Please read Titus 3:3-8 (NRSV)
That passage doesn't sound much like Christmas, does it?
But it's one of just a few passages outside of the traditional Gospel accounts (Matthew 2, Luke 2) which describe the birth of Jesus.
And if you've been present for the birth of a child, whether as a guest or the principal actor (God bless you all, mothers of the world), you might note that this passage of Scripture is a bit more on point than Luke or Matthew ever want to get.
I know, these are Advent devotionals. We don't like messy. That's why we like Hallmark movies, where the messes are strategically placed and resolved by the last act, often cleaned up off-camera during the commercial break.
Titus is putting at least some of the messiness right out in front. Our messiness of sin and foolishness, the malice and envy which has built up the separation between our hearts and heavenly hope.
And at least obliquely, he's making reference to something in the ancient world everyone would know about childbirth, whether female or male, old or young. Birth, in the home or out in the stables, is messy. You can gloss over this passage and make it an elaborate baptismal allusion, but I hear the voice of a husband and father who knew something about water breaking and the labor process. I hear a pastor speaking to an audience of as many if not more women than men, and about the events of a birth that call for lots of water and washing along the way.
Also, Titus is speaking to people who had a personal, visceral sense of what it meant to know that when a child is born, when the perilous period of labor and delivery is over, and that child is safely in the mother's arms, you know something has been accomplished. "The saying is sure.” The birth means an heir is with us, a child is part of the family, the lineage continues. A successful birth means certain facts are now present, and others have changed.
Titus says "when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us,” and that's every just-after-the-birth picture we've seen, whether of Mary and Jesus, or any Mother and Child photo posted on social media. You look at your phone or computer or on the sheet folded into the letter, and gaze on those two, and you don't focus on the work and pain and water and blood it took to get there, even though you know it was all part of the story. You rest in that goodness and loving kindness, and trust that it will carry the parents and family and all of us into a more loving place.
When Jesus was born into the messiness of this world, he didn't take a short cut to avoid it, he came right into the middle of our lives so that the loving kindness would mean all the more when we found it, knew it, accepted it as meant for us. Through a baby, love beyond anything that baby can know at that moment comes to all who share in the occasion. Through Jesus being born into this world, we are all washed with a Spirit of rebirth and renewal that's beyond anything we can imagine, but we can feel simply by looking upon a Mother and Child, at peace.
Loving God of us all, Maker of heaven and earth, Creator and sustainer of life to life eternal, show us with a Mother's love what can be born into this world; may your Spirit enliven every task we take on, cleaning up messes, renewing the weary, and granting to your beloved, peace. Amen!
Rev. Jeff Gill
Central Christian Church, Newark