Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Sundays
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. (Galatians 4:4–7)
This short reading, plucked from the Letter to the Galatians, is rich indeed. Contained within its few lines is the entire mission of Christ, and so it is that Paul begins in a weighty manner: “when the fullness of time had come”.
It is fair to say that the Jews had been waiting centuries for their messiah, but now he is at hand. The old had gone and the new arrived. Something of great significance was about to happen, something which fundamentally shifted the way in which we relate to God. As the author of the book of Hebrews put it: “[Jesus] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). These are words of great significance: “once for all”, “end of the ages”, “sacrifice of himself”.
Turning back to Galatians, what we have in these verses is a description of the hinge point in God’s great plan of redemption. The Apostle goes on to make three main points and in the spirit of not reinventing wheels I shall follow suit.
The Action of God
The first thing we read is that “God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law”. There’s a lot to unpack here. First of all notice that all of this is the action of God, it is at his initiative. God has sent his Son to us, and this is all of his doing. That divine initiative is then joined to the human at Jesus’ birth. He is “born of a woman, born under the law”.
Now, being “born of a woman” is straightforward enough but what does it mean to be “born under the law”? Here Paul is referring to the law given by God to Moses some fifteen hundred years before. Think Mount Sinai, the Ten Commandments and all the other laws which accompanied them. The law gave the Israelites a pattern of living, a way walking in the holiness which is the nature of God. A path which, it turns out, is too hard to follow. To keep Sabbaths, never to covet something your neighbour owns, to never lie about anyone. Who has managed to keep all these commandments perfectly? As we read in Romans: “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:9).
But now the time is ripe, so the Son of God is sent. The second person of the blessed Trinity. The one who was “before all things” (Colossians 1:17). The one who was “in the beginning” (John 1:1). He, like us, is born of a woman. He, like us, is under the law.
Oh something great is afoot! The fulness of time has come.
The Purpose of God
What is point of this? Why was the Son sent? Why Bethlehem? Paul continues: “to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons”. Here, then is the great purpose: redemption. To be set free, to be delivered, liberated. The word is a rich one, and speaks of someone setting you free from some peril.
Earlier in the same letter, Paul had written about the fate of those under the law: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them’” (Galatians 3:10). Oh how we needed to be redeemed. Oh how we need to be freed from that curse. After all, we all fall short. That’ s just what it is to be human.
The great joy of this is redeeming work of Jesus is the relief that comes from knowing we cannot work our way into heaven, and then trusting Christ to do it for us. He gave himself, and he redeemed us. He comes to those who are lost, and brings us all the way home. Home so that we might be adopted as sons. We might share in his sonship.
The Achievement of God
The Apostle continues: “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”.
Here then is the great purpose of Christmas: the Son was sent so that he might make many sons. Male or female, when you place all your hope and trust in Christ you are “in Christ”. You are part of the “Body of Christ”. You “have come to share in Christ” (Hebrews 3:14), and so you share in his Sonship. You receive “the Spirit of his Son” (Galatians 4:6), and so you can cry out “Abba Father”. You are no more a slave to your own desires and sin, you are a son! You are an heir! You are “joined to the Lord” and “become one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6:17). This is the great wonder of Christmas, the great wonder of the Son who was born of a woman. As we place our faith in Christ, we also share in his Sonship.
So it is that when we are judged, we are judged on the basis of Christ’s work and not our own, That is why we place our entire reliance upon his shoulders, those shoulders which dropped as he breathed his last at Calvary. Those shoulders which shrugged off the shroud on Easter morning. Those shoulders which are broad enough to bear our sin.
From slave to son to heir, that is the great purpose of Christmas. That is the new path which has been forged for us to follow. As you lift up your heart to rejoice at the birth of Jesus, lift up your voice and cry out “Abba! Father!”. Mary may have given birth to a single son, but through that one son heaven is populated with millions more.