1st Sunday of Christmas
Reading Galatians 4
4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last,
the beginning and the end.
Gospel Luke 2:15—21
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
Today’s gospel is familiar—announcement of birth of Christ child to shepherds—their journey to place of nativity in Bethlehem—Mary’s reaction—circumcision of the baby Jesus on 8th day as required by Jewish law.
Today’s epistle from Galatians is unfamiliar—it’s obscure theologically—talks of Jesus being born under the law—our adoption as children and co-heirs whereby we receive God’s spirit in our hearts—the Spirit that calls out Abba, Father—our future status as heirs—where previously we were slaves.
All this is hard to comprehend—I don’t want to appear as the ghost of Christmas past—just repeating all the past sermons about infancy narratives and those who took part in momentous events—I want to tackle Paul just for few minutes—New year; new understanding.
If we can understand these 4 verses of Scripture by Paul—we can understand more about God’s design of the Christ event that leads to salvation—that would be good as we stand at the gates of the New Year—as George VI quoted in his Christmas broadcast in 1939:
“Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.”
May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.
So let’s attempt a paraphrase of what Paul is actually saying in these 4 verses from Galatians:
1. God chose to change the very fabric of life in order to liberate it from the power of Sin and Death—to which it had become enslaved.
2. God’s own Son was commissioned with the task. Jesus Christ entered the cosmos in the form of a vulnerable human being—like us, and all living things, he was constrained by the power that enslaved us.
3. The man Jesus, a Jew faithful to the Word of God, took upon himself the curse that came with this bondage on the cross—so that humanity might become the righteousness of God.
4. By his action—through our baptism into his death and resurrection—we receive the spirit of the exalted Christ—and so become adopted heirs—through which we rightfully call God Abba, Father.
If we can engage with it—Paul opens up for us a story of amazing scope—the world as he knew it before Christ has ceased to exist has been replaced with something entirely different—a difference as radical and far reaching as Life is from Death. That is why we celebrate the birth of the Christ child in the Christmas season.
You may ask why these events took place when they did—on the one hand it was God’s good pleasure—on the other hand conditions were favourable. They were right for the spread of the Gospel—the Roman empire had established the Pax Romana—Antony was defeated by Augustus—trade stabilised—roads were built—Greeks established common urban culture and language—there was an interest in religions.
The Jewish religion was monotheistic—contrasting the multiple gods of pagan Rome. The message of Christianity was summed up in a single commandment—love your neighbour as yourself—and this tendency towards peace and order was in the end adopted by the Roman empire. No longer would we be subject to the law—but one in Christ Jesus.
So let’s take to heart the message of Christmas—the Incarnation occurred “in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.”
Like Mary and the shepherds—let us contemplate the momentous news of the incarnation—and treasure these things as Mary pondered them in her heart—and as the shepherds glorified and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.