Galatians 4:4-7: The Firstborn’s Birth Brings Your Birth From Above into Being

The first Christmas makes the second one possible.  By conceiving Jesus, the life-breathing Spirit reveals Himself to be the Spirit, sent by the Son, who permits us all to become sons of God.  For the second Christmas is our Spirit-born birth, which is but an extension of the first.

The Divine Spirit breathes Jesus into the virgin’s womb, and He becomes a human Son.  Like Jesus, as God’s adopted sons, we are heirs of salvation.  In Jesus’ day, to be an heir, one must be a son, which is what we become in God’s only Son.

“In time’s fullness,” the Apostle Paul writes.  With creation’s first light, time expands, gathering all events into itself.  For us, as we move more distant from Eden’s unsullied ground, our vision of God grows dimmer and weaker, until the bonds holding time together give way.

The treasure of time is Jesus Christ, who until its fullness, by His conception within the Virgin, remained hidden in the Father’s mind.  In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Mary’s older cousin, God sent His angel Gabriel to a town in Galilee named Nazareth.  The angel went and appeared to a young maiden.

“Born of a woman.”  “Listen, you will conceive and bear a son.”  The young woman questions this messenger.  “How can this be since I am a virgin?”  The angel’s answer?  “The Holy Spirit will come over you and overshadow you.  The Child to be born will be holy, the Son of God (Luke 1:31, 34-35).

Later, in Bethlehem, the time came for the baby to be Born (Luke 1:1, 6).  In the stillness of the night, Christ comes to meet the hopes and fears of all the years.  For this Son is the One who fulfills time.

The all-present God surpasses His transcendence, making His home by being enfleshed as the Child of Mary.  Though the finite is not capable of the infinite, this is not so with the infinite God, who will come to be a bedfellow with us sinners.  In another epistle, Paul explains further, “He became sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

From the start, God always wanted to be one with us.  In Jesus, He does this, to make Himself “under the law, to redeem those under the law.”  “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he visited and brought redemption to his people” (Luke 1:68).  “Do not be afraid.  For in the city of David, your Savior is born, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

The Savior’s birth did not subject Him beneath the Law of God.  For He is God and above and every Law.  Still, He chooses to place Himself underneath the divine Law so “we might receive adoption as sons.”  “At once, a vast army of angels appeared, praising God.  ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace to those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:13-14).  The foretold Messiah becomes a human to restore us, Law-condemned creatures, making us into sons of God.

Well, Paul took a bit longer.  Unlike the Wise Men, he didn’t go out of his way to worship Jesus.  So, our Lord needed to find Paul, who traveled in the opposite direction, hunting and tormenting Christians.  Unlike Joseph, he did nothing to protect Jesus.  Quite the reverse.

With those events unraveling in human history, the Holy Spirit begins to plow deep into Paul’s hardpan spirit.  First, the news of Jesus arrives, and Herod is disturbed.  Next, like Jerusalem’s king, others tell Paul of Jesus, and he, too, finds Himself unsettled.  A psychopathic Herod responds by orchestrating the deaths of a dozen of little boys.  The zealous Paul breathes murderous threats against all the churches.

In his entrapping nets, Paul rounds up a Christian, named Stephen.  Not enough, he incites the mob.  Full of hubris, he is beaming as they drag Stephen out of the city.  Other accomplices can throw the stones.  So this persecutor doesn’t need to bloody his hands, for he keeps their coats as they do their nasty business.  Near death, the first martyr cries out our Lord’s words, “Do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).  Though they train their stones on Stephen, Jesus is the real target.

All is well—until you find yourself on the misguided side.  Contemplate the guilt this man carried, whom Jesus chose to be an Apostle.  How often did he awaken with cold sweat on his face and body, thinking about what we did?

What did Paul brood over, when he gazed on the stable where God joined us in creation?  An innocent Baby, yes, who would die a guiltless Man.  In the face His Savior, another one forms in front of Paul, the face of Stephen.  Over and again, our Savior’s words pierced his soul, calling him by his earlier name, “Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4).

