Christmas 1, 2018
The Epistle – Galatians 4:1-7
The Gospel – St. Matthew 1:18-25
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
Don't anyone be putting Christmas decorations away yet. We are still in Christmastide.
Just because the stores have all of the unsold stuff shoved into a corner and marked down to sell and they are on to New Year, Valentines Day and maybe even St. Patrick’s Day.
We are still only on the 6th day of Christmas. So let’s stay with it for a while. We do so much preparation for it and we enjoy its message so much on the day of.
Further, we still have the arrival of the Magi in the Epiphany season…which in a way still sort of ties us to Christmas.
On Christmas, both at our evening Vigil of the Nativity services and the Day of Christmas, the focus was heavily on the deity of Christ. Christ being God.
Our minds were turned to how, in the beginning, the Son was already. He was there at creation. He co-created with the Father and the Spirit.
He brought light to the world and to all men. He brought life to the world and to all men.
The Epistle to the Hebrews, which was our Christmas morning Epistle, but was not touched on in the sermon, spoke to us about this same Son, whom the Father,
“…spoke to us…. whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world….also told us that this Son, is “…the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (ESV)
So in both lessons we read such stunning words describing the baby we find born on Christmas morning.
Today, the focus shifts somewhat to a different aspect of the nature of the Son.
Today we hear about the humanity of the Son. We got some of it on Christmas Day, but we get more details of the Son’s humanity today in our lessons.
And this is no less spectacular than last week’s lessons. Remember that this Son, is eternally God, and takes on human flesh.
This is foreign to any other religion. No god would stoop down and even consider the flesh of man.
Flesh to many, especially in the ancient world, was what one wanted to get away from and out of.
Flesh was inferior.
Flesh was something of lesser value.
Flesh was slavery.
What one did in the flesh in some cultures didn't even matter because attaining the higher spiritual state was of more importance.
So just the very fact that the message of the early Christians to the surrounding culture was the flesh is not to be hated or escaped was quite foreign and even controversial.
The flesh is of great value. The flesh is part of the created order of God and had God’s stamp of approval at the time of creation.
Even after the Fall of Adam and Eve, the flesh remained. It suffered the ravages of sin, but God promised to redeem all of creation one day….including the flesh.
So for the eternal Son of God to now condescend to the lower regions of His creation and be born of a virgin and take on human flesh through her, only speaks to how highly God esteems the flesh.
It should make us more aware of our own fleshly state and to treat it with ever-greater reverence.
We owe our very existence, flesh as well as spirit to the creative power of the Son. He came to redeem that creation, flesh and all, for His own glory.
So today, we have before us, a second account of Jesus’ birth, this time with an emphasis more on Joseph. He is shown here by Matthew to have been just as instrumental in God’s plan to take on human flesh.
Though Mary would be the one who would supply the means by which the Son would be born, Joseph, also had an important role to play as his guardian and protector.
Mary and Joseph were all but married at the time of her pregnancy. The ancient practice of betrothal was binding. More than what we call an engagement today, in fact.
Betrothal lasted usually 1 year. The bride and groom were officially pledged to one another. But the marriage was not yet consummated.
During this time, if one of the parties were to make advances to anyone else, it would be considered adultery…according to the Law of Moses.
Joseph learns of Mary’s pregnancy and considers a private divorce, because he did not want to put her to shame and he is said to have been a just man.
But as he is thinking about this, an angel appears to him as he sleeps. The angel tells Joseph, “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
The name or the word Jesus, Yeshua, Joshua, means, “God is salvation.”
Probably a startling thing for Joseph to hear. God is salvation? Can this thing be of God that has happened to my betrothed?
Can she be truly bearing the Son of God?
The angel goes on to remind Joseph of his own Scriptures. The angel tells Joseph, this thing…this pregnancy and coming birth was already foretold and in the foreknowledge and plan of God from long ago.
The angel was saying to Joseph, “remember your Scriptures Joseph? Remember what you have read many times in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah?
Remember these words, Joseph…. “…the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Immanuel, meaning God with us.
“So, Joseph, God will be with us when Mary delivers your son.
