The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
This is from Paul’s letter to Titus. The Eucharistic lectionary provides it in all three years at Christmas, but that’s it. Only readings from Zechariah, Haggai, Ecclesiastes, Nehemiah, Esther, Judges, and Philemon are used any less- only once each in every three year Eucharistic cycle. All of these appear more often in the Daily Office, but when we gather for the Sunday liturgy and major feasts, these books support the Eucharist very rarely. In nearly three decades of ordering liturgy, I have made certain of course that Titus has appeared each year in the Christmas service, but it has held a place, getting us from the psalm to the sequence hymn, nothing more. Not once have I taken Titus as the principal sermon text in my entire ordained ministry. I take note each year when Titus comes up, wondering if it’s rather like a liturgical appendix- a vestigial part from an earlier time in the Church’s life when it served a more necessary part than it now serves. That’s my problem, not Paul’s or the Church’s.
While direct, Paul’s words to Titus are not as customarily blunt as other of the Apostle’s missives. And what he says to Titus can indeed be brought to bear in our Christmas worship.
In the Incarnation, God comes close to us, and His purpose in so doing is to demonstrate to us that He is present in our lives and in the World. He does this in a form we can recognize. God appears as His own Grace, Incarnate, in our very presence. Think about that- God appearing in our presence rather than the other way ‘round. His gracious Incarnation is its own glory; we may choose to make other, mechanical and procedural connections, interpreting Christmas as something more utilitarian- a necessary step along the path of eternal life. But we shortchange the opportunities of the Incarnation when we look too quickly through Christmas to Easter.
When Paul writes to his friend saying that Jesus’ life was to bring salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, he offers an encouragement to have a life here and now. Paul’s words provide an opportunity for us to envision and embrace a joyful life here and now for it’s own joyful sake.
When we choose to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly we are choosing to savor the life we have now, seeing that the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ is already as well as not yet.
We understand this when we wonder about the features of Heaven- will there be duck hunting there? Will every tee shot be as straight as a die? Will there be a huge chair next to a comforting fire and all the books we love? Will every critter we’ve loved be there? Will there be endless wool to be knitted, and unlimited opportunity to wear the garments lovingly produced? Will it be eternal rest, or eternal activity-that-we-love, or both? Will the rig always sing its sweet urgent strain as we bring her onto a broad reach, the sails filled, taut and beautiful? Will every meal include Mayola’s corn bread? How will we praise God? How will those whom we love appear?
The only reason we imagine such things and dreamily hope for them as features of our eternal life is that we really love them as features of our present life. The Incarnation is about our lives here and now- God enfleshed- the glory of the Creator right here, right now. We know the glory of God manifested when we know the joy we have in our life now. That joy prepares us to wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ forevermore….Heaven starts right here, right now, because He is right here, right now.
Far from being a vestigial feature of the Christmas liturgy, Titus makes certain that we know that the life God enters at Christmas is our life, and that life is meant for joy…no delayed gratification, friends….unalloyed, off-the-hook joy and delight in the life we have now because God lives that life too. And as surely as He lives that life, so also will we live His Life forever- the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ indeed.
Love you. See you in Church.