Christmas Eve: Nativity of Our Lord

The appearance of the grace of God brings salvation to all

Shepherd kneels in front of baby Jesus
Photo by Lawrence, OP on Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

December 24, 2021

Second Reading
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Commentary on Titus 2:11-14

The Apostle Paul, writing to his partner and co-worker Titus (2 Corinthians 8:23), expresses here the extraordinary good news about the salvation of God. All that comes next hangs on this statement: this salvation has been presented to us through the appearing (or epiphany) of the “grace of God.” The salvation of God is entirely a grace gift. Everything that we might wish to include in a message of salvation—particularly at Christmas—is embraced by the free gift of God.

A visible presence

And then we note that the grace of God has “appeared.” Paul here utilizes a term that is filled with resonant meanings. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures we read that God appeared to Jacob (using the same term found in Titus 2:11) when he was fleeing from his brother Esau. And also the familiar words of the Aaronic blessing  (Numbers 6:25), “May the Lord make His face appear (or shine) upon you.” The point being that the grace of God is a visible presence.

Additionally, we can note that the “appearance” of the grace of God is a term associated with imperial kings—think of the Greek tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanies who tormented the Jews in 167 BC, or the appearance of triumphant Roman Emperors. These “epiphanies” were impressive, spectacular events, evoking awe, wonder, and even worship. So too, most assuredly, the appearance of the grace of God.

Salvation to all

The appearance of the grace of God brings salvation to all. There is a glorious inclusivity about the salvation of God that comes by his grace, which Paul notes as, no doubt, he reflects upon his own ministry. Paul recognizes that people are included whom he perhaps would have excluded and sidelined, but God includes.

Training for godliness

However, Paul makes clear that the gift of salvation is to “train” us. We need to see this training as educating us or disciplining us—that is, helping us to live the life intended by God for us. We are to renounce “impiety and worldly passions” and live towards godliness. In the ancient Roman world “impiety”could mean improper attitudes towards the Emperor, a lack of respect and honor. But here Paul subverts the imperial idea and seems to be suggesting that we should give up impiety towards God. So often, we may feel challenged about needing to be committed to political parties, Prime Ministers, or Presidents, but here we are challenged that this devotion is in fact impiety, which we need to renounce.

The “godliness” we are to live towards comes only as we renounce impiety. We are to be self-controlled, to act justly (upright), and reflect the character of God. There may be echoes here of Micah 6:8, “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Waiting for the manifestation of God’s love

All the while we wait. We wait for the manifestation or epiphany of the glory of God in Jesus Christ. The glory of God, familiar to us through passages such as Isaiah 6, or the Transfiguration passage in the synoptic Gospels. The glory of God is the character of God made visible. And, we might be encouraged through this passage to see that the appearance of the character of God comes as we are trained, disciplined, and day-by-day transformed to reflect the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

The final affirmation in our verses  concerned the giving of the Lord Jesus Christ to redeem us from iniquity—literally “lawlessness.” God’s law is founded upon the character of God and is encapsulated in the love of God. Additionally, as we live lives that reflect the character of God we are purified from sin, and increasingly zealous for good deeds of love.