1st Sunday after Christmas
December 29, 2013
We are His!
Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ, Dear brothers and sisters,
I haven’t been able to drive around too much this year and see. I should say, I haven’t been as observant. But, in years past, it was only the day after Christmas that I saw trees already out at the curb, ready to be hauled off by the garbage truck. I couldn’t believe how quickly people were ready to move on to the next big thing or the next big event. I always remind people, we are still in the 12 days of Christmas, just like the song. You know that song, on the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me? But sometimes, I understand where people are coming from. The Christmas season is built up, built up, built up from early on. I think this year they were playing Christmas music after Halloween (since we are Lutherans, we can say Reformation.) I think I even saw Christmas items in the stores before Thanksgiving! S o for a month the Christmas season was built up and then it just kind of ends. Christmas songs aren’t played on the radio anymore. Christmas decorations are taken down. And it is difficult to start thinking about going back to work or to school. Maybe you are even thinking that today’s celebration of the first Sunday in Christmas seems rather anticlimactic. I mean, we already celebrated Christmas! We had the children’s services, the instruments, the singing, the gift giving, the family time. We are kind of left wondering, now what? What’s next? I guess we just sort of move on.
In our lesson that we read, the letter to the Galatians, Paul says, “Let’s hold on here! We can’t be so quick to move on!” You see, Paul was writing to the Galatian people and he saw the danger of “just moving on.” These Galatians were Christians who were constantly bombarded by the religious leaders who said you could be Christian, but you needed to obey the old Jewish laws so that you could really be saved and earn yourself some brownie points in God’s eyes. And, some of these Galatians weren’t even Jewish!
Paul tells his brothers and sisters in Christ to stick with the basics. Christ came to be with us! Simple as that. And, the wonderful thing about that, is that He came at the perfect time. I have no idea what that perfect time was. But it was THE perfect time in God’s eyes for his Son to be born. We can also look back in hindsight and say, “Wow, things just seemed right.” God had controlled all of history to this perfect time. Do you remember the name Alexander the Great? Several hundred years before Jesus was even born, Alexander the Great had conquered huge amounts of land, from Greece to even parts of modern day India. If you ever hear of the term Hellenization, that’s what Alexander did. He spread Greek language, culture, and even people throughout these conquered lands. Although the land was later divided up, the culture and language was still everywhere. Greek had become that language of business across cultures. Just like English is sort of today. Do you remember what New Testament was written in? Yes, Greek. So you can see that that all played a roll in the bible.
We also hear of this thing called the Pax Romana. In Jesus day, the Roman Empire had become the great empire. Because Rome had conquered so much land, there was this lull where there was no big internal fighting or war, which was coined the Pax Romana, or the peace of Rome. So when Jesus was born, it was a time of great peace. We see the amazing wisdom of God as He moves powers and circumstances and continued to be in control. Paul probably had all of that in mind as he wrote these words. They was right in the heart of everything that was going on!
Christ came at the perfect time for all of us. The Lord God had come to this earth and was born a human being. As Paul says, he was born “under law.” Now, did you notice that there is no article before “law.” That’s no typo, no mistake. Paul made a point to say that this law wasn’t only the law given to the Jewish people. “Law” here refers to everything that God demands of all people. God demands that all people be perfect and live holy lives. Jesus was born under the law too. Yet, Jesus obeyed everything that had to be obeyed. I think that is a wonderful thing to remember. Jesus is not a lawgiver. He didn’t come to this earth to give us more laws to obey, more things to do. But rather, he was a law taker. He took on the law and perfectly obeyed that law.
We can’t do that. We aren’t perfect. We are all under that burden of the law that constantly reminds us of our failures. We are slaves to the law. And sadly the law does not justify. The Law was not the vehicle for God’s salvation. In other words, we are hopeless in the eyes of the Law. And nobody wants to hear that we are hopeless. We want to think that we can offer God something on our own. We want to be good in his eyes.
Isn’t that such a normal way of thinking for our society during the Christmas time, being good? We look at all the stories or commercials that we have out there. Just think of the good ole classic Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” We hear about Scrooge being a cold hearted man who cared more about earning money rather than caring for the ones around him. But by the end of the story, Scrooge becomes a changed man and turns into the good guy.
Or have you seen that new Apple Holiday TV ad. I believe it’s called “misunderstood.” In this commercial, you see a teenage boy getting together with his family for Christmas. Throughout the whole time he was with his family, he always seemed distant and always playing on his phone. Twist ending though: while the family is all gathered in the living room, the boy puts a family video on the TV that he had been making the whole time. Oh, it really touches the heart. And, you can’t help but think, that’s a good kid. Being good. That idea is engrained into the minds of people, especially during Christmas.
But, Paul says, don’t fall back into that line of thinking! We need that clarity from God’s Word that we can’t do it on our own. We can’t be good because we are slaves to that law, and slaves to sin. It is interesting how Paul speaks of slavery in this chapter. For the people of Paul’s time and the Galatians, slavery was a common thing. However, Paul wasn’t speaking of the physical slavery that some of the people possibly had been in. Rather, Paul was speaking of the spiritual slavery that they had been stuck in. For the Jewish people, they were stuck under the slavery of the Jewish law. For the Gentile believers, they were stuck in their old religious bondage. They were hopeless.
Yet, the Holy Spirit worked in their hearts and Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil was made theirs. We have that same promise. The Law was not the vehicle through which God brought about his salvation, but rather through the Savior.
This picture that Paul uses of inheritance is amazing. He says that we have the right to be called his sons. Now this isn’t a sexist thing. At that time, the son would inherit the estate from the father. The picture is of inheritance. Inheritance was only intended for family. Now, pair that with the idea of us being stuck in spiritual slavery, this is amazing! We don’t deserve any of the grace that God has given us. Paul was emphasizing that fact. An inheritance is totally dependent on the giver and not anything based on how good the person is or even choosing to get that inheritance. With a father and a son or a slave, receiving the inheritance rests solely on the father’s activity of fulfilling his promise, not the son or that slave. It is totally dependent on the grace of God.
Not only are we now called children of God, but we also have all the benefits and all the rights. We can approach God on a one-to-one basis when we pray. And get this: he listens to us! He hears us when we pray and he reminds us in His Word that He gives us his whole inheritance. He has given us eternal life through Jesus Christ. It’s kind of neat how Paul personalizes it here. It’s hard to tell in the English. Maybe I’m just a language nerd. Nevertheless, he uses the second person singular here. In other words, he doesn’t say, “you” as in “all you guys,” but he says, “you, you, you, you, you, and you!” He brings it home on such a personal level. God has made you an heir!
This is a certain thing. We know where we are headed and most importantly, why. God’s Word gives us that comfort everyday. Even though, we don’t fully have the possession of the inheritance while we are here on earth, God promises it all to us. It is as good as ours and we should live as those heirs. If you would have won that huge lottery ticket, do you think you would have been able to keep that a secret? Yeah right! I would have seen it on my internet news feed within 5 minutes! God wants us to live as his children and share the wonderful message that our eternal life is not dependent upon how good I am around Christmas time. Rather, it’s simply on the grace of God. In other words, Christmas isn’t just a season, and it doesn’t end when the holiday music ends. Christmas is every day of our lives because Christ came to be with us so that we could be with him.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.