Sermon Text: Galatians 4:4-7
Pastor Steven Pagels
In the name of Christ Jesus, dear friends:
Can you remember your favorite Christmas? Perhaps it was the year you received something extra special, like diamond earrings or a new car. Maybe it was the year when a distant loved one came home for the holidays. Or maybe you had your best Christmas ever in 2018.
If I had to guess, I suspect that many of us would trace our favorite Christmas back to our childhood. There is nothing quite like waking up to find all kinds of gifts under the tree. It is hard to match the excitement of opening the present that contains the toy you always wanted.
Marketers encourage us to have the mindset that Christmas is all about children. Even in the church, Christmas and kids seem to go hand in hand. Our congregation hosted a “Christmas For Kids” event in early December. On Christmas Eve the children of our school proclaimed the good news that a Savior has been born. It seems that Christmas is for children.
The apostle Paul would agree, but he wouldn’t limit that statement to people who are age 14 and under. In our text for today, he condenses the events of Luke 2 into a few carefully chosen words. And as Paul summarizes the who, the what and the why of Jesus’ birth, his words bring us back to the theme…
CHRISTMAS IS FOR CHILDREN
- For the child of God who was born a man
- For the children of men who are adopted by God
“When the time had fully come” (4). Those words fast forward through thousands of years of prophecies and promises. Already in the Garden of Eden the Lord promised to send the Seed of the woman to crush the serpent’s head. God told Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his offspring. God announced to King David that he would establish his throne and his kingdom forever. And God fulfilled every one of those prophecies “when the time had fully come.”
A brief look at world history reveals that God’s timing was perfect. The Pax Romana (or “Roman Peace”) created conditions that were favorable for the spread of the gospel. Greek was spoken throughout the empire, and as a result no language barrier stood in the way of the gospel. Jesus’ birthplace was at the crossroads of Europe and Africa and Asia, the ideal launching point for proclaiming the gospel.
Bible scholars point to all this historical evidence to explain this little phrase. But Paul didn’t. And we don’t need to rely on it either. Instead we can take this approach. God knows everything. God knew what he was doing. And when he saw that the time was right, “God sent his Son” (4).
God sent his Son. It sounds so simple. It sounds so easy, but it was anything but easy. The only situation I can think of that even begins to compare with it is when parents send their son or daughter off to war. Mom and dad shed tears because they know that their child may have to give up his/her life. But when God sent his one and only Son into the world, he knew that Jesus would die. He even knew how Jesus would die because it was all part of his plan.
God sent his Son to be “born of a woman” (4). We know that the woman’s name was Mary. We know that Mary a virgin, but here Paul uses the word “woman” to emphasize Jesus’ humanity. The Almighty Son of God left his Father’s right hand to enter the world like us, to become one of us.
God sent his Son to be “born under law” (4). Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he was still held to God’s perfect standard. There were no special perks. The rules were not relaxed. As a man Jesus was subject to the law of God and the law of the land just like everybody else.
God sent his Son at the right time from his right hand for the right reason: “to redeem those under law” (5). Jesus’ birth was the beginning of his divine mission to redeem the world (literally to “buy us back” for himself). And even though the price tag was steep, even though the cost was his holy, precious blood shed on the cross, our Lord never hesitated, not even for a moment.
Jesus redeemed us so “that we might receive the full rights of sons” (5). Everything that Jesus did is even more amazing when we realize that Jesus did everything for us. He left his Father so that we might be able to call God our Father.
I was listening to talk radio after Christmas and the question being discussed was: Is it allowable to return Christmas gifts after the holidays? Not the gadgets that were already broken in the box. Not the clothes that didn’t fit quite right. The presents that you just didn’t like.
One caller claimed that that it was rude to return the gifts. Another caller claimed that her kids had already returned over half the presents she had carefully and thoughtfully chosen for them. After some discussion the general consensus was that returning gifts showed a lack of appreciation for both the gift and the gift giver.
We would never do anything like that, would we? We could never be that insensitive, could we?
