The First Sunday after Christmas – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Galatians 4:1-7
In Christ Jesus, who came at Christmas to set us free from our sin and the condemnation of the law, dear fellow redeemed:
Adoption should be as simple as connecting a parentless child with childless parents. This child needs a home, and this home wants a child. But there are complicating factors. One of them is cost; the process of adoption can be very expensive. Another is location; the children who need homes may not be close to the people who want to adopt. Another factor is the health of a child or whether he or she has special needs. Another is the child’s age; the older the child, the less likely he or she is to be adopted.
Imagine the child in the orphanage who sees kids come and go, while he stays put. The orphans and caretakers are the only family he knows. He plays with the kids his age. They develop unique methods of communication like siblings or close friends do. The older orphans tease him. The younger ones look up to him as a big brother. But this orphan family is temporary. Smiling people arrive to adopt his friends but not him. He hates to see his friends leave. Where are they all going? Will he ever see them again? Will there ever be a home for him?
Gentle caretakers find ways to comfort overlooked children or at least distract them from the nagging questions. These caretakers represent the only love from an adult that the orphan has ever known. But there are harsh caretakers too, ones who do not love the children in their care. These tell the orphans left behind that nobody wants them because they aren’t nice enough or attractive enough or smart enough. “You can just stop dreaming right now,” they say. “You’re never getting out of here.”
The Apostle Paul writes about a scenario like this in his letter to the Christian congregation in Galatia. He stopped in Galatia during his missionary journeys because of some sort of “bodily ailment” (Gal. 4:13). While there he preached the Gospel, and many heard the Word gladly and believed. But after Paul left, other teachers came. They did not proclaim the comfort of the Gospel but urged the people to abide by all the rules and regulations of Old Testament law if they wanted to be saved.
Paul summed up the issue clearly in his letter. He said: “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain” (Gal. 4:8-11).
So the Galatian Christians had gone back to “the elementary principles.” They had gone back to the law. They had gone back to all the regulations of the Old Testament that governed how they were to live. Instead of focusing on what God had done for them, they were focusing on what they must do for God. That focus can only lead to pridefulness and then despair. Paul explained that this is like the child who stands to inherit everything but has nothing until the appointed time. Until he inherits, he “is no different than a slave.” We are slaves like that, he says, when we go back to “the elementary principles” of the law and ignore the Gospel.
There is no comfort in God’s law. The law does not encourage us. It does not lift us up. The holy law is like the harsh caretaker in the orphanage. It tells us we are not good enough to please God. It points out the wrongs we have done. It shows us why God would never let us into His home as we are by nature. We are failures. We are ugly. We are undesirable. The law gives us no reason to hope we will ever escape God’s wrath. “Is that what you want?” asks Paul. “Will you set aside the Gospel and run back to the law?”
The law serves its purpose. It condemns us. It exposes the selfishness, weakness, and arrogance of sinners. How could we ever think that we had lived the life God demands? This was like the young man who asked Jesus what more he had to do to have eternal life. He claimed that he had kept all the Commandments. So Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mat. 19:21). That was too much for the young man. He wasn’t willing to part with his “great possessions” (v. 22).
The reality is that we are further away from holiness than we think. Consider how you react when things don’t go your way, or when you are tested by health problems and pains. Do you meet these trials with patience and a humble trust in the Lord? Or what do you do when someone says something mean about you? Are you quick to respond with kindness and to forgive? Or do you like to compare yourself with others and use that as the benchmark for how well you have lived? Righteousness before God is not a matter of being better than others. God requires a spotless life. Can you honestly say when you go to bed at night that there is no blemish of sin on your record for that day?
Jesus could say that. He was always patient, obedient, forgiving, humble. The Apostle Peter, who spent three years with Him, wrote that “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1Pe. 2:22-23). If someone spent three years with you, would they ever see you sin? How about three days? How about three hours? Peter never saw Jesus sin, because Jesus never did.
“God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.” Jesus officially took on the demands of the law when He was circumcised the eighth day after His birth (which falls on January 1st on our calendar). He did this not to prove anything about Himself, but to keep the law perfectly for the rest of us. Our confidence and strength are not in how well we have kept the law, but in how well Jesus kept the law.
So the law rightly condemns our sin. It shows us how flawed we are, how unworthy to be accepted by the holy God. It is that harsh caretaker. But it does not say the same thing about Jesus. The law found nothing lacking in Him. The law declared Him righteous, perfectly worthy of His Father’s love.
This holy status according to the law of God, Jesus now conveys to us sinners. By His holy life He redeemed us from the harsh verdict of the law. He did this so that “we might receive adoption as sons.” But how do we know we are sons of God? How do we know we have officially been adopted by Him? Paul explained this to the Galatians: “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal. 3:26). Your adoption into the family of God did not come by your efforts. You did not make yourself desirable to God. Jesus shared His favor with you.
You gained Jesus as your Brother and God as your Father when the Holy Spirit worked this faith in your heart. For many of you, your adoption into the family of believers was processed and finalized when you were baptized. That is when you became an heir of God and a fellow heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17). “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27).
On your adoption day, God looked at you in your sin, your ugliness, your wretchedness, and He said, “You’re the one I want. I choose you.” What a beautiful act of mercy and grace! The Lord loves the unlovable and the unloved. He gives a home to those who have no home, family to those who have no family, hope to those who have no hope.
The child who is adopted never has to go back to the life he had before. No more watching other children get adopted while he is left behind. No more wondering why he isn’t loved. No more being alone. This is what your adoption into God’s family means. Because He “sent forth His Son” to redeem you, you have value, you are loved, you have a place. God did not leave you in your sins under the condemnation of the law. He rescued you from the law. He adopted you as His own son.
