This sermon was given by Rev Caroline on 31 December 2017 – the first Sunday of Christmas.
God always has impeccable timing. The fullness of time came once all the planned words of prophecy had been delivered exactly as planned. It came when every ear that God had planned to hear it had, indeed, heard whether they be receptive ears, fearful ears, ears that needed encouragement, doubting ears, undecided ears or the ears of stubborn and heart-hardened rebels.
St Paul does not discuss Jesus’ birth but his letter to the Galatians is brimming with the incarnation. The Word has gone forth and had not returned void. The author has declared salvation for all who believe in Jesus and the heavens declare God’s glory. We, who believe, are to be known as “children of God” and our hearts cry out with joy in the knowledge that he is our Heavenly Father. We are now co-heirs of the kingdom with Christ.
That fullness of time is not just about fulfilment of prophecies. Many other factors came together in that fullness of time that enabled God’s loving plan to unfold. The chosen young woman who was pure and obedient of heart came of age, the perfect carpenter working in Nazareth was betrothed to her, the pre-ordained group of shepherds on the hillside, the governor ordering a census, the tyrannical king in Jerusalem, the magi gazing on stars and gathering the very gold, frankincense and myrrh that, from the beginning of time had been created as a gift to the new born Messiah.
In the fullness of time, Paul sees his calling as being set apart to preach the “gospel of God” (Rom 1:1). In his letter to the Galatians, he is writing to gentile believers who are under pressure to be circumcised and follow the law in order to truly become God’s people. He has already explained to his audience in the previous chapter that the law existed to restrain sin but could not free us from it. It was providing discipline until Christ came but, now he has come, we look to Christ (through the guidance of the Holy Spirit) to guide us in the godly patterns for living that we are called to as children of God (Gal 3:21-26). Paul is anxious that we understand the enormity of what that means for us throughout the generations.
I wonder how often we stop to ponder what being children of God means to us? As Mary gazed upon her baby in the manger and had shepherds arrive to meet her child describing an amazing encounter with angels, we are told that “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” What will this mean for my tiny and defenceless baby? I suspect she pondered. What kind of a man will he be? How will his role as Messiah manifest itself? How will I best nurture and support him in this unprecedented life that he will have?
What do we ponder as we gaze upon him too?
In this season of Christmastime, as we freshly recall our sense of wonder at the Christ child in the manger, let us ponder in our own hearts what his birth means personally to us.
The passage from Isaiah today declares that God “has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (61:10)
Let us pause for a moment and bring to mind what those robes feel like to wear. What colour are they to signify the righteousness that has been given to us? How do we hold ourselves in the knowledge of what they symbolise upon us?
Isaiah talked about a wedding couple adorned with garlands and jewels – walking tall and brimming with joy in all that their clothing symbolises both now and in the future. Every time I lead worship, I clothe myself in outwardly symbolic robes of priesthood, which reminds me of the undeserved righteousness that Christ vests in me through calling me to represent Him to others in worship. That is a literal example but we are all individually robed in metaphorical Royal robes of salvation and righteousness through following Christ that are only deserved through grace. How can we all similarly carry that sense of putting on these royal robes as we go about our daily lives and reveal the difference Christ in us has made as we meet others?
As we consider what it means to us to be clothed in this grace received, we are reminded by Paul of the further joy that we are adopted into God’s family and are heirs of his kingdom. Heirs are still minors and their inheritance is still under the control of the father until the day that he designates that we will come into our inheritance. Until then, Paul explains as he leads into today’s passage, we are enslaved to “the elemental spirits of this world”. In other words, we have the influence of things that we might treat as Gods but are not Gods on our daily lives. When we choose to follow and believe in Jesus, we are freed from that enslavement to these things whilst we wait to come into the fullness of our inheritance. We are clothed with those garments of salvation and robes of righteousness that Isaiah proclaims.
As we pause to think of the things in our own lives that we have been freed from or we may still feel bind us or hold back in our walk with God and cherish the knowledge that we can lay them at Jesus’ feet at any moment that we are ready and truly own those robes of righteousness, how do those robes feel as we wear them now? How do we feel as we walk out of church this morning and into our homes, our community? How do we explain those robes and the difference that they make in our lives to others?
The fullness of time has come. We have greeted the Christ child and our lives are changed forever. Adopted as God’s children we need never be enslaved to the things of the world and we walk above them strong in the knowledge that our full inheritance awaits us. We are all adopted. Jews and gentiles alike and, under Roman law, adopted children have the same inheritance rights as biological children. Jesus, the only biological son of God, chooses to share his kinship and inheritance with us. This is fulfilled through the Holy Spirit linking us with God’s son as his fellow children, able to address God in the same intimate language that Jesus used “Abba! Father!” Daddy.
We are clothed in robes of righteousness, we are inheritors of The kingdom, we are invited into relationship with God whereby we can call him “Daddy”. We are so precious to God that he sent his son to make all this come to pass. We no longer need to live anxious lives trying to fulfil the law and earn our salvation. By grace it is freely offered to us this Christmastime. We simply need to say “Yes”, to transform our hearts by following Jesus and to approach God, our ever loving and ever forgiving Heavenly Father. To do so transforms our prayer lives and helps us to reflect and give thanks for the remarkable and awe inspiring gift that has been given to us through the birth of the Christ child.