At Christmas we celebrate the gift of our Savior, but how much do we appreciate that gift? Do we appreciate the fact that God loved us enough to give up his Son? Do we appreciate the fact that Jesus loved us enough to give up his life?
Our heads nod “yes.” Our lips may say “yes.” But there are so many times when our hearts and hands shout “no.” Instead of thanking God every moment of every day for saving us from eternal death, we question his timing. We doubt his love. We break God’s law over and over and over again. And every time we sin, we are in effect saying to him: “God, I don’t want your gift. You can take it back.”
Sin separates us from God. Sin makes us enemies of God. Sin puts us under the curse of God. But when the time had fully come God sent his Son to redeem us. This is a Christmas miracle. Because of Jesus, we are God’s children. And Christmas is for us because God has adopted us into his family.
Who received the most Christmas gifts in your family this year? Was it your kids or your grandkids? If it was, I wouldn’t be surprised. Most people like to give gifts to children. We love to see the look on their faces. We want them to be happy. We want our children to have everything they need. The same is true of our heavenly Father.
Paul continues: “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’” (6). Not only did God give us his Son. He also gives us his Spirit. The Holy Spirit entered your heart on the day of your baptism. For most of you, that was the day when the Lord made a little child his child. That was the day when he gave you the gift of faith. But the gifts don’t stop there.
Every time you open your Bible, every time you hear a sermon, every time you read a devotion, the Holy Spirit is there. He strengthens your faith. He enables you to trust in his promises. He even gives you the confidence to call God “Abba, Father.”
Hebrew children called their fathers “Abba” in the same way that children today might call their fathers “dad.” “Abba, I need a drink of water,” the Hebrew child would say, fully confident that his loving father would satisfy his need. “Abba, hold my hand,” the little child might say when she is afraid. Through faith God is our “Abba.” Through the Holy Spirit, God is our Father. That means we have an intimate relationship with God. That also means we have direct access to God.
“Father, there is a sin in my life that is really troubling me. I know that you still love me. I know that you have forgiven me. And I am asking you to give me the strength to overcome temptation in the future.”
“Father, I am scared right now because I don’t know what the future holds. Please show me the way I should go. And give me the faith to trust that you will make everything work out for my good.”
“Father, it is a real challenge to be your child in an unbelieving world. Everywhere I look people disobey your Word. Everywhere I go people dishonor your name. Protect me from these negative influences. Help me to think of every person I meet as a precious, blood bought soul. And let your love shine through in my life.”
Because God is our loving Father, it is our privilege to go to him in prayer. Because we are his dear children, we have the confidence that he will hear us and help us. And we look forward to the day when we will see him face to face.
“So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (7). Slavery was common in Paul’s day. The life of a slave wasn’t easy, but some slaves had good masters. Some slaves were even able to buy their freedom after so many years of service.
Because slaves were treated like pieces of property, it would be difficult to imagine a scenario in which a master would just let a slave go free. That would be bad business. And it would have been unheard of for the master to give a former slave equal status with the other children in his family.
That sounds like a fairy tale, but it is reality. It is our reality. At one time we were slaves. We were slaves to sin. But now we are sons. We are children of God because God has adopted us into his family. And membership in God’s family has its privileges.
Not only do we have the forgiveness of sins through Jesus. Not only do we have the Holy Spirit living in our hearts. Not only do we have the right to talk with God in prayer. Because we are God’s adopted children each one of us has a claim on an eternal inheritance.
Christmas gifts are nice. They bring us happiness for a while, but can you even remember what you got for Christmas last year? God has promised us a gift that we will never forget. God has promised us an inheritance that will never perish or spoil or fade. God has promised us a crown that will last forever. And it is waiting for us in heaven.
Jesus once said: I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). In context Jesus was talking about having a child-like faith, but I don’t think that it’s too much of a stretch to apply these words to Christmas. The Lord wants us to approach this season like we did when we were kids. He wants us to approach the manger with the same sense of wonder and awe.
And that is possible, as long as we take to heart the words of Paul, as long as we remember that Christmas is for all of God’s children. Christmas is for the child of God who became a man. Christmas is for the children of men who have been adopted by God. Amen.