The First Sunday after Christmas
December 30, 2012
“The Adoption as Sons”
Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. Galatians 4:1-7
The true meaning of Christmas is not what we make of it. It is what God did. Christmas is not about all of the sentimental stories and songs or the nostalgic remembrances of family gatherings on Christmases past, though there is certainly nothing wrong with sentiment and nostalgia. The true meaning of Christmas can only be known by paying attention to what God says about it in his Word. After all, it is God who is the main actor in this drama that we call Christmas. It should be God who explains to us its great benefit. He does so beautifully in the Epistle Lesson for the Sunday after Christmas, so today we turn our attention to these inspired words to learn from God the true meaning of Christmas.
As we do we learn that Christmas is Trinitarian. Unitarians might celebrate a holiday called Christmas, but the true Christmas features the work of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the fullness of time, God the Father sends forth his Son. From that sending and on until the end of time he sends forth the Spirit of his Son. The Father sends the Son to redeem the world. Then the Father sends the Holy Spirit to sanctify the Church. The Son redeems. The Holy Spirit sanctifies.
The Son is begotten of the Father from eternity. The Father sends the Son in time. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son in eternity. The Father and the Son send the Spirit in time. In St. John’s Gospel Jesus says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. In the original Nicene Creed the Church confessed concerning the Holy Spirit, “who proceeds from the Father.” Some time later, the words “and the Son” were added to the Creed so that now we confess, “Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” This addition caused great controversy in the Church. The churches in the East objected to changing the Creed. Whether and under what circumstances an addition may be made to a Creed of the Church is a legitimate subject for debate, but there can be no denying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son.
The Apostle calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of God’s Son. In John’s Gospel our Lord Jesus promises both that the Father would send the Holy Spirit and that he would send the Holy Spirit. He says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and here in our text the Holy Spirit is identified as the Spirit of God’s Son. He proceeds from the Father and the Son in eternity. Both the Father and the Son send him in time. What we confess in the Nicene Creed is true and biblical.
But isn’t this just a lot of theological hairsplitting? Who cares who proceeds from whom? Why should we concern ourselves with things we cannot understand? We shouldn’t. But we should pay attention to what God says because he wants us to understand who the Holy Spirit is and where the Holy Spirit is to be found. For if there is anything every Christian knows, it is that God wants us to live holy lives and nobody can live a holy life without the Holy Spirit. He makes us holy.
The words set before us today describe two different kinds of religious lives: the life lived without the power of the Holy Spirit and the life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. The life lived without the power of the Holy Spirit is the life lived from the power of the law. The life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit is the life lived from the power of the gospel. The life lived without the power of the Holy Spirit is the life of a slave. The life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit is the life of a son.
A slave does what he does under compulsion. He must. He must obey orders or suffer the consequences. If he does as he’s told, he’ll get a reward. But the good things he gets from his master are always contingent on his obedience to his master. The slave knows where he stands with his master. The law tells him. It reminds him that he is a slave. If the law defines your relationship with God you are a slave.
A son does what he does freely. He doesn’t obey the law out of fear of punishment or hope of a reward. He obeys the law out of love. He is a son, not a slave. He loves his father and does as his father says for the simple reason that his father says it and the son wants to please his father. He is a son. He is the heir of everything that belongs to his father. The son doesn’t obey the law in order to become a son. He obeys the law because he is a son.
Before Christ came, Israel, God’s chosen people, were children. They had not yet reached the age of majority. They were heirs of the promises, but were still in training. God imposed regulations on them to teach them right from wrong, holiness from profanity, purity from pollution, truth from falsehood. They had many rules pertaining to diet, worship, civil affairs, disease, and so forth. The most valuable of God’s commands were the Ten Commandments, given by God to Moses for Israel nearly three and a half millennia ago, and still the finest summary of God’s moral law ever given.
The law trained them. It did not establish their relationship with God. It taught them how God’s people should live, but it didn’t give them the power to live it. From Moses to Christ, the law confined Israel in spiritual childhood, bound by regulations that trained them for the fulfillment of time.