“Your son is the eternal Son, who has come to you and to all men, to bring salvation.”
“He is God.”
So, needless to say, though Matthew says is, “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife,  but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” (ESV)
One writer says of this, “If Mary was blessed among women, surely Joseph was among all men, so great in his unselfishness of love, and so faithful to his trust. The blessedness of Joseph is theirs who for Christ’s sake are the guardians of His Church and of His little ones.”
Because Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, he still was the father of his son.
He seems to have been a good father from what little we do know about Joseph.
But it is interesting that St. Paul in the Epistle today speaks so much about heirs, and especially adoption, as well as sons and fathers.
Perhaps then, we can see more of what Joseph represents than we might first think. Joseph in one sense was the adopted father of Jesus.
There was no paperwork filed, but Joseph did not create his son. He was given a son from God and told that this is the child he must take care of.
Joseph willingly did as God asked through the angel.
He took on the role of father to his son in an adoption-like role.
Paul’s message today is that we are God’s children….and that by adoption. We weren’t always so. We were once slaves. That is, slaves to sin.
This tells us first that not all people are God’s people or children. This is a common thing we hear today. We are all God’s children.
No, that’s not true. God may have created all men and in that way He is God and Father to all men, but because of the situation of sin, there is separation and disconnection.
We were, as Paul says, “slaves to the elementary principles of the world.”
This is a slavery to a number of things. Strange religions. Worldly enticements. Even the law binds us in a way that puts us in a position whereby we are condemned by it's precepts.
That is how we are slaves and not God’s own.
But, he says, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law….to redeem those who were under the law.
This is what Christ the Son came to do for us. His birth was much more than is usually thought by many today.
He did not come primarily as a good example for us to admire…and imitate.
He came…left His heavenly dwelling and came to redeem us from our enslavement to worldly ways, from elementary principles, all manner of foreign things that we were caught up in….
….from our bondage even to the Law that was held over us, telling us what to do and how we did not do it but providing no assistance to fulfill it….only condemnation.
…And… from our complete alienation from God.
He came to adopt us into His own possession.
Lots of words are used here. Adoption, even redemption.
To redeem means to “buy back.” He purchased us. He bought us back from our slavery…or our slave master.
Think of the slave block. Slaves are brought out, paraded before prospective buyers, but chained and unable to move. No freedom.
This is a description of a man before He is a
Christian…outside of Christ. Not God’s child… A slave in
Christ came to buy us back from the slave auction block and make us His own.
So now, we are no longer slaves but sons. Adopted sons….but sons nevertheless.
And further, Paul says of us… “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
Back again to the Trinity, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit…all three at work in redemption.
God the Father, sent the Son. The Son redeems us and leads us off of the auction block, out of the chains of sin, and into the care of our Father.
And now, God the Father, sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts, so that now we can call God “Father.”
This again tells us that not all men are sons….only those whom Christ has redeemed.
If we have a heart that calls out to God as Father, then we have received that adoption and redemption.
The Holy Spirit is now indwelling us to allow us or to enable us to call God our Father.
The Holy Spirit in our hearts is a difficult concept in and of itself.
He somehow dwells in the Christian in such a way so as to be working in us….changing us…leading and directing our thoughts and actions…our decisions…our desires.
He dwells there as a seal and a
pledge and a deposit that God has made, making us His property.
We have actually gone from slavery to slavery. ..but this slavery is a desirable one.
We are now slaves of Christ and slaves of righteousness.
So we now can understand why it is not contradictory to say as Paul does today, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (ESV)
And at the same time, Paul can call himself or us, a slave of Christ Jesus.
A slave of Christ Jesus has no chains. It is an adoption that has no paperwork.
We belong to Christ because of the work that He did, coming down to us, finding us, redeeming us, making us His own, adopting us and now keeping us as His own possession by the power of His Spirit.
The flesh that once was alien and foreign to God and separated has now been brought near by the coming and work of the Son.
Our flesh has been redeemed by the Son of God who came to live among us in the same flesh and die in that same flesh…all so that we might become sons of God and heirs of eternal life.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.