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Titus 2:11-14

A few weeks ago, a couple of my children were trying to teach our dog how to catch food tossed her way. She acted clueless. The tossed pieces of meat, bananas (her favorite!), and cheerios bounced off her ears, nose, and even mouth. Sometimes she’d search for them, but most of the time she just kept staring at the kids who became increasingly frustrated. Finally in a last-ditch effort, one of the kids crouched on the floor pretending to be a dog and the other tossed food their way. As you might imagine, the events produced much laughter and only limited success in actual catches; but amazingly, the dog seemed to catch on. She started trying to catch the tossed food, and eventually achieved an 85% success-rate with Cheerios!

Sometimes I feel like our dog. I just need someone to get down on my level, and show me how to accomplish some task. I learn best through repeated – and patient – modeling and instruction. Maybe you’re the same?

In this Advent Season, we prepare, anticipate and wait for the incarnation of the One who did repeatedly and patiently model and instruct us about how to live as God’s people. He emptied himself, coming down to our level and being born in human likeness. As the incarnated One, he held nothing back in his engagement with people. Throughout the Gospels, we glimpse his humanity as he taught, experienced emotions, faced temptations, and responded to challenges. He shared his wisdom, relied upon his relationship with the Father, taught his Old Testament Scriptural insights, and modeled a faithful prayer life. And eventually, he surrendered his own life.

In reflecting on Jesus’ life, Paul declared to Titus, “He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds” (Tit 2:14). Or as Athanasius famously wrote, “He became what we are that we might become what he is.”

In the simplest of descriptions, Jesus’ incarnation was like my children’s down-on-the-floor attempts to teach our dog how to catch food. And while that comparison might seem a bit crude, its attempt to capture the incarnation highlights an oft-overlooked reality. Jesus’ coming to earth encompassed more than just the means for us “getting into heaven.” Rather, it ushered God’s abundant grace into our world, achieving multiple purposes – including redemption.

The Promised One

Paul’s reminder to Titus that God’s grace redeems us from iniquity echoed Psalm 130:7-8 which declares:

O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

It is no coincidence that Paul quoted from the Ascent Psalms in his letter to Titus. These songs (Psalms 120-134) were likely sung by pilgrims ascending into Jerusalem for the three pilgrimage festivals – Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Tabernacles). The people long awaited the time when God’s promised redemption from iniquity would finally come to pass. When that promise was fulfilled through Jesus, the fulfillment found even greater significance in light of the festivals during which the pilgrims had sung the promise. Jesus who is our final Passover sacrifice (Pesach) had been offered and dedicated to the Lord at his birth (Shavuot) and tabernacled among his people (Sukkot).

But God’s fulfillment came with an additional surprise. Jesus – the incarnated one, the Messiah and Son of God – is also God himself. Paul’s statement is one of the clearest indications in the New Testament of Jesus’ divinity, describing him as “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Power of Grace

As if redemption were not enough, God’s abundant grace accomplishes even more. Paul reminds Titus of grace’s wonder-working-power, and we can easily imagine how important this was for Titus as he led the challenging church community in Crete. To be honest, is it any less important for us today as we lead churches in our communities?

According to Paul, grace brings salvation, guides us to reject impiety and world passions, and trains us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives. Through grace, God empowers us to wait for his parousia, purifies us as God’s people, and teaches us to zealously practice good deeds. What an incredible gift!

Perfections of Grace

God’s generous gift of grace – embodied by and given through the person of Jesus Christ – can be unpacked further by considering Barclay’s six perfections of grace in Paul & the Gift. Viewed through the lens of gift-giving in antiquity, Barclay explores six perfections of grace: superabundance, priority, incongruity, efficacy, non-circularity, and singularity. Our passage in Titus provides a great test case for Barclay’s perfections. The gift of grace has massive scale and permanence (superabundance). It was generously and freely given (priority), despite the recipients’ lack of worthiness (incongruity). It successfully achieves its purpose (efficacy), comes without expectation of return (non-circularity), and reflects the Giver’s goodness and benevolence (singularity).

Hope of Grace

As we celebrate God’s incarnation this Christmas Season, let us all be reminded of the amazing gift of grace – not as some ethereal, intangible ideal – but as a powerful, life-changing reality that changed lives. And it continues to change lives today. Jesus is the One about whom pilgrims sang when ascending to Jerusalem as they faithfully practiced God-ordained holy days. He fulfills God’s promised redemption from iniquity, but offers us even more. He kneels beside us, modeling and instructing, empowering and guiding, training and purifying.

O Come let us worship Him!

O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.