Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas 1 of Series B (Galatians 4:4-7)

“So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Dear friends in Christ-- Mary and Joseph were good, law abiding citizens. More specifically, they were good, Law abiding Jews. We know the background of our Gospel text for today- we heard all about the miraculous birth, the shepherds, the angels, and the music just a few days ago. But almost as if none of that had ever happened, Mary and Joseph traveled to the temple to present Jesus to the Lord. “And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord… and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, ‘A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.’” A bit ironic, isn’t it- they brought our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to the temple and offered up their required sacrifice, and most who watched them were unaware that these young parents were presenting God the Son to God the Father. Mary and Joseph obeyed the Law of Moses, bringing Jesus into this world under the power of the God’s Law.

In a way, that is fitting, because all of humanity is born under that same power. Whether or not our parents brought us to the temple in Jerusalem to present us to the Lord (I’m guessing not), we too were born under the power of the Law. As Paul writes just before our text today, “we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of this world.” We are born into a prison, a cage of enslavement known as the Law. This Law, given to man by God, is good. It sets the boundaries, tells us how to live peaceably with one another. If we could live by its requirements, life would be great! Love and kindness would abound while the hurt and pain of this world would cease. There is only one problem- humanity fell into sin, making the creation God created good very wrong. We have been born in that same sin, that same inability to keep God’s Holy Law. Now the Law becomes our oppressor, accusing us of our wrongs, so that we are under its power, we are locked in its prison, we are under its curse. This curse is that the Law has condemned us to death, eternal death- that is the only punishment we deserve, because we have disobeyed what God made good.

The Law accuses us and condemns us, and rightly so, for we have sinned. And yet we as humans still attempt to rely on the Law for part (or all) of our salvation. Paul spends the bulk of Galatians arguing that we cannot return to the Law as a means of our salvation. The Law had a purpose, and it served this purpose well- to lock us up in sin, to close every door of opportunity for us to make right what has gone wrong in our world. The more we try to keep the Law, the more we fall into sin, and the harder we fall. You can perhaps think of the leaders of the church who have fallen into scandal, some who have claimed to be free of sin, only to have it revealed that they are very much in its clutches. We cannot achieve salvation, make right the wrong that sin has caused in our lives, though the Law, because the Law was never intended to do such things. The Law was not established in order to give life, to give salvation, but instead was in place to point us away from ourselves to God’s promised deliverer.

And that deliverer did come in the person of Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrated just a few days ago. As Paul writes, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the Law.” Christ invaded our sinful world, launched by God on a mission to renew and restore fallen creation, to make right what had gone so terribly wrong. This happened at exactly the right time, when all was prepared and God’s appointed hour came. Our liberator came in the fullness of time, at a time when all of God’s promises in the Old Testament were ripe and ready to bear fruit. That Christmas night, when God invaded our world as a man, was the fullness of time, the hour of salvation. But to fulfill this hour, Jesus had to be placed under the Law as we were, and He was placed under that Law when His earthly father and mother brought him to the temple, as we heard today. They were obedient to the Law, and they brought Jesus into obedience to the Law.

This obedience, this being under the power of the Law, began with a perfect life on our behalf, but it did not end there. The curse of the Law was unleashed upon Christ, it found Him guilty in the sight of God for the sins of the entire world, sentencing Him to death, death on a cross. But when the Law raged against Christ, it did so to Him on our behalf. Paul says that the purpose of Christ’s birth and life under the power of the Law was “to redeem those who were under the Law.” We deserved to be destroyed by the curse of the Law, sent to eternal condemnation for our failure to live up to its standards, for our foolish attempts to find life within it. But instead Christ became the embodiment of the curse of the Law, meeting that curse head-on and defeating it for us! He who had no sin was not obligated to the Law, but He placed Himself under it for our sake. When Mary and Joseph brought their child to the temple, they were placing Him under the Law, they were fulfilling God’s purpose for us in Christ. If Christ was not placed under the Law, His death would have no meaning, He would not stand in our place. But by being placed under the Law, Christ stood as our substitute that Good Friday. The Law there accused Him of every sin ever committed, and pronounced the judgment, death and separation from God. Jesus suffered all of that for you! But the Law did not have the last word- Jesus did. When He rose from the dead on Easter morning, He announced His triumph over all that held us captive. He loved you so much that He was willing to stand in your place, and for that reason we are redeemed, we are liberated, we are set free from the enslaving power of sin.

We are not set free to wander about on our own, but as Paul says, we were redeemed “so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Christ redeems us so that we may be adopted by God as His children, so that a new family may be created, a family of those claimed by Christ through His blood. Where does this happen? In your baptism! There at the font God claimed you as His own by applying Christ’s death and resurrection to you. He did this not because of your obedience, but for the sake of Christ, who faced the curse of the Law for you. Because of your Baptism, you no longer live under the power of the Law, but instead are free, free to inherit eternal life, and free to love one another not under compulsion, but instead with the overflowing of love from Christ.

Having been adopted, we are brought into a new family, God’s Church. But this is not simply an external organization of like-minded people, it is an incorporation into Christ. We, both male and female, become sons of God by being brought into His Son, Jesus Christ. We are adopted into a person, we are adopted into Christ. We are therefore identified with Christ- when God looks at us He sees His Son, and His shed blood covers us. There in our Baptism, all distinctions are erased as God brings forth something new. As Paul said earlier in Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” All of us are now one through Baptism by being brought into the Son.

And because we are brought into the Son, Paul writes that “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’” In the early church, those who were baptized came up from the water crying out, “Abba, Father!” In the same way, we are now sons of God through the washing of Baptism, and like Christ we can call God ‘Father.’ We do this as we pray the Lord’s Prayer, or when we receive Christ’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins. This is a wonderful privilege- have you ever thought of it in this way? In the early church, only those who were baptized could pray the Lord’s Prayer- the privilege of calling God ‘Father’ was only given once He claimed them in those waters. It is the same way with us. Once we are claimed by God in the waters of Baptism, we are able to pray to God with these words, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” As we pray this prayer later in the service, think about how the ability to pray this prayer is a privilege, a wonderful gift given to us by God for the sake of Christ. It is only through Jesus’ death and resurrection that we can pray the prayer He gave to us. We have been given such a gift, such a privilege because we are God’s sons and daughters, and as God’s children, the Holy Spirit came to live in our hearts.

This was the second invasion of the Triune God into our humanity, when in Baptism the Holy Spirit came to us. He cries out for us in groans that words cannot express. In fact, we cannot even distinguish between our cries and the cries of the Holy Spirit within us, because He is a part of us. He gives us the comfort that we are God’s adopted children, He bears witness within our spirit that God has claimed us in Baptism for the sake of Christ. This confidence sustains us through all of life’s trials, when the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature try to tell us that we are still under the power of the Law.

This Holy Spirit assures us of yet one more promise from God. As Paul says, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” Because we are now children of God through our Baptism in His Son, Jesus Christ, we now receive the inheritance of Christ. When Christ rose triumphant from the grave on Easter morning, He rose to give to us the inheritance of eternal life and the promise that because He rose, so we too shall rise one day. On that day, when the ‘fullness of time’ once again comes, God will bring us out of our graves as His adopted children to receive our inheritance, life everlasting with Him in heaven. May the Lord preserve His children in His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, until that day, Amen.

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