Christmas 1B - Galatians 4:4-7

Galatians 4:4-7 (NIV)

 But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.  Because you are His sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are His child, God has made you also an heir.

            The time has come – it’s the end of 2017. We had to wait a whole year – all 12 months of 2017 for today to arrive. Tomorrow is the beginning of a new year, 2018, and a time of resolutions, fresh starts and whole new raft of new experiences.

            Whether we are waiting for a significant birthday or anniversary, the arrival of guests or our own death, the time will one day arrive as the old saying goes. “All things come to those who wait.”

            But things happen when we wait. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in the 18th Century:

“Let us, then, be up and doing,

with a heart for any fate;

still achieving, still pursuing,

learn to labour and to wait.”

            Such was the experience of Simeon, an old righteous man who pleased God. Simeon lived in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ birth. He had been waiting patiently for the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies made by Isaiah –

prophesies of comfort promised in chapter 40:1,

prophesies of a Redeemer of Israel promised in chapter 49:7-10,

and prophesies of the Lord’s favour and comfort in chapter 61:2 and

66:13.

            Simeon had been promised by God that he would not die before he saw the Messiah, sent by God into the world for the world. Simeon greatly rejoiced when, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he went into the Temple Court of Women where Mary had gone to make the required sacrifice for purification after childbirth.

            Having taken the infant Jesus in his arms, Simeon rejoiced in thanksgiving with the words of what we now call the Nunc Dimitus, which emphasizes the universal implications of God revealing Himself in His Son – words which we often share when we have received Jesus’ body and blood in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

29 “Sovereign Lord, as You have promised,

You may now dismiss Your servant in peace.

30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation,

31   which You have prepared in the sight of all nations:

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and the glory of Your people Israel.”

            Simeon expressed his gratitude to God for His gift to him, to Israel and to the world. The Messianic expectation was central to Simeon’s faith as Isaiah 52:10 (NIV) had foretold: 10 The Lord will lay bare His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God. In other words they will see Jesus the Saviour.

            With Simeon blessed by God to see and hold the Saviour to His breast, Simeon then blessed Mary and Joseph with a prophetic word which also introduces us to the suffering which accompanies the appearance of the Messiah.

There will be judgement for many – that is those who fail to recognize Jesus as Lord and Saviour. There will be sorrow for His mother, Mary, but comfort for all of us who receive Him and the new life He brings us.

So the new age has begun with Christ sent into the world. St Paul emphasized Jesus’ humanity when he told us God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to help humanity, to meet the demands of the law (which we cannot).

Jesus became, in His flesh, subject to the law which demanded perfect obedience to God, which threatened death as punishment and brought mortal judgement upon Him for universal sin – yours and mine.

Jesus taking our sin, freed us from responsibility for sin and thus set us free from guilt, offering us comfort from our distress at not being able to make amends for our sin against God. With Jesus coming into the world we are then bought back by Jesus’ death and victory over sin. This redemption makes us children of God.

No longer are we employees of God, having to meet the criteria of perfection to be paid an eternal reward.

We are no longer paid what we deserve (remember the wages of sin is death – that is eternal separation from God) for our failures we no longer have to pay God off for a debt we could never come near clearing ourselves.

Jesus has cleared the debt of sin with His suffering and death and as a consequence He brings us into God’s family. Paul speaks in terms of adoption. With sin, we were not God’s children as we rebelled against our Creator – in the natural sense we were born separated from God by sin.

Any claim we had to God prior to Jesus coming with His grace and forgiveness was lost when we chose to go our own way instead of living in total obedience to His will and way of living.

We can only be God’s children through God’s choice of pure grace. We can think of it in terms of an adoption. When my youngest sister was adopted into our family my parents received her and doted the same love on her they doted on myself and our other sibblings.

My parents could have left my sister in Taihape Hospital where the first saw her – but they brought her into the Davison family and gave her the same rights and privileges we all shared. There was a generous act of love. No law said we had to receive my sister into our family.

Likewise no law says God had to accept us into His family but in His grace and mercy, shown in the world by His Son Jesus, He received us and gave us all the rights and privileges of His own Son.

How do we know that we have the rights and privileges of being God’s Children? We have the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God’s Son, Jesus, living within our hearts. The Holy Spirit is the seal of all God’s promises to us.

As Rev Dr Henry Hamann wrote in his commentary on our text,

“The possession of the Spirit is, in turn, shown by the presence of childlike prayer. The use by Paul of the Aramaic Abba in this passage suggests that the Aramaic word had found a place in the prayers of the Early Church even in Gentile circles, and support for this is found in passages like Mark 14:36 (This Gospel was written in Rome!) … (NIV) 36 “Abba, Father,” He said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

And Romans 8:15 (NIV) 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

This kind of praying, “Abba, Father”, illustrates a closeness and intimacy with God and can only be found where God’s Holy Spirit is at work in the heart of the individual.

It is clear that those who pray with a “quiet and simple confidence to God as a true Father are not in slavish bondage to the elemental spirits of the world; …” Those who pray with this confidence are in fact true children and heirs of all that God gives.

For those who call God, “Father” we grow in our understanding of God and His will for us, we grow in our relationship with God. We grow in our union with Him and each other reflecting in our daily lives all that He is making us to be and blessing us with.

We can recall the Advent candles and what each one represented to help us understand what it is to be children and heirs of God and not mere servants.

The candle of hope proclaimed that the Lord is coming in power to give us a new future which is hidden from view, but Christ in His glory makes all things new for us.

The candle of peace shines bright with God's plan; where those previously at odds with God and each other will live safely with each other. The weapons of war and hatred will give way to a peaceful community where healing and restoration take place.

The candle of joy reminds us to sing, for God is doing a new thing amongst us. Our pride and arrogance will give way to humility and those who have been subjugated will be lifted up and everyone will experience God’s Kingdom coming with delight and surprise.

The candle of love told us what we are worth: God loves us so much, that He came to the earth! Angels from heaven brought messages of the Child who would save us and set us all free.

Now it’s the Christ candle's light that shines for us here. We can share the good news that God has come near! So near that we are part of His family because the poor Baby, showed all creation the wealth of God's grace.

Amen.