Galatians 4:4-7 The meaning of Christmas

Galatians 4.4-7 

My word for Christmas has been the word ‘ponder’. To think long and hard about something

All who hear about the miraculous birth of John the Baptist ponder and ask what does this mean? (Luke 1.66)

Mary ponders all these things (Luke 2.19)

And in Galatians 4 Paul does a bit of pondering - thinking about the meaning of Christmas. Why was Jesus born when he was born? 

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law in order to ..’

Why was Jesus born when he was born?

Why did God decide that about 2000 years ago his love would be focused in a moment of history in a specific place?

We don’t know, but for Paul it was at exactly the right time

I’ve heard people say that Jesus was born in the time of the emperor Augustus because, after 100 years of civil war, there was relative peace throughout the empire, and because of Roman roads there were easier means of communication. So the news of the good news could spread.

But you could suggest that, if God chose the rule of Augustus for his son to be born because there were good means of communication, then he would have been wiser to wait till the C21st with the internet!
We give thanks to God for the Pax Romana and that there were Roman roads at the time, and that the gospel could spread, but to be honest we do not know why God chose that specific time.

What we do know is that it was the right time - the fullness of time.

If you read the beginning of Matthew’s gospel you will find a list of Jesus descendants. Matthew also sees that the birth of Jesus comes at exactly the right time. Look at the list and count the numbers of the people who he mentions.

The NT writers do not tell us why Jesus was born then, but they do tell us it was the right time, the ‘due time’ (Titus 1:3) and that it was the beginning of a new age.

Astrologers speak about how we are moving from the age of Pisces into the age of Aquarius. The problem is that nobody is really sure when and whether it actually means anything.

For Christians we argue that the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, 2000 years ago, during the reign of Augustus, in the town of Bethlehem, introduced a new age, the last age, in human history - that period between the coming of Christ and his second coming.

And Paul, in Galatians 4, writes of three consequences of the coming of Jesus as a baby

1. We are redeemed, rescued, set free from the condemnation of the law.

God sent his Son ‘to redeem those who were under the law’ (v5)

We are set free from guilt and condemnation.

Jesus was born ‘under the law’ (v4). He was born as a Jew, who was required to be obedient to the Old Testament law.

And so we read in Luke of his circumcision on the 8th day. Why on the 8th day? Because that was what the law required for a baby Jewish boy.

And throughout his life Jesus was obedient to the law.

His opponents often accused him of breaking the law, but Jesus challenges them that they have misunderstood, even twisted, the law.

They had turned the law into a system of achievement and merit. If you kept the law, if you followed the rules, then you would be saved. And it had become a system which either led to self-righteous pride: ‘I’m somebody who keeps the law and I can look down on people who don’t keep the law’, or it led to people being crushed.

And Jesus accuses the Pharisees of hypocrisy, of pride, and also of making converts, and then crushing them. They burden those new converts with loads of new rules that they have to obey. And they tell those new converts that if they do not obey the rules, then they will be condemned.

Don’t get me wrong. Jesus did not say that the law, the rules were wrong. It is just that while the laws remain outside of us they are burden on us.

But when the love for God is given to us, then we begin to find that we want to do what the law requires. We are not so much controlled by the outer law, but by what we want to do. And the law becomes a delight for us. As St Augustine is said to have said, ‘Love God and do what you want’.

Jesus came to set us free from condemnation.

There are many of us who do not think we could ever possibly be worthy of God. We look at our past sins, our blindness to God, the people we have hurt, the damage we have done to ourselves.

It is actually quite hard to think about some of the things that you have done in the past. They’re too painful.

‘Forgive the sins of my youth’, cries the Psalmist.

The problem is that as you grow older, and the thing about growing older is that you still think that you are quite young, so the sins of your youth multiply! And it is not just the sins of our past. We look at ourselves now: at our self-centredness, at our hardness of heart, at our judgementalism, at our lack of love for God or for others.

And we despair.

Please do not, as many do today, deny your sin or the reality of eternal judgement. That is not the way out of despair, because it is not real.

But we do not need to despair, because Jesus was born under the law, and obeyed the law, in order to set us free from the condemnation that comes from when we disobey the law. He took onto himself the condemnation of the law that we deserved. He was crushed for us.

And because of him we are forgiven. We do not need to live crushed by our sins - past or present

We need to face up to them honestly and confess them before God. And we may need to face the human consequences of our sin.

There are almost certainly some people we need to say sorry to, or forgive, and we need to do whatever is in our power to put things right.

There is a very helpful verse in which we are told, ‘in so far as it is up to you, live at peace with all people’.

But in the end, once we have confessed our sin, we hand that sin over to God, because we know the Son of God has taken the punishment I deserve on himself.

Jesus came to set us free from the condemnation of the law.

2. Jesus was born in Bethlehem in order to make us children of God

The great Christmas acclamation is that the Son of God became a human being so that human beings could become sons and daughters of God, children of God.

He came so that ‘we might receive adoption as children’ (v5)

The door into the throne room of God, into the presence of God was closed.

But Jesus, the Son of God, by coming into the world opens the door and invites us to come in.

Who has visited the throne room in the Hermitage in St Petersburg?

Well imagine that you are being ushered in to meet the Tsar.

They are seated on the throne, and you come in, into the splendour, with your eyes lowered - you dare not look at the Tsar. And you come before her or him, and you bow down. And someone says your name and why you are being presented, and they say something to you, and you then you walk out - backwards, because you must not show your back to the Tsar. And you can say, ‘I have met the Tsar’.

But when we are ushered in, by Jesus, into the throne room of the Tsar of tsars, into the splendour, maybe on our knees, with our eyes bowed down - we realise, as we approach the throne - that the Tsar has stood up and come down from their throne, and they have drawn close to us, and lifted us up, and raised our head so that we look into their face. And they say, ‘Come with me. I am no longer going to treat you as a rebellious subject, nor even as a loyal servant. But you are now going to become my son and my daughter’.

Jesus came so that we might become his brothers and sisters, members of the family of his Father God.

So as we come to him, and receive him, so we are given a new identity and a new way of doing things and a new family and a new home.

3. Because Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the Spirit of God has come to us.

“And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” (v6)

For those who are believers, who have received Jesus, then he is with us now. His presence embraces us and shapes us and transforms our longings and our desires.

I spoke earlier about how the law can crush us if it is something that is outside of us.

The Spirit takes the law and puts it in our heart - so that we begin to want to do what the law requires: not as an act of sacrificial obedience (although there will still be many times when we need to be sacrificially obedient - because our human will and our Spirit given God will are not always in harmony) but there will be times when we discover that God’s will is now what we would freely do.

if you think about the Bible, the word of God as the law of God - although it is far more than just laws given by God - then the Spirit helps us eat it. So that what was out there, becomes part of us.

And it is the Spirit of Jesus who lives in us, who enables us to know intimacy, to know God the Father - as Jesus, the eternal Son of God, knows God the Father.

It is the Spirit who enables us to call to God, ‘Abba, Father’.

Think of how the Lord’s Prayer begins.

It is to begin to know intimacy with God.

I do hope that you are beginning to know something of that in your prayers. That they are not just some set prayers that you say, or a list of things that you want, or an exercise in positive thinking, or a snatched piece of conversation with God here or then during the day - but that you also understand a little of what I say when I speak of prayer as intimacy with God.

And Spirit also reassures us of our future hope.

Why Christmas? Why did God send his Son into this world to be born as one of us, of a woman, under the law?

Many reasons. But just three from Galatians

· To set us free from condemnation

· So that we might become children of God

· So that the Spirit of God might come.


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