Back in 2016, Bill Gates wrote on his blog a note about Mrs. Blanche Caffiere who had recently died at the age of 100. Bill had come to know her in 4th grade, when he was just a quiet, messy, nerdy boy with dysgraphia who loved to read but was trying hard to hide it. Mrs. Caffiere was the “elegant and engaging school librarian” who encouraged him and prodded him and offered books to him and, as he says, “took me under her wing and helped make it okay for me to be a messy, nerdy boy who was reading lots of books.” Bill titled his post “A Teacher Who Changed My Life”. That is the best kind of teaching isn’t it? That’s the kind of teaching you remember most – when a teacher changes who you are, molds who you are instead of just facts you know? That sort of story warms your heart and makes you smile. Has it occurred to you before that God does exactly the same in his Christmas Savior?
Perhaps at Christmas we smile at the break from all the busyness from school and work and everything else. And maybe it would be unexpected…but still, it’s also very appropriate tonight to say with a smile, “Welcome to the Christmas Classroom!” Welcome to a place where we learn something beautiful, where God teaches in order to change your life. For your consideration tonight is this, that St. Paul said, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,” which on Christmas sounds right as a flickering fireplace…but tonight he adds, “It teaches us…”
Now, I know that reading in our bulletin says, “It teaches us to say…” something. But I want you to consider that, in Paul’s Greek language he’s saying that the grace of God in salvation teaches us to be someones – or, if you will, changes who we are. Paul shares two beautiful ways in which God’s salvation grace promises to remake you…
The first is in v.12 where Paul says literally: the grace of God that brings salvation “teaches us so that being the kind of people who reject ungodliness and worldly passions, we live in self-controlled and upright and godly ways in this present age.” God’s salvation grace teaches you to live as people who reject this world: all its lavish over-excess – the materialism; all its passions and desires, the things that promise to change life but are really only clever theater – makeup that covers over the sicknesses and the wounds and sleeplessness and the fears.
A the same time, God’s salvation grace teaches you to live as people who live soberly – lives that do not wobble with every wind, are not intoxicated by every passing desire – they are firmly grounded in what is right. People who live righteously – according to God’s justice which makes them truly just with one another. People who live as though they’re walking through a quiet, holy place always – reverent, holy lives that seek to honor God. That’s admirable, spiritually blessed…
But have you ever had one of those classes where the teaching feels more like someone is simply trying to download information into your head, so you dump it back onto a page, so you can earn the grade? It’s hard to perform there, isn’t it? Almost like, along with all the other stuff you’re gathering up in life, here will be another box of facts and things – these ones just about Otto von Bismarck or mitochondria. Perhaps the same holds for righteous life and sober living and setting aside the world’s painted prettiness? It’s all really only possible to be because of the other way God’s grace remakes you.
It’s in v.13 where Paul says that the salvation grace of God teaches you to be people who are “looking for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ“. When God remakes you by his salvation grace, he makes you into someone by faith who is looking outside of this world for hope and joy and fulfillment and glory. Specifically, someone looking for the appearing of Jesus Christ. At Christmas he appeared in Bethlehem, just a baby wrapped in cloths in a manger, and it was good news of great joy. Because he was a gift.
That is a large part of the way we celebrate Christmas, isn’t it? We consider what to give the ones we love. We plan, we prepare, we purchase, we wrap, we give…and hopefully it brings a smile. At Christmas we celebrate the gift, this gift: “Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us.”
And that is true to form for life-changing teaching, isn’t it? Isn’t it true that it’s not usually the things someone taught that changed you. It’s not some method they had or some specific lesson that moved you. Very often it’s mostly who they were and how they behaved – with love or obvious care or consistent character – that finally made you perk up and see that something was different…and, maybe, over time that something had become different about you too.
God’s salvation grace teaches us, changes us, not with a demand to be a certain kind of people and a method for getting there. God’s salvation grace teaches us because a certain kind of person brings us where God wants us to be. As Paul said, “Jesus gave himself.” And it’s a priceless gift: he is God – St. John called him the Word who is God himself. But it’s also a down to earth method: this one “became flesh and lived among us”. And his way is unique and precious: true God and man he is our Savior. What’s characteristic of a Savior? “He gave himself for us”. “In our place” and “for our good” he gave himself to “redeem” and “purify” us. He gave himself to pay the price to buy us back from all wickedness. He gave himself as substitute – to take the punishment for all wickedness, the kind we live in in this world and the kind we do here too. He gave himself as payment by shedding his own blood at the cross. He gave himself, his life rightly lived: his perfection so we could be called perfect/righteous, his steadfast sobriety so we could live on rock-solid footing with God, his reverence so that we could know what a holy life looks like. We were in darkness, people who lived in sin, but he purified us to be his very own people – marked out as special to him. He teaches us what it is to be God’s people: loved undeservedly, generously gifted, rescued from wrong, saved from sin.
In the Christmas Classroom, we’re not learning all the material that will make the grade with God. The Christmas Classroom is true to Christmas form – it’s all about gifts. We’re learning from the one who has done it all and gives it away for free – grace that brings salvation. We’re learning in this classroom what kind of people this kind of teacher makes you – people zealous for good works – people who have seen every good thing from God and for his glory want to pursue the same – every good thing in every possible way: whether denying the world, or living wisely, or longing for this Savior to come again.
My dear friends, I pray that God teaches you this Christmas. To understand what God is giving. To know who this Savior is. To understand the gift of grace that brings salvation. And when he does you will never be same.