A Christmas Homily On The Generosity Of Jesus Christ

          We don’t hear or use the word homily in churches like a few generations ago would have. A homily is similar to a sermon, but it is a commentary that follows a reading of Scripture, often emphasizing one larger, inspirational theme. In that sense it is different from a typical, expositional sermon that we typically hear from this pulpit. Christmastime was a particular common time for a homily, and they were known to be shorter than regular sermons. So, in that tradition, please turn to Philippians 4, where we will read and then pray for our hearts to receive A Christmas Homily on the Generosity of Jesus Christ.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. – Philippians 4:10-23

          Last Sunday we studied verses 10-13 of this closing part of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. While Paul had learned to be content in all situations, he was truly grateful for the generosity the Philippians had shown to him time after time.

          As this is the Sunday before Christmas this passage provides us with an opportunity to ask the question, “What made a relatively poor group of people rich in generosity?” The answer abounds throughout the close of Paul’s letter. The answer to that question lies at the heart of Christmas.

The Generosity of Jesus Christ Fashions Generous Followers

          We’ve seen the church’s beauty shine through the letter to the Philippians; what the church, which is made up of individual members, can be. We’ve seen fellowship, evangelistic boldness, humility, unity, Christ-mindedness, and now in this last section, generosity. What made all of this possible in the Philippians? Now I have received so much encouragement in this series from so many of you. I don’t think my preaching has gotten dramatically stronger in a few months, so I don’t think that is the explanation for the extraordinary encouragement so many of you have given, grateful as I am for it. I do think that there is something so inspiring in this letter that in turn stirs desire in our hearts. It makes us yearn for what they had. That yearning illuminates our hearing, which might make some of you think I’m preaching better ☺. Simply, I think the Holy Spirit is drawing us. We truly want more of what the Philippians had. That is a good kind of coveting if coveting can ever be good!

          In this final section, as with each preceding part of the letter, the Philippians’ generosity toward Paul, toward people in need in other cities, and toward one another is ultimately explained in one way, and it has everything to do with Christmas.

          The first Christmas is the explanation for everything we’ve seen in this letter. The first Christmas is explicitly and implicitly all throughout this letter. The Philippian believers got it! They got the very heart of Christmas.

          Most people who observe Christmas give gifts. It might be more accurate to say that we don’t give gifts—we trade them. We know a gift may be coming from someone, so we think, Now I should get them something. So we get them something, hoping it is comparable in exchange. It feels uncomfortable just to receive without balancing the scale. Some of us probably bought a gift for someone this Christmas for no other reason than you know they bought one for you. Have you had that awkward experience of receiving a gift from someone you would not have expected one from, and there you stood empty handed? What’s the protocol? Can you really give them one later without them already knowing you didn’t have one and what you gave them might be a re-gift? Gift exchanging is complicated stuff! It’s funny in some ways, but it can also create a drift in our hearts regarding what Christmas actually means.

          At the heart of Christmas is the never-old story from the number one verse according to topverses.com, that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son,” born in a humble stable, born of a virgin, born to live sinless, born to give His life for us on the cross. We cannot possibly even the score by giving back to God. His gift was too great, too precious. The Philippians surely knew that. Repaying God wasn’t in their hearts at all! The furthest thing from their minds was gift exchange. And yet, out of gratitude for what He did for them through his Son Jesus Christ, they responded from their hearts by doing all that they could for Him— even in their poverty, not to pay Him back, but to say thank you for such an indescribable gift. His generosity fashioned their generosity.

          Everything Paul wrote and everything Paul commended the Philippians for found its origin in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He brings his letter to a close with gushing words of gratitude for their generosity. Few things demonstrate that a heart has been transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ like generosity does. And at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is generosity. On the first Christmas Jesus became poor to make a way for all who would believe to become rich! I know so many of you know the story, but permit me to attempt to stir up fresh wonder at the generosity of Jesus Christ toward you. The first two words in the definition of generosity in Webster’s Dictionary are “freely giving.” No more words are necessary when it comes to what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Generous in His Incarnation

          We are in the fourth week of Advent. Advent refers to the coming of Jesus Christ. The first Advent occurred when Jesus Christ was born. We celebrate that each Christmas Eve. Throughout the Old Testament are prophetic whispers of one who was to come, and Israel waited, and waited, and waited. But then, one night, one incredible night, shepherds were doing what they did every night. They were keeping watch over their flock. It happened.

