First Sunday after Christmas
“No Longer a Slave”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
St. Luke 2.22-40
29 December 2019
+ In the Name of Jesus +
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Gal. 4.4–7)
Isaac Watts writes in his popular hymn, O God, Our Help in Ages Past:
Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
This is a great point by Watts. This is also an example of why we sometimes sing hymns from the old Lutheran Hymnal rather than exclusively from Lutheran Service Book. Political correctness of the 1970’s through now took the words of this hymn, “bears all its sons away” and changed it into “soon bears us all away,” so as not to offend the sensibilities of moderns who feel that the word “sons” might exclude members of the female sex. Our church too often, both in the blue hymnal of the 1980’s that used to be in our pews, and in this current hymnal, uncritically accepts such tinkering in too many of our hymns.
Isaac Watts would roll over in his grave to see his poetry mangled and his sound theological observation lost. The point is that there are sons of time and there are sons of God. Sons of time live under the bondage of rules. Sons of God live free lives by the power of the Spirit. Sons of time are perpetually children. Even if they are heirs of great wealth, they cannot touch it or benefit from it. They are, in effect, slaves. But when the Son sets you free, we remember that Jesus promises, then you are free indeed.
God sent forth his Son, writes St. Paul. The Son of God was born of a woman. No man had anything to do with it. Blessed Mary was a virgin. It was a miraculous birth. Jesus had no human father. He was thus preserved from any taint of original sin. His is the only immaculate conception and virgin birth in all of history. The Son that God sent forth has his nature. He is God of God from eternity. In the fullness of time the eternal God became flesh and blood, taking on our human nature, and was born of a woman. We confess this most holy fact in the creed, “And He was made man…” and we genuflect at the altar and encourage you to confess this by even bowing your head, even a little. That God condescended to be one with you is the most holy event of all time and without it you cannot be saved.
Paul writes, the Son of God was born under the law. Being born of a woman did not put him under the law. You are born under the law because you and every child conceived by the one flesh union of one man and one woman are born in sin and as such you are born under the condemnation of the law. The law was not made for righteous people, but for sinners. Jesus was the only sinless Child ever born. Jesus had no need for the law. Yet, this righteous one who knew no sin voluntarily placed himself under the law that was made for sinners. He actually became sin for us. Why? In order to redeem those who were under the law – in order to set us sinners free from the judgment of the law. In this way we could be adopted as sons of God. The creed says, “who for us men, and for our salvation…”
Now the word son here applies to men and women, boys and girls, old folks and infants. All Christians are sons of God. The word “sons” denotes your rights as Christians. You are not slaves. You are not hired hands. You are not employees. You are not distant relatives or next door neighbors. You are heirs with full rights to enjoy your inheritance right now.
You are not under guardians who tell you what to do, and when and where to do it – such as the ceremonial ritual that Mary and her first-born son had to fulfill at the Jerusalem Temple in today’s Gospel reading. You are not children under the bondage of the elements of this world. You are sons by adoption, by rebirth in Holy Baptism, by the Holy Spirit, and as such everything that belongs to God’s only begotten Son is yours.
It is the Holy Spirit himself who enables you to believe this, confess this, and claim the treasures that Christ has won for you. The Father sends his Son. The Son redeems us. He purchases your release from the guilt of sin, the judgment of the law, and the threat of death. He does so by his holy life and sacrificial death for us all. Then the Father sends the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of his Son – into your hearts who elicits from you the prayer of faith: “Abba, Father!” In that Spirit we most often pray, “Our Father” as Jesus taught us to pray.
Time means death and decay. It is a brutal enemy. Beauty fades. Christmas presents picked out with care are lost, broken, and forgotten. Wealth, beauty, and status disappear in time. When they are gone, those who trusted in them are poor. The sons of time are carried away in that ever rolling stream that runs into the sea of destruction.
That is not the future of the sons of God. You are not bound to the dying of this world, but you are children of the eternal God. This is what Christmas means. The eternal Son of God who was born of a woman and placed Himself under the law has purchased your release from the bondage of rules, regulations, and other time bound restrictions and has ushered you into the very presence of God. You call God “Father” and He hears you. You run to Him as children to their loving father and He receives you. He fills you with the Holy Spirit who gives you the confidence that you are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, holy, acceptable to God, and have the status of children who are full heirs of every good gift.
You don’t receive Christ by obeying rules. You don’t become a son of God by submitting to God’s law. You don’t gain spiritual freedom by putting into practice spiritual principles. Rather, it is as Paul wrote just a little earlier in this Epistle:
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3.26-27)
Baptized? You are no longer slaves, but sons of God in Christ Jesus. You can walk right in. That makes this holy house your home. The font sits at the entrance to this nave to remind you of that. You can make the sign of the cross there and at many points in the service to remind yourself of that day when you were marked as a son with the cross, one redeemed by Christ the crucified. Everything that belongs to your heavenly Father belongs to you, in Christ Jesus.
To know that you are no longer slaves to sin and death, and to take comfort in your son-ship in Christ brings real joy and lasting peace. With old St. Simeon, you can sing with gusto, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word, for mine own eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people…”
Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph in the Temple that day long ago in Jerusalem, all held in their arms and marveled at the baby born of a woman and born under the law to purchase your release from the law’s judgment and curse. Today we heard that Jesus indeed willingly submitted to and willingly fulfilled part of that ceremonial law, and that too was done for your sake.
Here, today, you baptized Christians, beloved of God, you are joined to that same holy Babe, joined to His perfect and vicarious life, death and resurrection offered for you. By faith you have all the riches of God’s grace, adopted as God’s sons. He forgives you all your sins. He fills you with his Spirit, the Spirit of his Son. He sets your heart at peace. He assures you every day that time cannot destroy what your Savior Jesus has won for you. He is eternal. So are the treasures He gives. They were purchased for you in the fullness of time and they will last forever.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +