Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 28, 2014

2014.12.28 Holy Family Sunday – Galatians 4: 4 – 7

Central United Methodist Church
Sam Mutschelknaus, Student Pastor
Galatians 4: 4 – 7
December 28, 2014
 

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.  And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” – Galatians 4: 4 – 7, the New Revised Standard Version

As this last Sunday of the year dawns, we cannot help but look back on the year behind us.  This was a year when our society was filled with hurt and sorrow.  There were many events that broke our hearts:  the deaths from gun violence here in Chicago and around the country, the high suicide rate of our soldiers returning from combat, and the deadly disease, Ebola, which has affected so many of our brothers and sisters on the continent of Africa. Looking back, we realize that we also lost some of our favorite cultural giants, who helped us feel a little bit better when we were feeling down. Some of those include:  the comedian, Robin Williams; the poet, Maya Angelou; and the American folksinger, Pete Seeger. Considering the struggles of those around the world—those without food, those who find themselves in the midst of civil wars, and those without healthcare—the message of peace on earth, goodwill toward men seems too much to hope for.  How can we hold onto the hope that the Christ child brings?  Where can we find our renewal during times like this?  What must we do?

Some say, “Don’t be so pessimistic!  There have been good headlines this year too.”  It’s true that the unemployment rate is going down.  Strides are being made toward immigration reform. Science continues to make breakthroughs.  Also, many people rose up to support each other’s causes.  People doused themselves with buckets of ice water for ALS research.  Others joined in rallying cries like:  “Bring back our girls” and “Hands up; don’t shoot.” People were willing to show that they cared and that they wanted to help bring attention to injustice.

In our letter today we read the words that Paul penned to the people of Galatia:  “that in the fullness of time, God sent his Son… to be born under the law.”  This reading from Galatians, chapter four, doesn’t seem to fit with our Christmas celebration of Christ’s birth in a manger scene . . . that we had just three days ago. Paul’s writing about the law, adoption, slaves, and heirs is mysterious.  But perhaps we are looking too hard for the Christmas link!  Perhaps it is simply God’s sending of the Son, at just the right time; for God’s time is always the right time. Karl Barth says, “At Christmas, God remains Eternal Majesty, but also becomes a child, a brother, a family member here, among us.”  As Pastor Haley told us at the Christmas services on Wednesday night, “God infused his light into the chaos of the ancient world, and his light is still with us here today.” While this message is fairly easy to understand, why does Paul complicate it by mentioning the law and adoption, slaves and heirs?

Paul seems to have penned this letter with an urgency to discuss the basic message of Christ and his sacrifice for our salvation; a story that was embedded within the complicated culture of the Greeks, Romans, and Jews of the times. Most of the converts of the church of Galatia had formerly lived as Gentiles, and so they previously worshipped false gods. These new Gentile-Christians were now being influenced by others who had come among them, most likely Jewish-Christians, urging them to be circumcised.  Paul, as a former Jew, knew the stronghold that the law held over the Jewish people, and that it had continued to maintain a hold on some Jewish-Christians. Paul also knew that the new Gentile-Christians were living tentatively with their new faith, perhaps easily influenced by those who spoke with authority. They were straying from Paul’s original gospel message of Jesus Christ who came to replace the law.

It’s understandable because the Gentile-Christians were worried about being included as heirs to the promises made to Abraham—promises of the fullness of redemption. The Gentile-Christians were trying to form a new culture and probably were unsure of how Christianity fit with Judaism. Now, today, we can see why Paul felt it necessary to include a discussion of the law in this letter.  “Jesus was born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law.” This is Paul’s way of saying that Jesus was born into a world that was ruled by the law, but Jesus has now replaced the law.  Jesus redeemed those under the law.  The law did not redeem them.

Next, in this letter Paul draws together the experiences of Jews, like himself, and the Gentiles, like the Galatians, on equal footing, by using an example that both groups can relate to:  the custom of familial inheritance.  Both the Jews and the Gentiles knew that children did not have full rights to an inheritance, and so they understood the comparison to the classification of a slave, a person who lives without rights. Paul is suggesting that both the Jewish-Christian and the Gentile-Christian lived as slaves before their conversions.  The Jew was in slavery to the Mosaic Law. The Gentile was in slavery to the pagan gods. “But when the fullness of time came, God sent his Son . . . so that we might receive adoption as children.” Therefore, both the Jews and the Gentiles who have accepted Christ have been adopted into the same family, with the same rights that all offspring of the Father have!  Now, today, we can understand why Paul felt it necessary to include a discussion of slavery and inheritance rights that come from familial relationships.  Both the Jewish-Christians and the Gentile-Christians are co-recipients of God’s gifts as members of the same family.  Both are no longer slaves to the law, each other, or themselves.

Therefore, the Cross—central to the salvation story—has become the identifying factor of those who belong to Christ . . . not the law, not actions taken to abide by the law, nor works. The Cross is the common ground between the Jewish-Christians and the Gentile-Christians, as it confers “Sonship” to both.  No longer are they divided by things of the flesh, such as ethnicity, or actions such as ritual forms of worship.  What has unified them is something of the Spirit—the covenant blessing of Abraham, the receipt of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is the seal of adoption into the family of God.

As a result, the shared experience of “Sonship”—through adoption—unites all believers immediately!  It is personal, spiritual, and transforming.  It is a coming of the Spirit into the heart, and we identify with Jesus, not with those who look like us or talk like us.  We have intimacy with God and we can call him “Abba!  Father!” The Triune God:  the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have all participated into our acceptance into the family.  Our faith is in the acceptance of Jesus salvation gift to us: “God’s Son, born of a woman, under the law, in order to redeem those under the law, and so that we might receive adoption…” is now understood.

Now we understand why Paul’s simple summary of the Jesus story was shrouded with the mysterious references to the law, adoption, slaves, and heirs.  Paul had customized his message to the needs of the Galatians, but it is still helpful to us today. It reminds us whom we belong to, God, and who else belongs with us, all Christians. It reminds us that we do not need to live in slavery to the things and powers of this world.  It reminds us that the Spirit was sent to us as a sign of our adoption and our inclusion in the covenant of Abraham!

The hope of the birth of Christ, which we celebrate at this time of year, is with the knowledge of the promises to come at the end of times. But we see the light in the current times! The light still shines brightly despite the troubles and the sufferings of this world. The birth of Christ should remind us of our own spiritual adoption. An adoption of a child brings joy! It is when one willingly accepts an outsider into the intimacy of their home and family!  All who believe are immediately members of God’s family, no matter where they came from or how long they have been Christians. We need to be joyful in this! Let us not be a slave to the world, but a child of God. The struggles in this world remain, but we have the comfort of the Family of Christ.  Remember and declare the meaning of Christmas.

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