Sermon: Unexpected Gifts from God (Ephesians 1:3-14)

Text: Ephesians 1:3-14
Second Sunday of Christmas, Year C
Listen to the sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Well, happy 9th day of Christmas to all of you! This Christmas season, my children have grown to love the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Even little Katie joins in enthusiastically on “five golden rings!” In that song, a gift is given on each of those twelve days. This morning God has more Christmas gifts for you to unpack. Today’s reading from Ephesians delivers unexpected gifts from God. It’s like a surprise Christmas gift that the UPS man dropped on your doorstep long after you packed up Christmas for the year. This morning, St. Paul will help us unpack all these gifts. Our reading can be broken into three sections. First, the gifts were part of the Father’s Plan, which were then attained for you by the Son and are now distributed to you by the Holy Spirit.

The Father’s Gifts

One of the essential ideas in the Old Testament is that God chose the descendants of Jacob. The Israelites were God’s people, chosen from of all the nations of the earth. St. Paul says that Christians are also God’s chosen people. Before we were even born and long before any human was ever was – before the beginning of creation, God – chose – us. God chose you to belong to him before you were saved. Your salvation was part of God’s plan before he ever created a single thing. This is, perhaps, one of the most mysterious teachings of all. People do not become Christians by their own decision. We believe because God chose and predestined us to be his own. Before God laid the foundation of the world, before the act of creation, we were already included in God’s plan!

What is this plan? God’s plan is that we would be holy and blameless. He chose us to be the kind of people who could live in his presence. He chose you, not because you were holy and blameless, but that you might be holy and blameless before him. To accomplish that, God also predestined you to be his sons. That means God has decided to adopt you into his family. This plan includes you becoming a member of God’s family with all the rights and privileges that go with being an heir. We have God as our Father and Jesus as our older brother. And this is what God planned all along. 

Why did God choose us? Christians are not chosen because they are physical descendants of Jacob. So what was it? Was it because of anything we would do? Was it because he saw something good in us that made him choose us? Was it because God foresaw we would believe? No, it was not because of anything in us that God chose us. It was God’s love for us that moved him to choose us. Paul says he did it “in love” and “according to the counsel of his will.” It was a free act of love on God’s part. It was God’s loving decision, and God’s alone.

The Son Attained Them For You

Neither did God did choose us to be saved in some capricious or arbitrary way, but his choice is connected with the redeeming work of Christ. God’s plan is always connected with Jesus. It is because of Jesus that God has chosen us. The gifts that God the Father has planned to give you were blood-bought. St. Paul says we have been redeemed. Redemption means “to set free.” That should remind you of when God set the people of Israel free from their enslavement in Egypt. Israel’s freedom was won on the night when the angel of death went through the land of Egypt. The Israelites applied the blood of the lamb on the doorposts, the angel of death passed over, and the Israelites were saved from the judgment that would otherwise have fallen on them.
The freedom we need is forgiveness from the guilt of our trespasses. By freely giving himself into death, Christ lavished the riches of his grace on us. Grace is God’s undeserved gift. All the ways you have transgressed against God’s commandments, done where you should not have done, in thought, word, or deed, the good things you have failed to do–that whole mess has been washed away by the blood of Christ, removed from you and sent far away, never to return. That is forgiveness. You are blood-bought, purchased not with gold or silver but with the holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death of Jesus, the lamb of God. The Son took on flesh and blood to redeem our flesh and blood, to pay the redemption price that was required of us. Christ has redeemed us from our slavery to sin by shedding his blood on the cross.

Through Christ’s death, God has not only forgiven our sins: he has shown that his plan also involves all creation. God’s plan doesn’t just involve saving humans. It’s a plan that includes redeeming the entire world through Christ. The goal of God’s plan is to unite all things in Christ. When St. Paul talks about our inheritance, he is not referring to going to heaven when you die. No, our inheritance will be this world when its been renewed by God with an act of new creation. The Creator God is not going to leave earth to rot. God’s plan is to restore the whole universe, heaven and earth together to the way he originally intended. Everything wrong with this world will be set straight again. Through his redemptive work, Christ unites and leads the entire created order back to God. When that happens, there will be a new world that results, where Jesus himself will be the central figure.

The Spirit Gives Them To You

God chose to make you part of his family and predestined you to live a holy life. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to acquire those gifts for you by his precious blood. And then, God delivers these gifts to you in time by his Holy Spirit, through the ministry of the Church. Through the Church and its ministry of Word and Sacrament, the Spirit brought you to believe in Christ, your Savior. In Holy Baptism, the Spirit marks you out, stamps you with God’s official seal. This seal proves that God has accepted us, incorporated us into his Church, and given us access to salvation. And you are given the Holy Spirit as a ‘down payment.’ The Spirit is God’s guarantee that the entire sum of God’s promises will come to you in the future when the details are complete. You have heard the gospel, you have come to faith in Christ, and you have been baptised. God the Holy Spirit has united you to Christ by a living faith. In the meantime, the Spirit doesn’t just save you, but he uses the Church’s ministry to help you begin to live that holy and blameless life that was part of God’s plan for you.

Look back over the gifts which Paul has unpacked for you this morning. God has taken the initiative. He chose you before all creation. He predestined you to be part of his family and live holy lives. The Son has done what was necessary to acquire those gifts for you, at tremendous cost to himself. He purchased us from our slavery to sin and forgiven us. The Spirit works through the sacramental ministry of the Church distribute these gifts to us. God has given us the Spirit as a foretaste of the renewed creation that awaits us as our inheritance. Discovering that you have received gifts like these should change your entire life. How could you not burst forth in hymns of praise? Merry Christmas.

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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