Monday, January 3, 2011

Tenth Day of Christmas

Titus 2:11-15 / Luke 2:21

The grace of God our Savior hath appeared to all men, instructing us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly and justly and godly in this world, looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.

Why do we strive to do what is good? What is the point of the moral life which we engage in following the Gospel? On the view of many critics of the Gospel, the Christian faithful are altogether confused about the relationship between goodness and belief in Jesus Christ. These atheists and secularists argue that there are convincing grounds for morality altogether apart from desire for heaven or dread of hell. In their eyes, the Christian faithful are like children striving to be good for fear that this year, because of too much wickedness, they might receive a lump of coal in place of presents. That is, they imagine that Christians believe that our motive to be good is that God had demanded certain behaviors and threatened us with dire punishment if we do not live in accord with them.

Of course, this is not the Christian view, and one would be surprised to find a serious and committed Christian who spoke in such a way. Even so, why do we think that our Christian life on earth is supposed to look the way that it does? If it is not a way of earning God's love, and likewise if it not the following of certain arbitrarily appointed standards to live up to the whims of a capricious deity, then what accounts for the specific kind of virtue we call Christian charity? In short, why do we deny ungodliness and earthly desires and live soberly and justly and godly in this world as we await Christ's return?

The answer is at least in part because, even as Christ has not returned in glory, he is nonetheless with us. It is because of the gift of Christ dwelling in our hearts by the power of the Spirit, the birth of the Word not in the cave of Bethlehem but in the cave of our soul, that we do what we do and live as we live. We may be waiting for his glorious appearing, but we do not have to wait for his real and effective presence, and to live a life unchanged in the presence of another one claims to love is not to love him at all. It is because the one who loved us so much as to take on the frailty of our human nature for our sake is even now dwelling in our midst that we, his beloved, must, if love means anything at all, find our every action and our every motive changed by his presence.

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