Originally, this was intended to be a coronation song for a not fully-grown king. It was a royal hymn of praise to him and hope for the future of God’s people. This was written hundreds of years before the birth of our Savior.
Early Christians were quick to recognize the prophetic nature of this passage, seeing how well it fit their understanding of Jesus, the Messiah. The people of Isaiah’s day did not, of course, say “this is about Jesus”! Is it possible that God provided Israel, through Isaiah, with a meaningful prophecy for that time, and at the same time provided Christians with a prophecy to point to the birth of our Savior? Each will have their own answer to that question. For the purpose of this reflection, we will explore the traditional Christian understanding.
- Verse 2 speaks of a people who have walked in darkness, but now, with the birth of the Messiah, have seen a great light. This, to me, refers to us Gentiles. Most Christians today are not Hebrews, so we are Gentiles. Before Jesus, God’s saving grace was reserved for the Jews. With Jesus’ birth, we now become heirs of the kingdom.
- Verses 3-5 indicate a shift from war and plunder to a time of peace. This is part of the future kingdom. We have a taste of this peace, but the fullness of this peace is yet to come. I’ll discuss this in detail in the Takeaway.
- Verses 6 & 7 are the gem of this passage, and need no explanation. I can hear Handel’s “Messiah” in my head as I write this.
- When discussing the “kingdom of God” parables, theologians often use the word “eschatology”. It’s a fancy word that means the partial completion of things—the “already, but not quite.” This was best explained to me by a pastor of mine. We were having a bible study, and this word came up. He pointed to a pregnant woman sitting at the table. “Is Jenn’s baby here, or not?” The baby, was, indeed “there, but not quite really “there”. That would happen in the months to come. The kingdom of God is like that baby. We have the kingdom here on earth now, but not fully. We have the rich peace mentioned in verses 5 and 7a, but not fully. When Jesus returns, we will experience the full kingdom.
- I am so thankful that God has seen fit to come to earth and reveal himself to us Gentiles! Thanks be to God for his steadfast love of all of us!
Titus was a trusted member of Paul’s inner circle of followers. He is mentioned several times in Paul’s letters. This letter was written to Titus, who had been put in charge of straightening out the church on the island of Crete. This is a very short letter. In my little bible, it takes up only two pages. Today’s passage is part of the concluding paragraphs of the letter. The Revised Common Lectionary begins with verse 4. I suggest beginning with verse 1, to get a full understanding of what Paul is saying.
- In verses 1-3, Paul tells Titus to remind the Cretan Christians to be obedient, kind, and gentle. Then, he reminds Titus that we all are human and rebellious, before Jesus came and changed our lives.
- Verses 4-7 are the verses appointed for Christmas Day. This is a beautiful passage, and I am surprised that I have not memorized it. They are a beautiful summary of the saving grace of our Lord. Let’s take a closer look:
- God decided, out of loving kindness and goodness, to appear to us in the form of his Son. (v. 4)
- He did this to save us. (v. 5a)
- He did this because of his own mercy, not because we deserved it. (v. 5b) If you’re in doubt about this, please refer to verse 3—they’re talking about US!
- He saved us through our baptism and the rich blessings we receive continually from the Holy Spirit. (v. 5c)
- This Holy Spirit abundantly blesses us all of this through the gift of Jesus, whose birth we celebrate this Christmas. (v. 6)
- Verse 7 states that we have been “justified by his grace”. This means that our sins are forgiven, by the free and abundant grace of our Lord, through the death of his Son on the cross. We do not earn this by our own doing (see verse 5a), but by the abundant, loving grace of God. (v. 7a)
- Finally, because we have been justified, or forgiven of our sins, we may now become heirs to the hope of eternal life! (v.7b)
At first, it seems a little odd to talk about all of this on the day of Jesus’ birth. But on second glance, it is perfectly fitting and proper. This is what this little baby came to do. He came to wash away our sins, and make us heirs!
Luke the Evangelist provides us with the beautiful account of Jesus’ birth. I don’t need to expound on them in detail, you know these words well. Instead, let me share a few reflections on the birth of our Savior.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
- Sometimes, we call the birth of Jesus the Incarnation. What does that word mean? In Latin, “carne” means flesh or meat. It follows that the word “incarnation” means in the flesh. For us believers, the word “incarnation” reminds us that God has decided to take on flesh, and dwell among us. To teach us, love us, heal us, and die for us.
- The angel Gabriel told Mary to name the baby Jesus. Well, sort of. “Jesus” is the Greek version of the Hebrew name “Yeshua”(1), which means “the Lord saves”. Even his name points to his divine purpose!
- Couldn’t Jesus have been born to a better family than a carpenter’s family? I’m thinking a priest of the house of Levi would be more appropriate. Why a lowly carpenter? Why was he born in a stable? Shouldn’t he have been born in Jerusalem, and not the little town of Bethlehem? Why did dirty shepherds(2) come to worship him, and not somebody more appropriate? Why did the Magi bring gifts, and not the high-ranking clergy of the Jewish faith? Everything God does has a reason or a purpose. What might those reasons be in this case?
- Perhaps the answer to these questions lie in the teachings and life-example of Jesus.
- He made God's priorities and values crystal clear in his sermons on the mount and plain. God's values appear to be the opposite of most humans.
- Jesus criticized the religious leaders of the day as well as the wealthy. Instead, he socialized with the down-trodden and despised; with the unclean, sinners, and foreigners.
- He came from heaven to effect change. How has he changed you and me?
1. Names are different in different languages. Take, for example, the name James. That’s how we say it in English. In French it is Jacques. In German, it is Jacob. Jesus is the Greek name for our Savior. In Hebrew it is Yeshua. In English, it is actually Joshua. But we have stuck with calling him Jesus.
2. Shepherds were so dirty, that by Jewish law it would take them days of ritual cleansing to enter the temple.