Then time was fulfilled when Jesus was born. The eternal God took on himself flesh and blood. Now are the days fulfilled! God sends forth his Son, born of a woman. He is born of a woman, but no man had anything to do with it. She was a virgin when Jesus was conceived and she was a virgin when Jesus was born. He, who was begotten of the Father before all worlds, became bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh, joined to us in our humanity, born of a woman.
That he was a true man did not place him under the law. The law was made for sinners. It had no power to impose itself on our Lord Jesus Christ. He embraced it. He was born of a woman and he voluntarily submitted to the law, not because he had to, but because he wanted to. He wanted to obey the law because it was his Father’s will and this would set us free from our sins to become sons of God. He loved his Father and he loved us. Love did it. As we sing:
Love caused thy incarnation,
Love brought thee down to me;
Thy thirst for my salvation
Procured my liberty.
O love beyond all telling,
That led thee to embrace,
In love all love excelling,
Our lost and fallen race!
The law kept us confined under the elements of childhood, kept in line by rules. We were no different than slaves. Then Jesus was born. God became one of us. He placed himself under the law to obey it. He placed himself under the law to suffer its judgment. He was the true Son of the Father. He did willingly, not as a slave, but as a Son, everything the law demanded of us. He obeyed the commandments of God according to the spirit and the letter. More than that, he suffered. Everything the law threatened against those who disobeyed it was meted out against Jesus who obeyed it. In the fullness of time God fulfilled the law for us as our brother. The law can no longer accuse us or judge us. Christ purchased our freedom. We are free. This is the gospel.
The gospel is the voice of the Holy Spirit. In the gospel he testifies with our spirits that we are God’s true children, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ. We are not on the outside looking in. We are members of the household of God and every treasure God has to give his children is ours. We call God “Abba,” Father with the affection of children addressing their fathers.
God’s law cannot condemn us when we know Christ as our Redeemer. It is the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, whom the Son sends to us from the Father that instills this confidence in our hearts and enables us to embrace God as a dear and loving father. The work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts is a new birth. It is a miracle as wonderful as Christmas. It is the new birth of faith.
The Spirit is the source of our faith, but there remains within us the germ of unbelief because while we are redeemed, we still have sin clinging to us. Sin manifests itself in unbelief, and unbelief, aided by the devil who is the father of lies, parades as faith. Only the Spirit of God’s Son will keep us safe in the true faith as God’s children.
The true faith trusts in Jesus, the Redeemer. The false faith trusts in the law. The true faith receives Jesus in whom it trusts, and with Jesus comes freedom. Jesus purchased our freedom from the judgment of the law by obeying the law in our stead and by suffering the punishment for our disobedience to the law. Therefore, the law cannot judge us or condemn us or define our relationship with God. The true faith, produced and sustained by the Holy Spirit, does not look to the law to know where it stands with God. It looks to Jesus alone, and trusts in his holy obedience and suffering. We Christians are led by the Spirit to know and believe that for Christ’s sake we stand before God righteous. Just as all our sin was reckoned to him, all his obedience was reckoned to us as righteousness.
The false faith that trusts in the law pretends to be the Christian faith, calls itself the Christian faith, and appears to the world to be far more pious than the true Christian faith in that it constantly parades its achievements before God and the world, reveling in its own piety. But underneath this façade of spirituality, the false faith is bound to sin and death. Those who trust in the law do not trust in God. They trust in themselves. They claim to revere God as they insist that humility forbids them to claim to be righteous in God’s sight. But their humility is nothing but unbelief. It is God the Holy Spirit who tells us that we are righteous before God for Christ’s sake. To rely on our obedience to the law is to reject the Holy Spirit, to deny Christ, and to embrace slavery.
Only those who through the Spirit of God’s Son are adopted as God’s sons can begin to live lives according to God’s law. To obey God out of fear of punishment or hope for some benefit is no obedience at all. It’s forced, fake, and of no account. Only those whose hearts are free can obey God from the heart. Freedom comes only from Christ, who in the fullness of time was born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem us who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. This is the truth of Christmas. This truth is the means by which the Holy Spirit makes us sons of God and enables us to live holy lives freely, not out of compulsion, but willingly, as dear children of their dear Father. Amen