To Receive and To Thank
Pastor Frederick W. Kemper
It is a good thing that Christmas does not depend on the number or the quality of gifts one gives or receives. For many people the gift exchange may be the measure of a successful Christmas, but there are countless thousands for whom there are no gifts or whose only gift is another person’s charity. Yet there is no such thing as a giftless Christmas, for Christmas is the celebration of God’s gift of Jesus Christ to us and of the profound and exciting ramifications of Jesus Christ in our lives. When the gift list is reviewed and the time for writing of thank you notes arrives, send the first loud note of gratitude to God. In fact, why don’t we make this Lord’s Day morning our time to speak our Christmas thanks to him?
God’s Gift List
St. Paul didn’t have Christmas in mind when he wrote the words of our text to the Galatians, but it is difficult to read them again without hearing God’s kind of Christmas running through every line. Divine gifts heap divine gifts until we are staggered by their accumulation. Words almost fail for gratitude. The list reads like this. Christmas gifts from God: (one) Incarnation of the Son of God; (two) Redemption, rescue; (three) Adoption; (four) the Spirit; (five) Inheritance!
Would you mind if we held each gift to look at it again for just a minute before we send our thanks to the throne room?
One: The Incarnation
You have to stretch your imagination to appreciate the Incarnation of the Son of God. In what must have been the most awe-packed moment in the history of creation, the very Son of God laid aside his Son’s prerogatives – power, glory, omniscience, omnipresence- to be stored against his return from earth. He was going on a mission. The mission was to seek and save mankind from its plunge toward hell. The Son would not be ministered to for his mission was to minister. He would redeem mankind by substituting himself for all humanity under the terrifying wrath of God. So the Son of God became God’s Anointed, God’s Christ, and through his entrance into our world by way of human birth became one of us that he might be our substitute. Handle the gift of the Incarnation of Christ with love. It is an absolutely priceless gift.
Mankind was under the Law imposed upon it by God. The Law is a vicious taskmaster. It is a prison house from which there is no escape. Every person under the Law is a person on death row, waiting the death row penalty. It doesn’t matter how you say it, “The wages of sin is death,” or “The soul that sins shall die,” the end of the Law is always and irrevocably death and hell. Mankind is in slavery to the Law, bound and beaten by it but now this second gift from the heart of the Father. Christ came to redeem, to rescue us. He opened the cell doors and the cell block barriers and the great barred gates of the prison walls for us. He moved into the prison house in our stead. The great wall gates closed behind him; the cell block barrier slid shut behind him; the cell bars clanged behind him as he entered our death row cell. And of a morning Caiaphas and Herod and Pilate set their signatures to the death warrant …and …and the Father granted no reprieve to his only Son. But in the process we who were concluded under sin were set free. Handle freedom with love. It cannot be price-tagged. Yet, use the gift, for its patina like a precious pearl, keeps lustrous only by use.
Look at this next gift. It is the adoption paper that makes you a child of God. The Father was there waiting at the prison gates. In the same moment that you elected to come out of the prison house of the Law, or to put it another way, in the same instant that you offered your redeemed life to God, he took you into his family. No longer a slave now. No longer a prisoner. The Substitute has made daughterhood and sonship possible in the family of the heavenly Father. Here is another that Paul has of saying that freedom in and with Christ and under God the Father is the alternative that Christ offers to slavery and prison, to bondage and to death. Guard the papers, hold the faith, that move you into the family of the Most High. They are an incomparable gift.
Four: The Spirit
Next is the gift of the Spirit sent by the Father into your hearts that cries, “Abba, Father,” on your behalf. Waht a blessing and a gift that Spirit is. Life is full of temptations and frustrations. The devil is never quiet; our flesh gives us little peace; the old Law still screams at us; death never lets us alone, and all the while the Spirit sent us by the Father is crying, “Abba, Father” and the Father hears. There is no uncertainty. The Scripture has made a promise and the promises of the Father stand sure. He hears! Treasure this gift for “owning” it will see you through life’s worst vexations and troubling doubts.
The Law is over and done with; the Spirit and Christ are in your heart. You are no more a servant, no more a prisoner, no more a slave to the Law. You are a child and heir of God through Christ. As if the promises for this life were not enough, St. Paul adds the promises of the future. The inheritance of God – is it the mansions Christ went ahead to prepare for us? The heritage from God – is it a special place in glory somewhere near the throne? This we can be certain about, if the heritage is from God, it is inheritance much to be desired. Take God’s promise. Tuck it away in a safe place in your heart. Then one day, when all things are accomplished, God will make good his promises. You, the heir, will come into your own in his kingdom of glory.
Thank you, Lord
Let no one say there are no presents at Christmas, for God has given us lavish gifts. For certain death he has given us eternal glory; for slavery he has given us freedom; from the dominion of satan he has called us to his dominion. It is time to say our thanks. Would you be willing just here and now to turn St. Paul’s Christmas list into a prayer and pray it with me?
For sending forth your Son,
to be born of a woman,
to be born under the Law,
to redeem us from the Law,
accept our gratitude.
For our adoption into your family,
for the Spirit of the Son
who cries to you on our behalf,
for our elevation from slavery
to be your sons and daughters, and
for our promised inheritance,
accept our thanks and praise, “O Abba, Father,”
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Thank you again, Lord
In the Epistle to the Galatians Paul’s great burden is that we recognize our freedom from the Law and all its dread consequences. Before the Epistle is finished he will reiterate that “For freedom Christ has set us free” (5:1) and he will sound a solemn warning to remind his readers that freedom is not license. “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh,” (5:13) he admonishes. We are free only in Christ, and with Christ, and for Christ. Paul says very little about the privileges of freedom to the Galatians. Use your freedom in love “to be servants to one another” (5:13). Well, we are servants after all! But we are in bondage now to Christ who freed and frees us. It is Christ himself who has laid the command to love on us.
Now the text has come full circle and the recurring motif of the Christian faith can be restated. St. John says it most clearly, “As the Father has love Me, so have I loved you” (John 9:15). This glorious Sunday after Christmas the motif can be restated, perhaps something like this: As the Father has given us gifts of such magnificent proportions, let us freely share such gifts, such love, such talents and time as we have, each with the other and with the whole family of man. Our adoption as sons and daughters of God through Christ gives us the privilege of the house. Our Father in his love takes time for us. He makes himself consistently available to us. But being sons and daughters imposes the need for obedience upon us. It becomes our joy in life (or truly, at any time), is a strong motivation to the Christian life of love and giving. God’s Christmas impels us to the highest of Christian selflessness.
Join me once more, this time with the prayer that we each grow in our commitment to all the opportunities of self-giving that so continuously confront us,
I believe that God sent forth his Son,
born of a woman,
born under the Law,
to redeem me from the Law’s curse
that I might be adopted into the family of God.
And because I am a child of God
the Spirit of his Son is in my heart
crying “Abba, Father.”
Through God I am no longer a slave to the law, but a member of God’s family’
and as a member of the family, I am an heir of eternal life.
Therefore, I will love my neighbor as myself. Amen.