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First Sunday after Christmas Series B

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Our sermon text is from Galatians 4:4-7:

There was a disturbing article in the paper yesterday about the religious views of young people. Their ideas of God are rooted in Biblical ideas, and yet far from the Father-child concept. Their God is rather uninvolved with real life, except when needed to solve a problem. One label that has been attached to this view is “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” As with most religious ideas that stray from the bible, it usually includes the idea of earning your own salvation, or “good people go to heaven.” IN Galatians 4, Paul reminds us of the more intimate Father-child idea, in understanding the true meaning of Christmas. God sent his Son, that we might receive adoption as children of God.

Paul is reminding the Galatians of their special status in the sight of God; they are no longer slaves, but now, they are children of God. God sent his Son to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. It’s a powerful analogy. When we were born, we were born into slavery, under the curse of sin and death, with no hope of earning our freedom. When you’re young, you have few choices. Someone else tells you what you are to eat, where you will go, what you will do, and when you will sleep. You have no choice whether or not to be under the Law; you do what you’re told. You soon learn what punishment to expect if you are unwilling to obey. Most of the time, people didn’t think they would get caught, rather than “I didn’t know it was wrong.” This could be true of both children and grown-ups.

In the larger context of Galatians, Paul was writing to remind the Galatians that they could not earn God’s favor by obeying the Law with works of righteousness. Abraham offered his son as a sacrifice to God, but he wasn’t commended for his work; his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. So God’s children are under the Law for a time, but God uses his Law to prepare us for faith, and to lead us to Christ Jesus. There were many people of the Old Testament who had the promises given to Abraham, but lived in the centuries before God gave them the Commandments under Moses. The Commandments were given because God’s people weren’t focusing on the promises. Then there were many more centuries between the giving of the Law and the fulfillment of God’s promise, in the time of Jesus of Nazareth. God waited patiently until the fullness of time. Century after century, his chosen people were submitting again to slavery by turning away from their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

As you read through the history of the Old Testament, there seems to be relatively few who lived by faith, and often, the faithful suffered persecution from those who were not. God’s chosen nation didn’t always live up to the blessing of God’s promises, and in the time of Christ there were those among Israel’s spiritual leaders who would persecute the Savior. So when Paul says we have all been set free in Christ by faith, it’s not only the Jews, who were given the Law, but also the Gentiles.

Paul wrote to the Galatians because some of the Jewish Christians were saying again that the Gentiles had to live by the Jewish laws, the Laws that the Jews had never been able to keep themselves. A look back at the history of Israel shows their people freed from the bondage of Egypt, only to  make a golden calf in the wilderness. Rebellion against God and Moses continued in the time of the Judges, and then outright idolatry in the time of the divided kingdom. There were the bright moments in Israel’s history, but not always an earnest Father and children relationship between God and his people.
God was always earnest, but the people turned away. So Paul is writing to the Galatians, who are thinking that the Gentiles should also go under the Law. But if no one has ever earned their place in God’s family by the works of the Law, why go back and try again? God wants us to inherit his kingdom, by faith, not by works, and He sent forth his Son, to redeem those who were under the Law.

Jesus was born as a human being to be our substitute under the Law, not just to see what it was like to be human. Paul used many words in Galatians on the idea “For Us.” Christ gave himself for our sins, Christ became a curse for us, to rescue us. “For us” means not only for our benefit, but in our place. He didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it- in our place. God sent the Holy Spirit, into our hearts; the Spirit of his Son moves us to make the connection with Christ, to acknowledge that He put Himself in our place. Paul writes, “It’s the Spirit of his Son in our hearts, crying Abba! Father!”  Earlier, Paul had described his relationship with God: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Christ gave Himself for us, to pay for the guilt of our sins, and to call us into a relationship with our Abba, our Father, his Father. In Christ we are no longer slaves, but sons and daughters with full rights to inherit the kingdom of God, and to ask our Abba about every little thing that might be troubling our hearts and minds.
This is much more than a god who glances our way from a distance, at times when we need help. More than a god who winks his eye when we push the limits of right and wrong. More than a divine butler, who provides for your daily needs. In Jesus Christ, God has come to live in our hearts and minds on a permanent basis. The fullness of time came a long time ago; the end of time may come any day. Amen, Come Lord Jesus.

And Now, may the peace of God, that passes all human understanding, keep our hearts and minds in the one true faith, in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, unto life everlasting. Amen.

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