Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Titus 2:11-14 ~ Tuesday, Dec 24, 2019
What did you get for Christmas? Not this year, but last year? Do you remember? Do you remember everything you received? Let’s go back a little further. Do you remember all the gifts you received for Christmas 5 years ago? 10 years ago? If you’re recall isn’t crystal clear, this recent research regarding Christmas gifts won’t surprise you all that much! More than half (53 percent) of the gifts people received last year have already been completely forgotten. The 2018 study of 2,000 people also uncovered that Americans receive, on average, three forgettable gifts every holiday season. Actually, the research reveals that these gifts aren’t just forgotten; they’re often unused completely. In fact, one in six gifts received will never be touched or used again after January 1st, the study found.[i] Has that ever been true for you?
Now let’s flip that around: what gifts have you received in Christmases past, not only do you remember those gifts but you’re still making use of them currently? Gifts that have and continue to impact your life to this day?
I’d like to introduce you to a young man who this past weekend received an amazing Christmas gift. Logan and his identical twin brother Owen were born in 2003 as monochorionic/monoamniotic twins, one of the rarest forms of identical twins with less than a 15% chance of survival. While each had multiple congenital defects, Logan was especially challenged, born with a severely underdeveloped heart—quite literally half of a heart. His parents knew at some point, his half of a heart would begin to fail and a transplant would be needed. This past Friday, Logan got the call that he would be getting a heart transplant, just in time for Christmas! The transplant happened Saturday night and he is recovering well. Do you suppose Logan will ever forget this gift?
What would you say if I told you that I have an even more memorable gift to share with you tonight? Well, it’s not actually from me, but from God himself. Are you ready for it? “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” (Titus 2:11). This is the is awe-inspiring, life-changing news of Christmas: God has gifted us his own eternal Son, wrapped in human flesh and blood, born as a baby in Bethlehem. God’s Son entered our world, to provide new spiritual hearts for us, to replace the sinful ones we were born with! This child is such a precious gift because he was born to give us life that lasts forever!
The same study that reported half of all Christmas gifts given last year have already been forgotten, also shared insights on what makes for memorable Christmas gifts: “We found that the gifts people remember the most are those that are given with love from someone they care about, fill a need, provide a great memory, have a sentimental meaning and result in compliments from other people.”
For many of those reasons and more, Logan Bunshaw will never forget the gift of a new heart that he received this Christmas! Especially when you think about what it took to give that gift! When a heart transplant happens, it is one person giving their life to another, literally. Though the donor dies, their heart is giving the recipient prolonged life. Logan Bunshaw is alive today because someone else, though dying, was willing to give their heart so Logan could go on living. What a gift!
What God gives us at Christmas actually takes that kind of gift-giving to an even higher level. Imagine you had ten healthy children, and you visit the hospital to visit a friend. A doctor comes into the room and tells you that there is a child a few rooms down who is dying. But that child will live if you are willing to give her your child’s heart. It will mean, of course, that your child will die. But the other child will live. Who would agree to such a thing? Who would be willing to make such a sacrifice?
Your God would. Your God did. It began with Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. This is why tonight is so incredible. That little baby in the manger is God’s gift to you, to the world. That little baby – wrapped not in paper but in swaddling clothes, that little baby – placed not under a tree but in a manger, that little baby is the greatest gift you will ever be given. No matter what you have unwrapped already or will unwrap later today, nothing else compares, not even close. Because that little baby did for you what no one else could do for you, what you could never do for yourself. He restored your relationship with God by voluntarily giving up his heart for you, not as a physical transplant, but a spiritual one! That’s why Jesus was born into our world. He was born to give us his heart, the one that always lived as God requires. And in giving us his perfect spiritual heart, he took into himself our spiritually defective ones. That’s’ why he was separated him from his Father on the cross where he died for us so that we might live. He sacrificed his life for us to give us life, new life through faith in him now, and life that never ends with him in heaven.
How does that make you feel? What does it make you want to do? What kind of changes will this gift of God bring about in the way you live your life?
For a transplant recipient a new heart “teaches” them some really helpful lessons on living healthy. When you are given a second chance at life, you have very personal, powerful motivation to want to put those lessons into practice. It’s not just knowing what it means to live healthy. It’s actually wanting to do so in order to keep your new heart healthy and working well. Living a healthy lifestyle that includes heart healthy foods and exercise are important. Steering clear of illegal drugs and tobacco as well as minimizing alcohol intake and maintaining a healthy weight are all helpful. Taking prescribed medications in the right amounts at the right times each day is also critical for caring for this new heart. The new heart that Logan Bunshaw received this past weekend will motivate him to cultivate and practice positive, healthy habits for the rest of his life!
Isn’t the Apostle Paul saying something very similar about what the gift of new life from Jesus works in us? “[The grace of God] teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12). These are more than just lessons on how to turn away from ungodly activities and say “no” to this world’s passion for doing whatever I want with my life. These are even deeper lessons in motivation, lessons of “why” we want to live like this! It comes from this heart-level desire to do whatever is best to preserve, protect, and prosper this gift of new life that Jesus has given to us! We want to take care of the faith that Christ has implanted in us because we treasure the relationship we have with God as a result of it, the blessings we receive from God through it, and the confidence in God’s promises we receive from it!
A little boy declared that he loved his mother “with all his strength.” He was asked to explain what he meant by “with all his strength.” He said: “Well, I’ll tell you. You see, we live on the fourth floor of this apartment building; and there’s no elevator, and the coal to heat our apartment is kept down in the basement. Mother is busy all the time, and she isn’t very strong; so I see to it that the coal storage bin in the apartment is never empty. I lug the coal up four flights of stairs all by myself. And it’s a pretty big storage bin. It takes all my strength to get it up here. Now, isn’t that loving my mother with all my strength?”
Isn’t that our attitude as well as we talk about loving our good and gracious Heavenly Father? Not just by saying the right things, but also by doing godly things, and doing so with our whole heart and all of our strength! On his 99th birthday, Carl J. Printz, for many years the Commissioner from Sweden to Canada, stepped quickly onto the television stage, his keen eyes expressing the wisdom and understanding of his years. He was asked to give his insights into how others might achieve such a long and useful life as his. He replied: “I would suggest one definite rule and that is, one must be temperate in all things.” Then he added quickly, “perhaps I should say all but one, for in the Bible you can read the commandments to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. These are the only things we can rightly do to excess.”
We are still "in training," of course; we still have a tendency to forget who we are and what has been done for us; so our transformation is still a work in progress. It can only come from the one who enters into our humanity in humility and love. Truly the grace of God has appeared in him, bringing salvation to all. He has come to make us his people -- a transformed people zealous for good deeds -- not only in this season of holiday cheer, but year-round, day in and day out, year after year, "while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (2:13). It is my prayer that the our gracious Lord would continue to draw us together to teach and transform us as his dearly loved people as we wait together for that great and glorious Day of his appearing! Amen.