And an angel of the LORD appeared to them, and the glory of the LORD shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! – Luke 2:9-14

          It was the night when the prophetic whisper of Isaiah 9:6 burst forth in a chorus of angels. A child was born. Consider this with me; Adam was not born; he was created. He didn’t know infancy. For all the ways Adam could relate to us, and we to him, Adam never knew childhood, and so our earthly father Adam could not sympathize with us in every way. But in the counsel of Heaven, when the Trinity gathered and formulated a salvation plan, it was decided that our Savior would be one who could sympathize with us in every way. How generous! Jesus was never created, because He always was. But to become fully man he was born. Jesus did not begin with us in mid-life; He joined us in the cradle, so that He could sympathize with us in every way. How generous of God! How generous of Jesus to condescend into a womb to be born in a barn stable.

          But the shepherds were afraid. It’s understandable. On no other night had an angel showed up with all the glory that accompanies an angelic visitation. On no other night had a multitude of heavenly host cracked the sky. What do we suppose made the shepherds fear? I don’t imagine it was the appearance of the angel alone, as startling as that would be. I think the glory of the LORD that accompanied the angel is what made the shepherds undone. Anytime we read in Scripture of the glory of the LORD coming near to people who may have been far godlier than us, the outcome was always the same. They fell down! And the shepherds fell down! Why? Because when the glory of the LORD touches or just comes close to someone lost in sin, which the shepherds in some way were, like the rest of humanity, the effect is to tremble in fear.

          Well, the angel immediately calmed their fears. “Fear not…for unto you is born a Savior, which is Christ the LORD…” In Hebrews 10:31 we read, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” That is what the shepherds feared, but the angel immediately calmed those fears. A Savior has been born! No one was left to wonder about the significance of this baby. This baby, Christ the Lord, came into the world to deliver us from sin. Commandment-keeping would not deliver us. All our sacrifices would not deliver us. This child, this Savior, Christ the LORD, would do it all for us. How generous was Jesus in His Incarnation!

Generous in His Life

          Jesus was born. He was six months, then a year, and two, and five. He got his license at sixteen like sixteen year olds do ☺. He was schooled, which I imagine means that he took tests like all of you middle and high school students did this past week. He had chores. He had brothers. While fully God, he was fully, in every way, a baby, a child, and then a man. Yet every moment of every day this was his posture:

…though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. – Philippians 2:6-7

          For all the times we read of Jesus using his divine nature, how many days did he not take advantage and use his divine power? Most days! He chose not to use his divine power so that he could in every way become a true man as any other man, except without sin. In place of using his divine power, he took the form of a servant, finding ultimate expression in giving up his life upon a cross. Why didn’t he use his divine prerogatives more? For the same reason that he was born as a baby: so that he could experience and sympathize with everything we go through, yet without sin, so that He could be the perfect Savior.

          Consider his temptation in the wilderness as a thirty-year-old man. Satan tried in every way to get Jesus to use his divine power to pull him out of the wilderness, out of hunger, thirst and pain. But Jesus refused. He instead appealed to the Word of God. That testing, a testing wherein he did not remove himself through his divine prerogatives was a time of testing for you and me, and all who believe. We have a Savior who knows temptation! We have a Savior who perfectly conquered temptation by staring each one of them down and overcoming them all in victory. He did that; he endured that for us! How generous!

Generous in His Death

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:8

          Approximately thirty-three years after those shepherds had a life-transforming night, the baby they had been told about was now a man standing before another man. Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate. Then Pilate sent him to Herod, and Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate. Ironically, Pilate and Herod, who had been enemies, became friends that day as they had guards’ shuttle Jesus’ bruised and bleeding body back and forth between them. Why were they shuttling Jesus back and forth? Here is why:

I find no guilt in this man. – Pilate in Luke 23:4

I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod. – Pilate speaking in Luke 23:14-15

Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death.” — Luke 23:20-22

          The reason Herod and Pontius Pilate couldn’t find any guilt in Jesus was because there was no guilt in Jesus! He was in every way as we are, yet without sin. With all power at his disposal Jesus willingly subjected himself to the agony of it all for one reason and one reason alone:

…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:2

          What was that shame? It was not only to die, but die upon a Cross-, a kind of execution reserved for the worst of criminals. What was that joy set before him that made overcoming the shame of the Cross possible? His joy was in knowing what His death would accomplish for all who believe. He would pay for all of our sins, so that we could come into the Father’s presence with no shame or fear. All that is His in His Father is ours in our Father through Him. He endured and despised the shame of the cross for your joy. Our joy at forgiven sin and restoration to the Father in heaven is His joy, His Christmas gift to us.”

