The Fullness of Time

Text: Galatians 4:1-7
Date: Christmas I + 12/29/13

The light of God’s Word has once again led us with angels and shepherds and, soon, wise men to the remembrance of the miracle of the arrival of the Christ, the world’s savior from sin. Some criticize all the other things and thoughts and “meanings” that have cropped up over the centuries, some which may cloud, hide or even eliminate the one, true meaning of the Christmas season. Yet there are many levels of the true joy of Christmas. Consider the birth of a brand new son, daughter, nephew, niece, grandson or granddaughter, and dare I add great-grands? The emotions of joy and thanksgiving especially for a Christian cannot and should not be ignored, denied or avoided. So our joy over especially the gift of our family complete with the almost magical joy of children amid the lights and gift giving and receiving can all be expressions of the joy of God’s gift of salvation, redemption from sin and death and adoption into the grander family of the faithful, reborn to new life in Christ. It was just plain fun watching granddaughter Annika (soon a year old) take in all the unusual activity around the Christmas tree on her first experience of Christmas Eve.

On this first Sunday after Christmas, though it be only the day of five golden rings, the fifth day of our Christmas rejoicing, the light of the Lord quickly reveals the darkness the Christ child came to conquer, the darkness that so quickly shatters the innocent joy in Bethlehem, the darkness of a tyrant’s murderous rage. The good news, of course, is that God delivered and preserved our infant Lord by the flight into Egypt.

Into the shock of the realities of the darkness, on this day St. Paul casts the light that proclaims the ultimate victory of God’s plan of salvation that is by faith in Jesus Christ.

The first four verses of Galatians 4 set the stage. St. Paul writes, “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” (Gal 4:1-3). In these words the apostle describes the plight of all human kind without God as being “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” That is a way of saying that all people are utterly helpless because the only way we, according to our fallen, sinful nature, naturally think about our relationship with God is by the way of the Law; the Law that only reveals and increases sin, guilt, fear and death, whose chief goal is to make us run to the Gospel.

It is in this context that Paul says that the incarnation and birth of our Lord happened in “the fullness of time.” What time? The season of Advent proclaimed that God, the creator of time, employed the years of prophecy and waiting since the first promise of a Savior to Adam and Eve, the promise then taking on substance and definition beginning with a man named Abraham who became the father of the faith in God’s promise. Through generations that have been named, through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, through David the great King, through the years of descendants of the house and lineage of David, at a time, as the Kalends proclaims, “when all the world was at peace,” God determined it was time, about time, high time, the right time, and as we look back, the central point of all time by which our calendars of earthly history are calibrated, the fullness of time for Him to “send forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.”

The woman’s name, of course, was Mary. The law under which Jesus was born into the world was the law of God’s Word, the same law that enslaves us and declares the curse of God against our sin and its wages. Christmas is much more than a mere friendly visit of a benevolent God in the form of a baby to make us coo and kneel in quiet joy. This Child, the Son of God, was sent to be born under the Law, that is, to be willingly subject to the law’s curse. It’s the only way. In order to save us He took our place right along side of us taking on and bearing our burdens, our trials, our sufferings, our sin. That’s worth remembering every day. In Jesus Christ God knows, shares and heals all your diseases, hurts, fears, pains and losses. That’s part of what “Merry Christmas” is all about.

The fullness of time includes the story of Jesus’ entire earthly ministry—His teaching, preaching and healing, His calling disciples to Himself and the whole world through them, His institution of the sacrament of His body and blood, then His humiliating, innocent, bitter suffering and death, His rest in the tomb, His glorious resurrection, His institution of the sacrament of Holy Baptism and His victorious ascension back into heaven—all this is contained in the word “redeem,” “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.” It was the right time. By faith in His work of obedience to God’s law, His offering of the bloody sacrifice of Himself for the sin of the world, and His victory over death we are now freed from the old slavery to the curse of God’s law; that is, if it has become the right time for you.

What joy, what life, what freedom is “Merry Christmas.” How did the apostle famously say it elsewhere? “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

      You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:1-9).

“The fullness of time” brings us all the way from Advent and Christmas, through Epiphany, Lent and Easter, now, says Paul, to the Feast of Pentecost as he concludes that we were redeemed “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.” You see we are not set free from the curse of sin to just go it alone anymore. God sent His Son in the fullness of time. So the time is fulfilled for you when God sends His Spirit to dwell in you.

The right time has come for you and for all. As at our Lord’s lowly birth, utterly helpless on our own, under the condemnation of God’s righteous law, our salvation came in the form of One utterly helpless—weak as an infant, powerless against His persecutors, vulnerable to the condemnation of tyrants of both church and state. He was no different than those poor baby boys in Bethlehem, the first martyrs for the faith, the Holy Innocents, except that God preserved Him. So Christ came as utterly helpless to redeem all who are utterly helpless to save themselves. It is when we allow God to wash us in Holy Baptism, creating saving faith in our hearts as a gift to adopt us as His own that we are among the redeemed. It is when we allow God to feed us in the Lord’s Supper that we receive Christ’s victory over sin and death.

So let your Christmas rejoicing continue. It’s the right time even in the face of darkness, for the darkness has been overcome by the light. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined…. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:2, 6).