The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 12/24/96
Text: Titus 2:11-14
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

All done? The rush about over? Any problems? If you were shopping for people like me, there were probably some - I am difficult to shop for. Not that I am so picky or finicky, it is just that, what I want, I buy. No need for anyone else to get it for me, I already have it. If I do not, it is probably too big or too expensive, so I forget about it. Thus, folks are stuck with going for golf balls or cologne or ties -- items which are pretty prosaic, but they are safe, and I can always use them. This does not mean that I do not need or want anything else. But a new car or a healthy chunk off my mortgage are pretty much out of the ball park.

There is one gift I need though, and, as the children's pageant last week reminded, I need it 365 days a year. And you need it too. All I want for Christmas in 1996 is the gift of GRACE!

Grace. The theologians among us will hear that word and think, "AHA! Grace...the unmerited favor of God." Good definition. And I surely need that. But the grace I am thinking of is down one level, a bit more mundane. I also need the grace, the unmerited favor, of friends and neighbors, and especially brothers and sisters in Christ.

Why grace? Because somehow, over the course of my life, I have seen what appears to be an inexorable shrinkage of the pool of grace available in our world. It is getting meaner and meaner and meaner out there. Have you noticed? For goodness sake, even the mortgage companies and bankers offer a bit of "grace" when things get tight, but other than that, no one seems willing to cut anyone any slack. We are a society that wants WHAT it wants, WHEN it wants it, and the WAY it wants it. And heaven help anyone who would dare to disappoint us, even inadvertently. If someone fails to meet our expectations, they should be fired or sued. History may look on ours as a "civilized" society (although that could be open to question), but we have become a not very "civil" society, haven't we? Where is the grace anymore?

I wish I could say that the answer to that is in the church. Yes, it OUGHT to be, but the church is often more reflective of what society IS instead of what it SHOULD be, so even churches can be pretty uncivil places. Did you see the paper on Friday and the article datelined Rembert, SC under the headline, "Dispute tears apart SC church?"(1) It reads in part,

There is no Christmas at Mount Pisgah Baptist Church this year. The sandy brown brick building has no wreath on its doors, no baby Christ in a manger outside. The sign is defaced, the pastor's name scratched out. A 133-year-old rural black church that withstood Reconstruction, Jim Crow and segregation, Mount Pisgah is now torn by infighting so severe that the pastor gets heckled during sermons, competing collection plates are passed around, and police once had to shut the place down when the arguing got out of hand...[Two Sundays ago], when the children were to present their Christmas play, Circuit Judge Howard King closed the church, citing a "real threat and danger to the individuals involved" and to the community.

"Peace on earth...Goodwill..." Ho, ho, ho!

Whatever happened to grace? I wonder. Others do too. I was intrigued to see another piece in the paper headlined, "Panel to discuss spread of meanness in society."(2) It reads,

Is society getting meaner! A group of 48 prominent intellectuals, journalists, historians and sociologists will gather Monday (12/9/96) at the University of Pennsylvania to discuss an "explosion of incivility" in American society and the world. The "Penn Commission on Society, Culture and Community"... will attempt to shed light on what many see as a burgeoning spirit of meanness that encourages violence, blocks social reform and tarnishes the national political debate. The group will meet twice a year for the next three years to discuss the rising tide of rudeness and -- if possible -- how to stem it.

I wish them good luck, I really do. We need to rediscover grace.

The story of Christmas is, at its heart, a story of grace. The coming of Jesus Christ into our world 2,000 years ago is the affirmation of God's unmerited favor to us. Scripture is clear. In churches which follow the Lectionary tonight, people are hearing not only the account of Christ's birth in the 2nd chapter of Luke, but also a brief epistle lesson from Titus, chapter 2 where Paul writes, "For the GRACE of God has appeared...Jesus... bringing salvation to all..."(3) Grace - the essence of Christmas.

Someone has suggested that love is like the Bible's loaves and fishes - it works best when given away. I think it is the same with grace. Perhaps we will have a more grace-filled society if we in the church who have been the recipients of God's marvelous grace in Christ Jesus will take it upon ourselves to begin giving it away. I can promise it will make a difference in everyone of our lives.

Ron Hall is pastor of the Highwater Congregational United Church of Christ in Newark, OH and reports,

The morning after a Bible study at our church, I was standing in the shower thinking about it and wondering which of the 'regulars' hadn't been there. Then I realized that I had forgotten to pick up Alice, a wonderful 85-year-old widow to whom I had offered a ride. When I called to apologize profusely and seek forgiveness, Alice simply replied, 'Don't worry about it, Ron. I never got stood up for a date before. It made me feel young.'"(4)

Good for Alice. Grace. That is what I want for Christmas this year...GRACE. You too? And I want to be a grace-giver to you...and you and you and you and you... because I know that will begin to make this world more the place that the gracious God who invites us to "Christmas dinner" wants it to be.

Let us pray.

O Lord, we are too often grace-less in our dealings with one another. We know it and we are sorry. Help us to do better as we are reminded of your surpassing grace to us in the coming of Jesus into our world. For it is in his name we pray. Amen!

1. Associated Press, Greensboro News & Record, 12/20/96, p. B2B
2. Greensboro News & Record, 12/8/96, p. A6
3. Titus 2:11
4. Rev. Ronald B. Hall, Highwater Congregational United Church of Christ, Newark, OH, in The Joyful Noiseletter, January, 1997, p. 6

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