For 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 Saviour, 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.
(Titus 2:11–14 NRSV)
How is your life right now?
Is it tidy, neat and orderly? Or is unruly, shambolic, and disorderly? Or somewhere in between?
Do you need to be able to slow down and take the time to breathe?
Just as it can be like that for us as individuals, it can also be like that for the church. We can be so busy keeping things going, fretting over something which isn’t as we want it to be, anxious over attendances and budgets, or determinedly trying to ‘fix’ our brothers and sisters so they will become the people we want them to be.
Sometimes the church also forgets to breathe – to let the Holy Spirit come and fill us and give us peace. We forget to wait for his gifts of love, joy and above all, in this time, patience.
Patience is the ability to wait and to defer gratification. Patience says, ‘maybe not now, but in God’s good time, when everything is ready.’ Impatience says the opposite. It gives up on God and puts things into our hands, to do for ourselves what God does not seem to be willing to do.
In times of impatience, as these times often are, we must learn to slow down and just breathe – in, and out, receiving the gifts of love, peace, joy and patience. This is different from doing nothing. It’s the hardest thing of all – surrendering our self-will and idolatry, and allowing God to turn us back, once more, to himself. He is the source and origin of our being and all that we have. In him is life, and without him there is only death, no matter how right the thing may be that we are attempting to do and how noble our motives may be.
The verses from Titus with which I began this message are the second reading for Christmas Eve. We usually rush past them in our eager desire for shepherds and angels, stars and wise men, and above all else, the baby Jesus. Christmas has not always been that way. It took several centuries for the celebration of Christmas to take its present shape. Initially, the definitive Christian festival was Easter, and for many of us it still is.
Our life in the world lies in the space between Christmas – when the grace of God appeared, bringing salvation to all – and Easter – ‘when he gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity. And by ‘Easter’ we mean crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Behind the scenes, Christmas and Easter are a single action of God, coming into the world in Jesus Christ, living, suffering, dying, and rising here and ascending to the highest place in heaven.
So how do we live in this ‘in-between’ time? According to Titus we are now being trained to ‘renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly.’ This training speaks directly to our behaviours, how we respond when we don’t get what we want, how we treat others, and what we think matters most. It trains us to make choices that are not selfish, but patient, grace-filled and compassionate. God is teaching us not to abuse this precious opportunity for the gospel by pointing the finger at others, playing the blame game, or attempting to justify ourselves at the expense of others. Such wasted opportunities never make things right. Instead God is patiently training us, as individuals and as a church community, for a better, Christlike response to this world and the wide variety of people with whom we share it.
In this world we are just trainees of this better life. Our master is Jesus. He is the Christmas baby, the grace of God which has appeared to us, our salvation. And he is patiently teaching us the better way. As St Paul wrote to Titus, ‘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.’
God bless you this coming Christmas as we ‘wait for the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ’. During this festival I hope you find time to breathe and receive the gifts of God. Whatever our challenges as individuals, as families, or as a community, be it doubt, struggle, drought, bushfire, or another crisis, we know he holds us in his loving care, and is patiently training us for a better life, a life in him.
Pastor John Henderson
Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand
19th December 2019
Notes from the recent meeting of the College of Bishops
In December the bishops ‘report’ to each other on their work and that of their Districts. They concluded the session in prayer for each other and the people they serve.
In relation to the ministry, among other things the CoB:
- Approved Yalata evangelist Lindsay Thomas for ordination as a pastor.
- Called pastor Stuart Kleinig to the position of Interim Ministry Pastor
- Finalised preparations for the ordination of seven candidates for the pastoral ministry at Concordia College Chapel in Highgate 8th December
In relation to the wider church, among other things the CoB:
- Continued working with the Professional Standards Department on better expressing the theological principles that underpin its work.
- Continued working with Australian Lutheran College on developing a Lay Preaching Course, which is almost ready for field testing
- Received the annual report of the Commission on Theology and Inter-church Relations
- Approved the document ‘Pastoral notes on the role of sponsors in Baptism’, prepared by the Commission on Worship, for use in the LCA