“So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” In biblical times, the firstborn son inherited his father’s wealth and possessions. Because you are joined to Jesus by faith, His inheritance as God’s only-begotten Son is now your inheritance. His eternal life and glory are yours. In Him, you belong. In Him, you have a future, a bright, happy, never-ending future.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture is stained glass from Redeemer Lutheran Church)
The First Sunday after Epiphany – Pr. Faugstad homily
Texts: St. Luke 2:21, 22-38, St. Matthew 2:1-12, 13-23, St. Luke 2:41-52
In Christ Jesus, who was focused at every moment of His earthly life on winning your salvation, dear fellow redeemed:
The texts you have heard today are all we know about the life of Jesus from when He was eight days old until He traveled with Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem when He was twelve years old. There are three major things we notice about Jesus’ life during this time period:
- Jesus was not exempt from the Law.
- He did not use His divine powers as a Child.
- Though He looked like anyone else His age, He was recognized and worshipped as the Messiah.
1. At eight days old, Jesus was circumcised according to God’s command to Abraham, a command which applied to all of Abraham’s descendants (Gen. 17). Not only was this the first time Jesus shed blood, but His circumcision also bound Him to keep the Law of God delivered to the people through Moses. This meant that God was now required to keep His own Law. Jesus would later explain to the people, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Mt. 5:17-18).
Then at forty days old, Jesus was taken by His parents to the temple in Jerusalem to be presented to the LORD. This was required by God of all firstborn sons dating back to the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. At that time, God passed over and spared the firstborn sons of the Israelites but killed the firstborn sons of the Egyptians. From that point on, every Israelite firstborn was “consecrated” or “called holy” to the LORD (Ex. 13:2).
Jesus did not act above the Law. He subjected Himself to it, and He fulfilled it completely.
2. Besides committing Himself to the Law, Jesus also committed Himself to a State of Humiliation in which He did not make full use of His divine powers. Notice that when His life was threatened by the jealous Herod, Jesus did not create a force field around the house to keep the soldiers from entering. Nor did He whisk His family away to Egypt by miraculous means. An angel told Joseph to get Mary and Jesus to safety. The Son of God relied on a humble craftsman to save Him from the king’s rage.
In our texts for today, Jesus would have been doing what normal babies do. He cooed and giggled. He cried when He was hungry or needed His diaper changed. And as He grew, He stumbled about on toddler legs. He played with other children. He studied and learned from parents and teachers. We might think that because Jesus is God, He never would have lost a race, using super speed to leave everyone behind. Or maybe the other kids resented Him because He answered every question before the teacher could even finish asking it. But those things did not happen. He did not use His divine powers to show off. He “manifested His glory” with miracles and signs only when the time had come to reveal Himself as the Christ at the start of His public ministry (Jn. 2:11).
Until then, Jesus lived an ordinary, humble life, but with the unique distinction of never sinning. All the way through His youth, His teenaged years, His twenties, and into His thirties, Jesus did not sin in His actions, words, or thoughts. The devil certainly tempted Him to sin all along the way, but He remained holy. The author to the Hebrews writes, “in every respect [He] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). The evangelist Luke sums up the righteous childhood of Jesus by declaring, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Lk. 2:52).
3. Even though Jesus did not look different than other children His age, He was recognized as the Messiah, the Savior of the nations. This started even when Jesus was in Mary’s womb. Elizabeth said to Mary, “[W]hy is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk. 1:43). Then the shepherds worshipped Jesus the night of His birth, while He rested in the poor bed of a manger.
Later on, Simeon recognized the One carried into the temple by Joseph and Mary as the coming Messiah. He worshipped this Baby as the salvation of the Jews and the Gentiles. Then aged Anna came over and worshipped the Child also. After this, Joseph and Mary returned to Bethlehem for some time, having found a house to live in. There, Jesus was visited by the wise men from the East who also fell down to worship Him and gave Him gifts.
At face value, this all seems very odd. How could these people worship a baby Boy who showed no obvious signs of being the Son of God? The Apostle Paul explains, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1Cor. 2:14). Those who worshipped Jesus were not convinced by what they saw; they were led to believe in and confess Jesus as Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convinced them that what was prophesied in the Scriptures about the coming Messiah had now been fulfilled.
But why did this all happen? Why did Jesus put Himself under the Law? Why did He refrain from full use of His powers? Why did He come in such humility?
Jesus did not gain anything for Himself by keeping the Law. He could not become more righteous than He already was. He kept the Law for you and me and all sinners. He needed to do this because no human being has lived a spotless life. Every one of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). In love, “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” (Gal. 4:4-5). God now regards you as His sons, holy and righteous, because you do not trust in your own efforts and goodness, but totally in the perfect work of Jesus.
Jesus did not make full use of His divine powers, because He came to suffer for you. He came to be chased away from His homeland by a wicked king, to be accused of crimes He never committed, to be beaten by Jews and Gentiles alike, and to be executed by crucifixion. The Son of God “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7-8).
His perfect life and atoning death were offered up to God as the sacrifice for you. Jesus came in such a lowly way to save you. He came to redeem you from the sins of your youth, from the terrors and fears you have endured at the hands of others, from all the terrible trials and difficulties you experience in this imperfect world. As Simeon confessed, He came to be your peace, your salvation, your light, and your glory. Every aspect of His holy life from His conception onward was dedicated to purifying your sinful life, so that you would finally be freed from sword and sorrow and would join Him, not in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Egypt, or Nazareth, but in heaven above.
And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child, so dear and gentle,
Is our Lord in heav’n above;
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.
(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #139, v. 4)
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from the 1631 Rembrandt painting, Simeon in the Temple)