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. – 2 Corinthians 8:9

Generous in His Resurrection and Ascension

          The life and death of Jesus Christ were not all He left Heaven for. He was not incarnate only to live and die. He came to live, die, and live again! If Jesus had remained in the grave, then we would remain in our sins, and Christmas would be utterly meaningless! If Jesus had lived and died only, He would not be able to sympathize with us. The author of Hebrews says,

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16

          Jesus didn’t stop being generous to us upon His death and resurrection. He has taken a seat in the throne room of God to make intercession for us, ready and eager to pour out mercy and grace to us in our times of need. The Generous One continues to lavish generosity to all who belong to Him! His generosity is not only in his intercession; it is in his preparation. Jesus said:

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going…I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me…And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth…I will not leave you as orphans.” – John 14:2-4,6,16-18

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. – Hebrews 9:27-28

          Jesus has promised to return. We are waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus. We live this Christmas in the narrow time, the time between the times when the hosts of heaven will crack the sky again. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world will return as the roaring Lion of Judah! He will take us to Heaven. Now we don’t know all that it means that Jesus is preparing a place for us, or exactly how long that requires. But we do know this:

But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— 1 Corinthians 2:9

Paul said it this way to the Philippians: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19).

          That is a promise not only for now, but also once the Second Advent has come.

Wondering and Pondering This Christmas

          Luke’s gospel tells us that as Mary would hear the prophetic words over this child, she pondered those things she heard in her heart. As children we waited and wondered at Christmas. We pondered what might be in those boxes under the tree. Can I encourage us all in a different kind of wondering and pondering this Sunday morning before Christmas, these few days before Christmas Eve? Ponder the generosity of a child born unto you, a Savior, in the city of David, which is Christ the Lord.

          If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, ponder over these things; ponder over not being in your sins any longer. Ponder that you will not be in hell because you rejected Jesus. Ponder that God’s mercies are new every morning, even when we presumed on yesterdays. Ponder a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, growing up sinless, being judged though innocent, bleeding, dying, rising, ascending, promising to return. Ponder God’s love, acceptance, forgiveness, heaven, and eternity. In short, ponder the generosity of God given to us in Jesus Christ. This is Christmas. I asked, “What made all of the grace possible that we’ve seen in the Philippians? What made a poor people generous?” Jesus, the Christ. They lived their lives celebrating Jesus’ first coming, and they lived their lives preparing for His Second Coming. All that we’ve seen in Philippians finds its origin in the Christ Child, born that first Christmas night. Ponder the generosity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and then invite someone to join you here on Christmas Eve!

          After New Years we will revisit Philippians 4 one more time to explore how the Philippians can inspire us. For now, thank you for the ways you make Metro Life Church very much like the Philippian church; a place of partnership, humility, unity, Christ-mindedness, and generosity. As you review the list of all the things we were able to accomplish in 2015 in the letter you received, we pray you feel the pleasure of God. But for this Sunday before Christmas, and in the week ahead, let’s ponder over and over again the generosity of Jesus Christ, the meaning of Christmas. The Philippians got it. We are getting it! Have we all got it? Are you a follower of Jesus Christ? If not, will you let another Christmas go by without receiving the single most important gift you ever could; the forgiveness of all your sins, a new heart, and life eternal with your Creator?

          As you go today:

          Joy to the World, the Lord has come, let Earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare him room. And church, while Heaven and nature sing, let us remember this fact; that with the Lord a day is as a thousand and a thousand is as a day. He is not slow in keeping his promises as some count slowness. Christmas is not an annual memorial service; it is a time of anticipation marked with an expectancy that one of these Christmases will be the last, because our God’s not dead, He’s surely alive, living on the inside, roaring like a lion, and surely, Jesus is coming soon! Prepare Him room! Merry Christmas, everyone!