Galatians 4:4-7   2020                            


            In Galatians 4, Saint Paul makes an important point for all of us to hear this morning. We are no longer slaves to the law; We are now confirmed as the children of God! We might be thinking that this statement is somewhat repeating the Scripture containing direct speech from Jesus in which he tells his Disciples, “Lest we become as children we cannot enter into the Kingdom of God” (Luke 18:17). One of the more interesting statements Jesus makes about our time and our generation is “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others” (Matthew 11:16). In that last verse the understanding is that the children are calling out for others to come sing and dance, but they do not. Oh to be a child again—to want to just play, sing and dance!

            One of the nicest aspects of the Christmas celebration is that we really can get away with becoming like children again. We do things as adults at Christmas time that if we did it any other time of the year, people would think of us perhaps in a negative light. What if you went out and sang in front of your neighbor’s house on any other day? They would think you a lunatic. Do it a Christmas, and they offer you cookies. We sing “Bring us some figgy pudding. . .” and we might even get Fig Newtons because nobody has figgy pudding! 

            And, speaking of cookies: At Christmas time you get to eat like you are a kid again. What if you were to eat all of the chocolates and pastries that you ate this Christmas all year long! I do not think that you could not do it! But, at Christmas you can go ahead and have that second helping of apple strudel just like you were a kid again!

            This year because our daughter Carolyn has been quarantined at the house, she set out the old train set that I used to play with when I was a boy. So, I got to get down on the floor and play with my little choo-choos again. What would you think if I played with little trains everyday of the year? I know, you would think of me as the stereo-typical pastor—just like the one on the Simpsons!      


            So now it is the day after Christmas and life is back into lockdown mode--not fun any more. Now I am thinking that I will have to carefully take the train set apart again and get it ready for long-term storage. There is just no more fun in that.

            There is the sense that Christmas is over, that our opportunity to be like children is passed. Yet, we know that Christmas lasts for 12 days—at least according to the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Officially this Sunday is called the first Sunday of Christmas. There are generally two Sundays in Christmas, the liturgical season itself does not end until January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany. This is the traditional day on which it is believed that the Three Wise Men came to the stable to offer their gifts to the Christ. In the Orthodox Church, it is on this day that gifts are exchanged, not Christmas Eve. Some Christians really do celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas!

            Of course, why settle for just twelve days? Why not make it twenty, thirty, or even forty days of Christmas?! This is actually what did happen in the Middle Ages in Europe. Christians used to celebrate forty days of Christmas. Christmas used to end on February 2nd every year. This day was dedicated to Saint Mary, the Mother of Jesus and was marked with special worship involving the blessing and lighting of candles. In the Catholic Church the mass is called “The Purification of the Blessed Virgin.” In the Greek Orthodox Church it is called “Hypapante.” In our own reform tradition, we have the name “Candlemas.” On December 25th one begins celebrating with the Christ’s Mass, that is Christmas; and on February 2nd one stops the celebration of the Holy Birth with the Candle Mass, that is “Candlemas.”

            On the Feast of Candlemas what happened was that the entire village brought candles of beeswax to the church to have the priests bless them. Each adult and each child would have to have one candle. If a child were too young to hold a candle, then the mother or father would hold it for them. These candles would, after being consecrated by the priest, be lit from the altar in the church. After worship the candles would go home with the people. If any one in the house were ill, that person’s consecrated candle would be lit with the hope that Christ’s grace would still be powerful within the candle itself and the healing grace of Christ would shed its light on the person in need.

            In this way, by having that Christmas Candle in the home always ready to relight to bring about the Christ’s light to heal, Christmas did last all year long. We have our Christ light in our advent wreath still lit this morning. We need to keep it burning all year long. We just need to keep adding batteries to it!


