December 29, 2013

Sermon, First Sunday after Christmas

The Fulness of Time
Psalm 98, Matthew 1:18-25, Galatians 4:1-7
First Sunday after Christmas
December 29, 2013

Galatians 4 uses an unusual word to describe time.  We don’t notice it very much because we are accustomed to hearing it.  But if it were not in the Bible and someone were to use it today as a new phrase, like “re-gifting” or “unfriending” we would notice its distinctiveness immediately.  That word is fulness. It is unusual because we don’t usually think of time as having fulness.  To us time simply is.  Our schedules may have fulness, especially at this time of year when families and friends are coming and going and events are still happening and in the planning stage.  But time is different from our schedules, and it is neither full nor empty, it just is. 
Yet the Bible talks about the fulness of time, as though time were something that can be poured into a container, and when the container is full, a certain event will occur. I vaguely remember a pop song that said, “If I could save time in a bottle.”  Well, God can, and the picture here is of God pouring time into a bottle until it reaches its fullness, and then something He has been planning happens.  A similar picture is found in Luke 2:6.  You remember the words there, referring to Mary in Bethlehem, saying the time was “accomplished” that she should be delivered.  “Accomplished” in the Greek New Testament, is from the same word translated “fulness” in Galatians 4.  We understand Luke’s meaning.  The baby has developed and matured in the womb and is now ready to be born.  The task of growing inside the womb has been accomplished and fulfilled, and the time to come out and face the world has arrived.  The time is accomplished.  So the “fulness of time” means that a time of preparation is accomplished, and an event is ready to take place, the Messiah is ready to be sent into the world.
Remember that image of God pouring time in a bottle until is reaches its perfect fullness.  Remember it because it shows that the birth of Christ is not an accident.  It is the culmination of a time of preparation, which is itself the enacting of a plan and a purpose.  We are familiar with many of the Old Testament verses that tell of the coming Messiah.  They cover the entire Old Testament, beginning with the book of Genesis.  Remember the words of God to the serpent regarding the seed of the woman, “it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Man had fallen into sin, into all the sorrow and loneliness and personal and cultural disintegration and distorted ways of thinking and acting that we call the misery of sin.  Yet God is promising even at that point, that One will come who will begin to put the world, and us, right again.  He will bruise the serpent’s head.
As we look through the Old Testament we see God continuing to fill the bottle.  We see Him call Abraham to found a family for God.  We see him rescue His family from Egypt.  We see Him give His family rules of conduct that enable its people to live together in peace and respect.  We see Him establish the great feasts, which are like family gatherings and Christmas dinners.  And He calls them together for the more ordinary things of family life, like worshiping together on the Sabbath.  He gives them wise family sages to help them negotiate the trials and stages of life.  He gives them family historians to record their pilgrimage and remind them who they are and remind them of the family traditions and their meaning and importance.  In all of these things God is their Father, the head of the family, the leader provider and protector.  As long as the family stays with Him they live in prosperity and happiness.  When they stray from Him they find that the serpent still lurks under rocks and fallen trees, and his bite is still deadly.
And what did the children of Israel do?  They ran away from home.  Instead of a loving Father, they imagined God as a self-serving tyrant.  Instead of seeing His laws as a protective fence they imagined them as oppressive prison walls.  They rejected their Father as an enemy and embraced their enemies as friends.  But God did not abandon them, nor did He abandon hope that they would return to the family.  And when the bottle of time was full He sent forth His son, born of  woman.
I will talk about this unique Son of God more in future sermons and Bible studies.  For now let it suffice to say He is the word we find in the first chapter of John’s Gospel. He always was, always is, and always will be THE GOD.  And, while never giving up His full Divinity, He added flesh to Himself and became fully human, born of woman.
Today I want to emphasise why God did that, why He became a human and was born in a cattle shed and died on a cross.  He did it for love, a Father’s love for His children.  Most of you have read Laura Ingalls’ “Little House” books, or have seen the TV programs.  You remember the story of the blizzard.  Laura and Mary were walking home from school when they were engulfed in a sudden and terrifying blizzard.  As the snow and wind increased they were unable to see the way home.  They were lost and afraid, and rapidly freezing to death.  What did their father do?  He put on his coat and went out into the very teeth of the storm. He searched and called and called and searched until he found his daughters and took them to safety.  It almost killed him.  There was very little life left in him when, exhausted and frozen, he got the girls to a warm house.  Why did he do it?  Love.  He loved his daughters more than he loved himself.  He valued their lives more than he valued his own.  He would gladly sacrifice his own life to save theirs.
That’s a pretty good illustration of why Christ came to earth.  God loves His children, but they are lost and dying in the blizzard.  He came to take us safely home.  “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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