Text: Galatians 4:4-5
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Dec. 31, 2017
I begin this morning’s sermon with confession. In the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, Sunday morning came before I had a fully developed sermon prepared. What you shall hear instead are some musings that I have had as I began to reflect on our New Testament lesson. They are my first thoughts, rather unorganized, half-way developed, the first stage of the process that I normally go through when developing a sermon.
The first step in preparing a sermon is to choose the text I will use as the foundation for the sermon. Since I am a good Anglican, I accept the fact that I have at least four possible choices to choose from the lectionary of the day. The Old Testament lesson, the Psalm, the New Testament lesson and the Gospel. Occasionally the lectionary allows for two or three options in one or more of those four categories. For today, I have decided to focus on the New Testament lesson which is taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Church at Galatia.
Since it is short, let me read again the two verses that I have chosen to focus on this morning. Paul writes: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
Once I have decided on which scripture text or texts I will use as the basis of my sermon, I begin the second step in this development process. I write down some observations about the text. For today, I wrote down three.
First, I note that Paul is making a comment about the event we have celebrated this past week, the birth of our Lord. Second, I observe that he perceives that this birth has a direct impact on all of us “that he came to redeem us who were under the law” so that “we might receive adoption as sons.” Finally, I observe that all this took pace “when the fullness of time” had come. Having made these simple observations, my next step is to reflect a bit on each of them in turn.
First, Paul is speaking about an event which for us Christians is the greatest thing that has ever happened in the history of the human race. Our God, the Creator of all things, the Sustainer of all that exists, appeared to us in the form of a man-child. Yet as Fr. Tad reminded us on Christmas, this event, so momentous, was also very commonplace. Our Lord was born of a woman, in the same way that you and I appeared on the earth, the same way as millions before him, and as countless billons since. Since he was born to a Jewish family, he was born “under the Jewish law.”
I ask, if God so chose to use such a common event as the birth of a baby to reveal the greatest truth in the Universe, is it not logical to assume that He will use the commonplace when He chooses to speak to or through you and me? The cup of water given to one who is thirsty. The thoughtful word spoken to the person who is lonely. These are the things that are the instruments of God and which speak with power and give us hope. Not these simple things in themselves of course, but God speaking through these things.
Now let’s reflect on my second observation. Why did this baby come? The apostle states it is so that “we might receive adoption as sons.” Here, Paul is making an analogy. He is trying to express the inexpressible. How can almighty God, who is infinite, who is all powerful, who is all knowing, relate to us very finite beings? Paul is telling us that God wishes to relate to us in the same way that a human father relates to his son.
We must understand that we are to take this analogy seriously, but not literally. Paul is not saying that God excludes women in this relationship nor is attempting to make males of them. Rather, he is seeking to show the quality of the relationship that God desires to have with all of us. It is the same kind of relationship that a son enjoys with his father.
On other occasions Paul will use different analogies, saying that Christ is the “head of the church,” and we are the “body.” Or we are the “bride” and Christ is the bridegroom. In these expressions we are not “neutered” nor are men excluded or feminized. We understand the relationship which the analogy expresses, and the truth it conveys.
This Father/Son relationship needs a bit more reflection if we are to fully understand what the Apostle is trying to express. He states: “God sent forth his son, born under the Law, to redeem those who are under the Law, so they might become sons.” We must understand this in the larger context of today’s New Testament reading. Again, we must understand it in terms of an analogy. “A son is a son is a son, isn’t he?”
Well, yes and no. In Paul’s day, a boy was not considered a true son until he became of age and was eligible to receive his inheritance. Until then, he was under his parent’s authority with no rights of his own. When we think of our own children, we can understand. During their minor years, we set the boundaries. They have limited independence. During this time, they are gaining the skills necessary to live full rich lives as adults. When they come of age, the whole relationship changes. It moves from one of servanthood and submission to one of friendship and fellowship.
Paul is suggesting that God’s covenant people before Jesus came were treated as children. They were under the law, they were being tutored. But now that Christ has come, God desires to treat his covenant people, not as children but as sons. He calls us to maturity, to accept the responsibilities and privileges of Sonship. He calls us into a relationship of friendship that we might have fellowship with him!
Now let us turn to reflect on my final observation. Our Lord was born when the “fullness of time had come.” Time is perhaps one of the most important concepts in our lives today. The 40-hour work week, the 6:30 news, plane schedules. If I go over 15 minutes on this sermon, you will get restless. Unless you are a Haitian, our lives are controlled by the clock! (How I sometimes envy them!)
Time has both quantitative and qualitative dimensions. It seems to me that we are controlled by the quantitative aspects that constantly threaten to enslave us in its power. For 100 years factory workers have had to deal with piece work. In more recent times, the professions have come under the tyranny of the quantitative dimensions of time. As a professor, I was instructed to write goals and objectives in quantitative terms that can be measured. Under the rules of the HMO’s, medical doctors must see a certain number of patients in an hour. Even in churches success is measure in terms of percentage of increase in giving, the net growth of communicants, the number of hospital visits – as if shear-numbers produce meaning.
I suggest that the quantitative aspects of time take on meaning only when interpreted by the qualitative dimensions. We get a sense of this when we say: “timing is important.” “In the fullness of time, Christ came.” Or, to put it another way, “Christ came, and time was filled full of meaning.”
In Jesus, God revealed his ultimate intentions for His creation. In Jesus, God has called us to share in the realization of those intentions. As children we did not understand, we could not comprehend what God was trying to do. We rebelled, we kicked, we yelled, we cried, we were disciplined. As sons the relationship changed. We have caught the vision of God’s eternal purposes. We are called to become co-workers with Him.
To conclude, our lives can be a sequence of meaningless common recurring events. However, understood from the perspective that we are called to be sons, those events are transformed and filled with meaning. Tonight 2017 comes to a conclusion. It is my prayer that for each us this year has been filled with meaning and purpose. It is my hope that 2018 will bring you to deeper depths and higher heights in the knowledge and love of God. Amen