In the revised common lectionary, Titus 2:11-14 is one of the epistle lessons for Christmas. Given that it shares the docket of readings with the more familiar birth narrative of Luke 2 it rarely is preached on. And probably rarely read.
Yet when I was planning out this month's sermon series, Titus 2:11-14 seemed an appropriate text to address the question of how we respond to the Good News we hear at Christmas. It offers us concrete directives on how to live.
And so (as per my usual sermon-writing routine) I started reflecting on the passage early in the week, opened commentaries on Wednesday, and began typing my manuscript on Friday morning. Usually, when I finish my first sermon draft I'm pretty confident that I have something worth sharing with the congregation. But this sermon was different. It left me wondering whether I was preaching Law or Gospel. Where was the good news in this call to ethical living, this call to better behaviour?
I don't usually enjoy sermons that focus on morality or character. They seem to be too much about our work and less about what God has done.
But after some reflection, I'm forced to admit that there is a place for this type of message. In the reformed tradition, we don't draw such a sharp distinction between Law and Gospel for we believe that the Law is a means that God uses to guide us and show us grace. The Law shows us how to honour God and get along with our neighbour. It gives definite content to the command to 'love'.
In this way, that call we hear in Titus 2:11-14, the call to self-control, upright, and godly living can be an act of grace. It provides us with a template for the 'good' life. It describes living that is good for ourselves, for others, and honouring to God.
This past month I did some research on alcohol consumption. I was looking for a video that might provoke the soldiers in my regiment to reconsider how they use/abuse alcohol. At some point, I came across this video which notes the surprising discoveries of someone who decided to quit drinking. Note: If you are offended by coarse language please don't watch this--remember I was looking for something that would speak to soldiers.
The speaker is crystal clear that his life has improved since he has given up excessive drinking (he still enjoys a drink a few times a year). He is clear that this self-control offers real benefits, and that these direct benefits produced other indirect blessings as well.
This video helps me make sense of what we hear in today's lesson. The call to self-control, upright, and godly living isn't just a cold command to behave better. It is an invitation to a better life.