Christmas: Fulfilling Time
Sunday after Christmas| December 30, 2007| Rev. Rolf Preus| Galatians 4:1-7
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 4:4-7
There are certain things that we cannot understand. Eternity is one of them. I remember thinking about eternity when I was a boy. I used to think about heaven. How it could last forever? What happens after forever? And who can understand the eternity of God? He has been God from the eternal past to the eternal future, without beginning or end. God could not have a beginning because that would mean that he was created but God is the Creator of everything. But the whole idea of a never ending eternity boggles the mind.
We are quite time bound. Our problems can seem insurmountable to us because we are stuck within a framework of time. We can’t jump out of our time to see the future. We can’t go back in time to correct the past. When we are young, it seems that everything lasts forever. The older we get the faster time flies.
And, being self centered by nature, we tend to think that our time is the center of all time. We are here and we are now. This is where it’s at.
The center of all time is not now. It was in the First Century, AD. It was when Caesar Augustus decided to do a census of the entire Roman world so that he could raise more tax revenue. It was a matter of convenience to require the various families to go to their ancestral homes and so to be registered. Caesar was no Christian. In fact, he claimed to be a god. But he was the legitimate authority. Joseph and Mary had no choice but to submit to his lawful requirement. Both of them were descendents of David and so they went to Bethlehem to register. Bethlehem was David’s home town.
An emperor interested in having a census of his empire knows nothing of God’s eternal plan, but we do. We know that God had promised through the prophet Micah that the promised Savior, the Lord God himself, would be born in Bethlehem. God was the one who was in control of Caesar’s decision to require everyone to register for the census.
As we look at our text for today we see how the Triune God is completely in charge of our time. The Father sends his Son. He chooses the right time; the fullness of time. The Son is not only born of a woman, he places himself under the law. He is the lawgiver. He is the judge. But he chooses to become subordinate to the same law that applies to everyone else. In order to redeem them he had to become their substitute. First, he was to become their brother. He was born of a woman. He had to be one of them. So he took on himself their flesh and blood. Then he needed to do for them what they had failed to do, what they could not do. He had to obey the law.
His obedience to the law, offered up to the Father vicariously, that is, in the place of all humanity, is accepted by the Father as sufficient payment to set the whole human race free from its sin. The law condemned us all and thus made us captive to the sin it exposed and the death it pronounced upon us. Jesus redeemed us. That is, he set us free from the threats of the law by meeting the law’s requirements for us.
Our hearts would not believe this. We would deny it because it goes against what we see and feel in our own bodies. But the Holy Spirit, who proceeds not only from the Father but also from the Son, is sent into our hearts. He is the Spirit of God’s Son. The Father sends him. He enters into our hearts and makes himself at home. He enables us to call God “Abba”! We are not afraid of a stern and judgmental Father. Rather, we are invited to call him Father as confident children, using the word Abba, a term of endearment.
It is easy for us to fall into thinking in a time bound fashion – ignoring the eternal for the sake of the temporal. After all, we can’t see eternity and it is impossible to grasp. We can see what’s happening around us in our own space and time. Do we have enough money to pay for the Christmas presents we bought the past few weeks? Are the problems of 2007 going to follow us into 2008? Here we are and here we live.
But at a specific point in human history the eternal God joined us in time. God sent forth his Son at a time when the Christian religion could take root in a Greek speaking world. The Bible was written in a language known to millions of people. God’s word became available all across the Empire and when it fell the Bible was planted all over the world. The timing of the birth of Christ was perfect.
Since Christ was born in the fullness of time the Christian gospel has been proclaimed all over the world and it has always and everywhere borne with it the power of the Holy Spirit. Enslaved consciences have been set free from every imaginable lie and deceit. Sinners trapped in a myriad of sins have been forgiven and set free. The center of history is when God joined the human race. All human history is bound to the history of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection.
As he held the Christ Child in his arms, Simeon said to Mary:
Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:34-35)
The little baby is no threat to those who labor under the accusations of the law and are looking for forgiveness for their sins. When they turn to him in faith, he raises them to glory! His Spirit establishes true faith in their hearts and confirms them in their Christian freedom.
Think of all the Christians over the centuries that have been denied basic rights and freedoms that we in America take for granted. Christians in Sudan are regularly captured by Muslim kidnappers and sold into slavery. Christians suffer under Communism. They suffer under Islam. They suffer all over the world, being denied freedom.
And yet they are free. All Christians are free. They cannot be enslaved by anyone. This is because they are joined by an unbreakable bond of fellowship to the Triune God. The Father has sent the Spirit of his Son into the hearts of all his Christians. They bemoan their failures. They confess their sins. They see how year after year they make the same mistakes and fall into the same sins. They repent. They want to improve. They question their own strength and worthiness. And the Holy Spirit convinces them that they are heirs of the very treasures of God. They are heirs of Christ who is the very image of God. There is no joy, no love, no hope, and no comfort to which they may not lay claim. God himself became their servant to redeem them with his precious blood. So they are exalted up high in heaven even when they must do without here on earth.
And Jesus is the cause of the falling of many as well. He brings about the fall of those who would elevate themselves to glory by means of their religion of works. Jesus becomes the sign that is spoken against as he demolishes all trust in human merit and presents himself as the only Mediator between God and man. His mother Mary would see her Son crucified. A sword would pierce her soul. He was the perfect Child. He never disobeyed, never talked back, never stole, and never told a lie. He didn’t go out and get drunk. He never committed adultery or any other sin. Yet he was treated as if he were the worst sinner who ever lived. Mary witnessed it. Her soul – her very life – was pierced as if by a sharp sword. She received his human nature from this woman. Now, though he is innocent, he suffers as if he were guilty.
But Mary learned to bear the shame that Christ bore as does his entire church on earth. For it is precisely when he is lifted up to shame that we are lifted up to glory. The eternal promise of freedom that God promised through the prophets came true when Jesus gave his life as a ransom for all on the cross. The crucifixion of the Son of God will be spoken against until the end of time. We who find forgiveness of sins and freedom in the blood Jesus shed on the cross find in it our true and eternal glory.
We know that the one in charge of history is in charge of our lives. He has sealed our future with him by sending his Spirit to us. He testifies to us that we are children of God and heirs of all that Christ has won for us. As we regret the sins of 2007 and ask God to guard and keep us in his grace throughout the coming year, we look back to how God directed history to bring about the birth of his Son in Bethlehem. Surely he will direct our lives, too. He will bring about the rebirth of faith in our hearts through the word the Spirit of truth speaks to us. And that will bring us a happy New Year! Amen