Pastor James Preus
I heard on the radio the other day that in order to keep the peace this time of year, especially with this divisive political climate we’re in, we should focus on what we have in common instead of what divides us. Now, this seems like pretty good advice. Instead of arguing whether we should build a wall along our southern border or pull our military forces out of Syria, focus on what unites us as a country and as human beings. The holidays aren’t the time to argue about things out of our control.
Yet, while this may seem like sage advice, focusing only on what we have in common often times leaves out discussing Jesus and his miraculous birth, because belief in Christ is not something all Americans hold in common. And so, this peace-making advice leaves out the Prince of Peace this Christmas season. And when we see what Scripture says we hold in common, this advice can be disastrous, since St. John tells us the world did not know Jesus. Yes indeed, what we humans have in common is our natural inclination to reject Jesus.
Yet, risking departing from this advice, let us focus this morning on what the whole world sadly does not hold as a common belief, but what we Christians hold to be true, the story of the incarnation of our God.
St. John tells us that Jesus is the eternal Word, who was with God and was God from the beginning. All things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made. So actually, we have learned another thing that we all have in common. All things were made through Christ. This means that all of us were made through him. We all have this in common.
And John tells us that this Word became flesh, that is, the Son of God became a human being. This happened when Jesus Christ was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary and first revealed his sacred face to mankind when he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.
Now, all Christians confess this. We have this in common. Most are happy stopping there. It’s a nice story, but if we delve too deep into its meaning, we are bound to find disagreements among even Christians. And this is true. If we look for the meaning in this miracle, we are bound to find disagreement. Why did God become a human being? Well, to save us. To save whom? To save the whole world? Tragically, many Christians deny this. Although Scripture teaches that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, there are still many, who say that Jesus only died for some people. The rationale goes something like this. If Jesus died to save everyone, yet some people are not saved, that means that Jesus’ died for some people who are not saved. That means that his death failed to save them. God cannot fail. Therefore, Jesus could not have intended to save everyone with his death. This is called the limited-atonement. Jesus died to save some, but not others. It’s a logical syllogism, yet it is completely unbiblical.
The correct biblical teaching is that Jesus died to save everyone. This is why St. John says, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world.” This is the biblical teaching called the Universal Atonement. And this is why John the Baptist bore witness of Christ, that all might believe through him. Jesus died with the purpose of saving all people.
And this intention is shown from the very beginning. Proverbs 8 says that when Christ, who is called Wisdom, was with God creating the world, he was “delighting in the children of man.” (vs. 31) And this is why John 3:16 tells us the Word became flesh, “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son.” God loved the world. And he sent his Son to save the World.
When the Word became flesh, he joined himself to the entire human race. Not just Jews. Not just Christians. To all mankind. Jesus shares your flesh and blood. He is a descendent of Adam just as you are. Jesus took on flesh and blood in order to save all who share his flesh and blood. Christmas declares God’s intention to save all people. Christmas declares God’s intention to save you. And here again, we find something we all have in common. So again, you can follow the politically correct radio advice I mentioned earlier and talk about Jesus this Christmas, because he came to save us all.
Jesus came to save all people, however, not all people are saved. This is a tragedy, yet it is true. Those who teach that all people are saved apart from faith in Christ teach Universalism. Universalism is a dangerous teaching that kills faith. Yet, Universalism has infected many Christian denominations like a malignant cancer, which spreads rapidly. It is an attractive teaching, because it simply throws out hell. There is no condemnation in the teaching of Universalism. Everyone goes to heaven. That means that you don’t have to repent of your sins or believe in Jesus to be saved.
Yet, this is not what Scripture teaches. Rather, “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Again, Jesus says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:17-18)
So, it is clear that apart from faith in Jesus, there is no salvation. But this is because apart from Jesus there is no salvation. Jesus saves us and no one else does. And we receive Jesus through faith alone.
So, it is true that God desires to save everyone, as 1 Timothy 2 declares that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Yet, some are not saved. So, people conclude that the difference must be in us. It is up to us to choose God. If we accept him, we are saved. However, Scripture is clear that the natural person cannot accept the things of the Spirit of God. Because of our sinful condition, we cannot choose Jesus (remember, that’s one thing we all have in common). This is why St. John writes, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
You can’t will yourself to be a Christian. You cannot by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ your Lord or come to him, but it is the Holy Spirit, who calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with his gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the true faith. In other words, you are born a child of God by the will of God.
This is what it means to be saved by grace. You did nothing to cause God to come down from heaven and be incarnate in the womb of the virgin. You did not convince Jesus to go to the cross nor did you raise him from the dead. Neither did you do anything to accept Jesus into your heart, but God did this for you through the working of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit enlivened your heart, so that you could accept Jesus. The Holy Spirit gave you a new birth through the washing of regeneration. This was done in your Baptism. And the Holy Spirit continues to keep you in this true faith through the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacrament.
This is how the Holy Spirit made you a Christian, a child of God. And this is how God sanctifies and keeps the entire Christian Church on earth in the one true faith. We call the Christian Church the Communion of Saints. That is, a community of holy people, that is, people, whom God has made holy. A community in which each member has something in common, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, the same Holy Spirit dwelling in us. In this communion of saints, we are united by our faith in Christ Jesus.
So, this holiday season, let us focus on what we have in common as children of God and what unites us as Christians. Jesus Christ, born to save us. He has united himself to us physically by assuming our human nature and he has united himself to us spiritually by granting us a new birth by the Holy Spirit. God forgives all our sins for the sake of Christ’s death and resurrection. This is what we have in common. This is what unites us. And there is no greater bond than that. Merry Christmas. Amen.