For the sin-burdened Paul, Christmas never shrank down to a precious moment or a Hallmark holiday.  With blood on your hands, Santa’s not much fun.  The question of being naughty or well-behaved doesn’t begin to touch the problem.  For you recognize naughty is too polite and clean of a word to describe you.

A real sinner, like Paul, needs more than the world can offer.  More than what many churches provide with shallow words for only today, lacking the heft of eternity.  For words taken from Scripture, preached on and expounded, but empty of Christ, leave the sinner still fallen and forlorn.  Such preaching strips our Lord’s life away from those struck down by sin!

Though himself free from oppression, Paul persecuted others.  What he now needs is the dawn of redeeming grace.  Don’t tell him about the atonement; no, he needs the atonement!  With burdened heart and bloodied hands, only the One under the law, born of the virgin mother, can save.  For He alone reunites those pulled under by sin’s condemnation to the Father above.

The Spirit worked new life in Paul, as He also does with us.  For unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.  To a guilty Paul, the Spirit washes and cleanses him with salvation and life, as He does for you.

Only those who are born from above by the same Spirit, who conceived Jesus, are God’s sons and can call Him, “Father.”  Ah, the words Jesus gives us, which we pray each Sunday, begin with “Our Father.”  In this season, the Lord’s Prayer is also His Christmas words for you, which you repeat back to God.

Yes, we all love the nostalgia associated with Christmas.  Hot cocoa, the crackle of the wood burning in the fireplace, white Christmases, and reindeer dashing through the snow.  Oh, and the abominable snowman.

Not so for Paul.  For him, reminiscing turns sad when garnished with the bitter herb of accusing memories.  Do we not also recount of times past?  Though behind us, we recall harming others and being selfish.  Oh, the many times we made troubles worse!  To ponder our present place, we find ourselves in a muddle, much of our making.

Oh, we may blame others.  To do so is to connive to pass your sins on to others.  The weight of God’s Law will cause you to realize—you, too, need to repent!  Only liars tell themselves otherwise.  All is not such a wonderful life with unadorned eyes.

So, what to do?  Confronted with the ghosts of our past, you can pledge to amend your sinful life.  What if you’re too late to redress your wrongs?  Consider Paul, once more.  A man died, Stephen, with his murderous hand taking part in the killing.  Any such attempt to fix his failings is too little and past due.  Though we should always try, none of us can reconcile with everyone we hurt.  To think so is an illusion and folly.

The truth of this, if we stop our excuses and self-made lies, can bring us to tears.  Like King David, we too can grieve and lament.  “For I recognize my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  Against you, God did I only sin” (Psalm 51:3-4).  The cock crows, and like Peter, we collapse into bitter tears over our repeated denials.

A small, evil Paul is inside each of us.  How little we think of our Lord, whom we shove aside when inconvenient.  Yes, I’m talking about the One who entered the world, not in power, but in the weakness of a child.  Not to demand payback, He came to make payment for your sin.  No, He did not spew malicious threats and toxic venom but descended to bring peace on earth, goodwill toward men.

Come to Bethlehem again, to Him whose birth the angels sing.  Cry for sorrow, but do not halt, for we also need to weep in wonder.  In Christ, welcome the gift of innocence and joy.

What Child is this, who, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?  The One born of woman, under the law, who redeems every one enslaved by the law.  One day, nails and spear will pierce Him through, the cross He bears, for me, for you.

Beloved by God, this is the Gospel, which is Jesus’ obedience for your disobedience.  The divine Life of love is born for your life of sin, His purity for your guilt.  In the pregnancy of time, the eternal Son of God steps into the confines of time and stops the unstoppable pull of eternal death.

Once the offspring of Satan, now you are a son of light, an heir of God’s kingdom.  The resurrection of Jesus from the dead gives you a new birth to an imperishable inheritance kept in heaven for you.  So, everything God gives to His treasured Son, He grants to you.  What you receive in Baptism is a never-ending Christmas.  Amen.

 

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