Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sermon: Galatians 4:4-5 The Fullness of Time

On the internet, you get the weird and the wonderful. A Twitter account asks the question: ‘Is it Christmas yet?’ Thirty thousand people are ‘following’ the account as it tweets every morning: ‘No’ or ‘Not yet’. The countdown is on, the anticipation is rising, the presents are appearing under the tree. We’ve even (eventually) got the tree up in the Rectory!

The only people who are genuinely asking ‘is it Christmas yet?’ are the children, as they await their new toys. They want to hurry up time to bring along the big day. They’re impatient for time to pass.

But then, it’s not only the kids who can do that. When we’re wee, we want to be older; when we’re at school, we want to be finished (and when we’re off, we want to be back); we want to get a job; we want to retire; we look forward to children; we want them to grow up; we want them to stay at home... always rushing on, always anxious to get to the next stage of life. Time passes - indeed, time flies, quicker and quicker it seems.

Christmas can seem to take ages to get here. For us, it’s on the calendar, it comes every year. But think back to the first Christmas - it really did take ages. You remember in the autumn we heard those first promises that Jesus would come as God spoke to Eve of the seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head? As the Old Testament continues, the promises come thick and fast. Except, it appears that nothing is happening.

God calls Abraham, and makes a nation of him. His descendants go into slavery in Egypt and four hundred years later are delivered at the Passover. They wander in the wildnerness for forty years before taking the Promised Land. Judges lead the people; then kings rule over them. The nation is divided into two nations; each is taken into exile. A remnant returns. And yet, still, after all this, the Christ hasn’t yet come.

Can you imagine an angel, watching all that is happening to Israel, wondering why Jesus hasn’t come yet? A bit like the child’s question in the car: ‘Are we there yet?’ Why hasn’t Jesus come yet? The Old Testament ends, and there’s silence for four hundred years. Is God being slow? Was Jesus caught up in traffic on the way from heaven?

In one verse of our reading today, Paul tells us the answer, and shows us why Jesus came at that first Christmas. Look with me at 4:4. ‘But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.’

Paul says that it was ‘when the fullness of time had come.’ At just the right moment; at the very time God had chosen, this is when it happened. There has been great excitement about the new movie in the cinemas - The Hobbit. In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf the wizard says that ‘a wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.’ Paul says the same about the coming of the Lord Jesus - it’s as intended.

And at just the right time, ‘God sent his Son’ - the Father sends his own Son into the world; not in a show of power and majesty, but rather ‘born of a woman, born under the law.’ Now why does Paul point out these two facts. After all, to be born of a woman isn’t that remarkable, is it? I’m fairly confident each of us was born of a woman - to be born of a man would be more noteworthy! He’s picking up on the promise to Eve in the garden: he’s pointing to the fact that Jesus is the seed of the woman - he is the one promised long before. But as well as being the woman’s son; Jesus is also born under the law, born into the nation of Israel, under the old covenant.

Jesus observes the law, perfectly obeying the commands of the Old Testament, doing what we could not do - and all ‘in order to redeem those who were under the law.’ You see, as Jesus obeyed the law, he did not deserve to die; but as he died the death of the lawbreaker, he redeems those who have broken the law.

When we think of redeeming today, it’s probably redeeming coupons or vouchers. We give over the coupon and we get money off a product, or we get something for the voucher. Jesus redeems those under the law because he gives himself in their place. He submits to the law, and allows them to go free.

And what is the end result? Why did Jesus come into the world at just the right time? It was ‘so that we might receive adoption as children.’ This is the reason for Christmas - God sent his Son to bring us into his family. Now I realise that ‘f’ word might be a scary one at this time of year - spending time with the family might be a stressful experience; with your inlaws and outlaws.

Jesus came into the world in order to welcome us into his family, to become our older brother by adoption. As we’re brought in, we discover that we share all the benefits of being part of the family - receiving the Spirit of the Son, who cries out in our hearts ‘Abba! Father!’ - confirming that we are in the Father’s family’; and also sharing in the inheritance as God’s child.

It’s probably not the type of thing you see on a Christmas card, is it? Jesus came into the world as a baby in order to bring us into his family. You see, too often we just focus on the baby and forget that he grew up and went to the cross - the cross is in view from the start, Bethlehem is the first point on the way up to Calvary.

While we decorate our Christmas trees, Jesus was going to the tree, the cross, where he would die for us, to bring us into his family tree.

It might be that you’ve lost sight of the privileges of being a Christian, the wonder of being welcomed in. This Christmas could be a good time to stop and think of all that the Lord Jesus did for us in coming to save us. Or perhaps you realise you’re still on the outside, looking in. Could this be the time when you open your heart to the Lord, and receive what he has done for you?

Or maybe you’re wondering what the Lord is doing right now. Why does he seem slow to answer your prayers? Why are your family or friends not saved even though you pray for them earnestly? Paul reminds us that it was at the fullness of time that God acted in sending his Son - God does not change, and acts in his perfect timing, neither early nor late.

Will you trust in him and his perfect timing? Can you depend on his sovereign power in these moments?

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 23rd December 2012.

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