Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, 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. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 3:23—4:7, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
"In the fullness of time." Less than a week from now we will celebrate "the fullness of time". But it's more than celebrating the birth of The Baby. It's more than putting Jesus back in the nativity scene. Or making Jesus the Reason for the Season.
When the fullness of time had come, 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. (Galatians 4:4-5,ESV)
The fullness of time is about our adoption as sons (and daughters). And it is about what our adoption actually means. We were captive under the law. Under the law we are unable to save ourselves. Under the law we are required to be perfect. Any small infraction of the law breaks the whole. Under the law we are, because of our sinful nature, hell bound.
Our lives are lived to keep us busy enough to avoid the reality, numb our guilt. We live one event to the next, with no time in between to breathe or think. We think it's better that way. We think that's the best way to get the most out of life. We need to experience all we can. But the one thing we should see in our busy lives is our sin. Sin is the reason for the presence of evil. It corrupts everything we do. Sin brings death. Death makes everything we do empty. And it's even worse at this time of year. Far from being a relaxing time spent with family and friends, these holidays are mach speed busyness. Satan has you distracted. In your effort to make it the best holiday season ever, he reinforces the lie that what's important is family time, gifts given, and the joy you should be feeling at the season. It seems as if every event leading up to Christmas is an effort to mask the real reason for the season. That we are sinful people in need of a Savior.
But, "in the fullness of time" we are no longer slaves to our sinful nature, but we are set free, justified by grace. This is the gift of Holy Baptism. It is water poured on us that works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe. Water alone couldn't do such wonderful things. Water alone couldn't connect us to the crucified, yet living, baby born in a manger. Or as the catechism says:
Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water. For without God's word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three, "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
The water and God's name are a rebirth and renewal, life giving. The work of the Holy Spirit through God's promises. Adoption as sons and daughters. With all the benefits and inheritances that come as a natural consequence of adoption. It's not just water. It's water and God's word and faith. Faith is clinging to the promises of God in the sure and certain hope of the forgiveness won by Jesus Christ on the cross. Faith is turning with sin to the one who offers forgiveness through the cleansing found in the water and the embedded Word of God.
There is no better way to understand God's grace, that is his undeserved love for us, then to see baptism for what it is. Not a washing that we do to ourselves, but a washing that God does to us, for us. It is his promise that makes it what it is. It is his promise that gives us the forgiveness of sins. It is his promise that gives us life and salvation. It is trust in these promises (that is what faith is) that gives us all these benefits of inheritance.
In the stable, in the manger, is the one through whom God is making his promise true. The angels sing. The shepherds worship. Mary and Joseph stand in awe. The baby is God's answer to the problem of human sin, your sin. He brings you forgiveness through his perfect life lived, his death on the cross where he suffers eternal hell for you, and his resurrection to new life as your promise of the very same. The baby is God himself in human flesh. He comes in the fullness of time to give you all these gifts. And you are connected directly to the baby in the manger through the washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.