Sermon for the Sunday after Christmas
Isaiah 11:1-5 + Galatians 4:1-7 + Luke 2:33-40
This morning we continue our Christmas celebration with Simeon and Anna, those elderly Old Testament saints who had spent so many decades of their life waiting, waiting for God’s Messiah to appear. And finally, He did appear, right there in the Temple in Jerusalem, their eternal God and Creator, just 40 days old. God revealed His Son to Simeon, and then to Anna, and they each rejoiced at seeing Him and worshiped God and gave witness to those around them of who this Child was: The Savior, the Redeemer, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people Israel.
St. Paul describes to the Galatians in today’s Epistle just how precious was the gift of that baby Boy. He elaborates on the secret that Simeon and Anna already knew, that Christ was born to redeem Jews and Gentiles alike from their bondage to sin, and to give to mankind a gift that everyone needs: the gift of sonship, the gift of adoption, the gift of a heavenly Father who claims them as His children and gives them the inheritance of the sons of God. Paul’s words emphasize this truth which we mentioned on Christmas Day: People are not, by nature, children of God. Rather, we are, by nature, slaves to sin. Jesus, the eternal Word, is the only-begotten Son of God and the heir of all things, and now He has been made like us, so that we might be made like Him.
Paul begins by pointing out the similarity between an underage child and a slave. Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. This was especially true in First Century culture. The little child of a rich land owner was the heir of the whole estate, but as long as he was a child, he commanded no one. He made no financial decisions. He wasn’t free to do whatever he wanted. On the contrary, his father would assign guardians and stewards and full-time chaperones to accompany the child everywhere, to make sure he was learning his lessons, to make sure he was behaving. Those stewards didn’t answer to the child, but to the father, so the child was under constant and meticulous supervision and there was nothing he could do about it. He was the heir of the estate, but he had about as much freedom as a slave.
So it was with Israel. Paul says, Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. In other places Paul describes those worldly elements this way: “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle.” They are external rules intended to keep people’s behavior in check. It looks very religious, but it has no power to change the heart, no power to make a person godly or righteous, no power to earn forgiveness of sins. That was the Law of Moses. God had made a covenant with the children of Israel back at the time of Abraham, to be their God, and that they would be His people, His children. But then, at Mt. Sinai, God imposed the Law on Israel as their steward, their guardian, their full-time chaperone. The Law was strict and demanding on Israel, with all its ceremonies and dietary restrictions and rites and rituals and punishments. God was treating them like the young children they were, to train them, to guard and guide them, until they came of age—or rather, until Christ, the true heir, would be born, and come of age.
Simeon and Anna and all the people of Israel since the time of Moses had lived under those strict regulations, those external rules, which were, as James said in Acts 15, a yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear. In fact, the main purpose of the Law was to show Israel that they couldn’t bear it, they couldn’t keep it, they couldn’t work their way into God’s favor. As for the Gentiles—the Gentiles were completely lost. They had no covenant with God. They had no relationship with God at all. As Paul says to the Gentiles in Ephesus, at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. All the Gentiles had were external rules and principles of their own, “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle.” The best of the Gentiles ended up living an externally decent life, but they had no true fear of God, nor love for God, nor faith in God. That’s how the world went on for hundreds and hundreds of years, with Israel confined and burdened under the Law, unable to save themselves, and the Gentiles completely isolated from God and from His promises and salvation.
But that all changed when Christ was born. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. The world had sat in darkness for long enough. It was time for the light to appear. The only way to save sinful man was for God’s Son to become a Man, to be born of a woman, just like all of us were. And that’s such an important truth, as we heard on Christmas Eve. If you are born of a woman, then Christ was born for you. If you are born of a woman, then you, too, can be saved.
God’s Son was also “born under the law,” and we see Him keeping that Law already in today’s Gospel as Mary and Joseph took Him to the Temple to do for Him the things required by the Law, to offer the sacrifices demanded by God to redeem the firstborn son. The only-begotten Son of God kept the Law for everyone born of woman, in order to redeem us all from our slavery to sin, death and the devil, in order to make us sons of God, now with all the rights and privileges of full-grown children.
The greatest privilege we now enjoy is the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ, and along with the forgiveness of sins comes the right to approach God as our dear Father, with all the boldness and confidence of dear children. As Paul says, Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” By dying for your sins on the cross, by calling you to repentance and faith, by forgiving your sins in Holy Baptism, Christ has given you a favorable Father, on whom you can call at all times, in every situation, in time of need, in time of joy, in time of sorrow. You believers in Christ always have a Father who loves you, who hears you, and who is working all things together for your good, not because you’ve earned His favor, but because Christ, your Brother, has earned His favor, and you believe in Christ.
That’s the privilege we enjoy throughout this life. The greatest privilege of all will come at the end of the age. Paul concludes, You are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. An heir is one who inherits the possessions of his father. If God is our Father through Christ, then just contemplate what that means. All things belong to God, even heaven and earth, even life itself. And now, through Christ, all of that is what you will one day inherit.
So can you put up with less for now? Can you live with some sorrow and suffering and loss for a little while? Truthfully, if you are God’s child even now through Christ, then you can and should deny the flesh and say no to serving yourself and yes to serving and loving your neighbor and sacrificing earthly pleasures and comforts for a time, knowing that, soon and forever, all things will be yours.
God is your Father and you are His Son, His child, His heir through Christ. Remember that part. You have no Father in heaven apart from Christ, only an angry Judge who will justly punish you for your sins. Through Christ, that is, through faith in Christ, you have only God’s fatherly favor and love and forgiveness. That’s why Simeon rejoiced. That’s why Anna rejoiced. See what that little Child, born of Mary, has brought you! Stay close to Him. Keep hearing His Word. Keep receiving His Sacrament, and rejoice in His real presence here among us today with bread and wine. He was born to give His life for your life. And He comes now in Word and Sacrament, to give that life to you, and to share His Father with you. Rejoice, you sons of God! Amen.