            I want to point out from the scripture that was read this morning that Saint Paul is telling the church in Galatia that the start of the Christian Faith is at Christmas. It starts with the birth of Jesus. Some might argue that the faith starts with the baptism of Jesus by John. Some might say that the faith starts with the Resurrection at Easter. Some might argue that the Christian faith begins with the coming down of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

            Saint Paul argues that it begins with Christ’s miraculous birth in Bethlehem. He sets out a dynamic tension between two ideas in his writing. He says in the first place that Jesus was sent by God. Then, he says that in the second place that Jesus was born of Mary. And, reconciles these two incongruous ideas with the notion of “ADOPTION.” I must say that he is being truly brilliant and inspired with this notion: Just like a child is born of one mother and father but then is sent to be with another family, so it is that Jesus is the Son of God, as well as Mary and Joseph’s.

            What Paul also notes is that we also all adopted into God’s family. We are born of our mothers and fathers, but then we are sent to be God. As Paul states, we “cry out Abba, Father in Heaven.” When we pray, Jesus taught us to pray by saying “Our Father.” So, as Jesus was adopted by Mary and Joseph, though being the Son of God, we are adopted by God and become children of God to be sure. Lest we become like children, we shall not inherit the Kingdom of God: Jesus was adopted into the mortal family, and we are adopted into the immortal.


            Paul talks about the idea that you can live in a house, but not be of the family. He refers to this state of relationship as “slavery.” The word in the Greek is “doulos,” more like a servant or hired hand. We know from the Old Testament that servants do not inherit. Yet, the status of a servant can be changed to be an adopted child. One could adopt their servant into the family. This can be accomplished easily by marriage as we see with Hagar (Genesis 16). But, the best example we have is in fact Moses being adopted into the Pharoah’s own family even though he was a Jewish slave. 

            Paul is writing this to the church in Galatia because they seemed to be having trouble with the idea of adopting Roman non-Jews into the church—which was for the men an argument about circumcision. Paul is saying that inheriting the eternal life promised by Jesus is not about the Jewish Law, it is more about calling God your Father in Heaven. The Law is about slavery. Christianity is about adoption by God.     


I have mentioned an idea in the past, and I will reiterate it today because it is mentioned in our Scripture for today. Galatians 4:4 says, “That when the time had fully come. . . .” This is better translated from the Greek idiom as “When time is completely full.” This is a different idea of time than we are used to using in our world. In school we are taught that time comes on a line. When we learn history, we start at the beginning and move towards the modern world—on a timeline. Paul is stating that time is not on a line. It is like a cup or a bucket that can be filled; hence, we can have the fullness of time.

Look at your life this way: Rather than saying that you are forty years old and hence have experienced Christmas forty times starting form year one and proceeding to year forty, think of the greatest Christmas, the most exciting and joyous Christmas that you have ever experienced, then think of the next and the next. The fact that you have experienced forty Christmases is not what gives the holiday meaning. In fact, that can take away greatly from the meaning of Christmas. What gives it meaning is the fullness of the remembrances of great Christmases that you have had.

Likewise, what gives your everyday life meaning is not that you have lived so many days. What gives your life meaning is remembering the beautiful days in your heart always so that your life is always filled with joy.  What makes your life full is remembering a time in your life when you were not even able to count the days because you were so alive that the days did not matter. What makes your life full is looking forward to even more joy than you have already experienced when once again you are with the Lord.

When we do this, then we are no longer slaves to the everyday humdrum emotions. We become like children again—the children of God. And then, we discover that there is a full inheritance for us as well. We have God as our Father. God will protect us and care for us as His children.

I want you to feel that protection by God this morning. One of the personal issues that I kept on hearing from many of you prior to Christmas was that you were putting off some hard choices and decisions until after the holiday. You just wanted to enjoy Christmas and worry about those other things afterwards. You did not want to spoil the holiday for others, especially the children. We all tend to do this to a certain degree.

Why could not Christmas just go on a little longer? Why couldn’t it be everyday? Listen to Saint Paul’s message to us this morning one more time: “We are no longer slaves to the law; We are now confirmed as the children of God!” Every debt that matters has already been paid by Christ. This gift from God can come to you any day and everyday. You CAN make every day Christmas! You are no longer slaves to the law that says Christmas is one day a year. You are the children of God—and the celebration of this should never end. Amen.