressed Barnabas. Not liturgy consummately enacted with careful attention to gesture and nuance, sign and symbol, home-baked bread and local artisanal wine. Not knock-your-socks-off proclamation of the gospel that would have left every other presenter at Festival of Homies in the dust. No, none of those possibilities. With his own eyes, Barnabas saw the grace of God, just as the letter to Titus tells us in Jesus grace appeared, became apparent, so we could observe it with our own eyes and our other four senses. Where does that leave the world's needs for justice and equity? Where does it leave our at least weekly celebrations of the eschatological feast of the Eucharist? Where does it leave our need for clear, compelling, world-engaging, life changing teaching and preaching?
We talk about the gospel of grace, the means of grace, the church's year of grace. Grace is central to Christianity and to the entire witness of scripture! But the grace of God Barnabas saw could be you. It could be me. It could be our neighbor, a stranger, or someone we consider an enemy right there before us, embodying and incarnating the grace of God. The New Barnabas could be a stranger, a coworker, someone we consider an enemy—or any one of us, needing to meet Jesus again for the 2nd or 7th, or maybe for the 12th time. Open your eyes! Open your hearts! Open your arms!
Grace has appeared. Grace is appearing! Grace will appear again.