>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, December 28, 2008.  The text for this week’s message is Galatians 4:4-7.

Today marks the first Sunday of Christmas.  Up to this point we have been in the season of Advent, which is the time when we prepare for the coming of the King.  This week and next week, we enter into the season of Christmas, in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Next week, we will celebrate Epiphany, which is when we celebrate the coming of the wise men, who revealed Jesus as more than just another newborn.  Next week will also be a time for us to covenant together and orient ourselves for the new year.  But, this week, I want to look at the birth of Jesus and think through some of the implications of the Son being born on that night so long ago.  
Paul begins this section by saying, “when the fullness of time had come.”  One of the disadvantages, at least from our perspective, of an eternal God who exists outside of time as we know it is that He has a much better view of the big picture of this thing we call “life”.  God has a different perspective on things than we do.  We may often think that God doesn’t move fast enough, but every single time, God moves at just the right time.  God’s lack of action from our perspective is nothing less than divine patience and sovereign timing.  God’s timing is different from our timing.  We live in a fast-paced world that is constantly changing and you have to be always running in order to stay just a step or two behind.  We often don’t have the patience to wait on God, and end up jumping the gun.  
And while it may have seemed to the Jewish people that God was taking His time to send the Messiah, God’s timing was perfect.  Jesus was born in a period of history known as the Pax Romana, or the “Roman Peace.”  In the Monty Python movie “The Life of Brian” there is a scene that talks about some of the good things that the Roman Empire actually did in Judea by the first century.  There is a group of people who call themselves the “People’s Front of Judea,” and they are sitting around talking about how the Romans have ruined their lives by occupying their land.  One of them, Reg, asks, “What have the Romans ever done for us?”  Each time he asks the question, someone pipes up with “irrigation” or “medicine” or “education.”  By the end of the conversation, Reg says, “All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”  Someone else, says, “Brought peace?”  It sounds a little silly, and being a Monty Python movie, it is, but it brings out a good point.  Relatively speaking the Roman occupation of Judea wasn’t entirely terrible if we look at it from a different perspective.
The Pax Romana was a period of time that ranged from roughly 27 B.C. to 180 A.D.  It was the Golden Age of the Roman Empire.  The borders were relatively secure.  The Roman legal system brought law and order to a vast majority of the Empire.  And there was relatively little internal division and social upheaval.  The Romans built roads that aided trade across the Empire and provided security along those trade routes.  The point is this: the first century was the perfect time for the birth of Christ and the rise and spread of the gospel.
Paul continues by saying, “God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law.”  In this one sentence, Paul affirms both the divinity of Jesus and the humanity of Jesus.  In theology, there are sometimes things that don’t make sense according to our logic.  That Jesus could be fully divine and fully human is one of those things.  Logically, it doesn’t make any sense for us to say that Jesus is 100% human and 100% divine.  But I think this points to the mysterious nature of God, and it also points to the fact that we have a tendency of making an idol out of logic.  I’m not saying that logic is totally without merit, but I do think that our logic is a bit limiting when it comes to an Almighty, eternal God.  In fact, there are a lot of things in our theology that just don’t make sense if we strictly apply human logic.  But the simple truth is, God is not bound by the limitations of our understanding.  Our failure to understand the nature of God is not proof that God is some kind of illogical figment our imagination, as some might argue.  It is simply proof that God is bigger than we could ever imagine.
Paul end this clause by saying that Jesus was “born under the law.”  In this day and age, we don’t really understand what he means by this.  We live in an age of grace because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; however, at the time of his birth, the people were still under the old covenant.  Because of Christ, we are no longer bound by the old covenant.  We are free to live a life of grace.  The old covenant, or the Law, helped us to understand what sin is, and it even provided for temporary atonement for our sin.  But the keyword here is “temporary.”  The Day of Atonement was an annual event, which happened at the time of the Passover in which a lamb was slain at the Temple to atone for the sins of the nation.  But as long as people live under the old covenant, there was never an opportunity to truly live under grace, which is only possible in the new covenant through Jesus Christ.  The Law helps us to define sin so that we know what it is, but it doesn’t provide the means to permanently overcome sin.  That is only possible through the grace of Jesus Christ.
When the Son came, he lived his life under the Law, but he did so in such a way that relied on the strength and grace of the Father.  In doing so, Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, as he says in Matthew 5.  He did not come to abolish, or get rid of the Law.  He came to show us that it is possible to live a life of obedience by relying on the strength and grace of the Father, and he came to provide, once and for all, atonement for when we do fall short.  That is what Paul means when he writes that Jesus came “to redeem those who were under the Law.”  Paul writes elsewhere that those who die to sin are raised with Christ, and they are no longer under the Law.  Again, while the Law helps define sin, it does not save us from our sins.  Those who are raised with Christ live by the Spirit and are redeemed, and those who are redeemed are redeemed for a purpose.
Paul continues, “so that we might receive adoption as sons.”  I heard a story once about an adopted boy who kept getting picked on by the other kids at school because he was adopted.  Finally, he had enough and retaliated.  He turned to the other kids and said, “My parents chose me.  Your parents are stuck with you.”  That’s what we have as adopted children of God.  We have been chosen by God to come into the family.  We are redeemed from our sins through Jesus Christ so that we can live out our lives as was intended.  We are meant to live in relationship with the Almighty God, but our sin prevented it.  However, because of Christ, we are invited into this relationship, and not only are we invited in, we are adopted as children of God.  
In the Roman world, adoption was not uncommon.  The Greek word for “sons” that is used here is huioi, which was a legal term used in adoption and inheritance laws of the first century.  As adopted children of God, we can enjoy all the privileges, obligations and inheritance rights of God’s children.  We are full-fledged members of the family.
One of those privileges is the fact that we are never separated from God.  In verse 6, Paul writes, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’”  Because we have been adopted into the family of God, the Spirit dwells within us.  In Romans 8, Paul says that the Spirit witnesses to us that we are children of God.  We can know that we are children of God because of the Spirit’s presence in our lives.  When we come to that point in our lives when we have given it over to Christ, the Spirit dwells within us.  The Spirit leads us.  Now, this is not to say that we will automatically be able to hear an audible voice that tells us what to do and what not to do.  It means that we no longer seek out our best interests first.  We strive to live our lives in such a way that God is glorified in all we do.  We seek out God’s will in the major decisions.  We search the Scriptures and listen for the still, small voice of God in our lives.
In verse 7, we see the consequence of being adopted by the Father.  “You are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”  We are no longer slaves.  We are no longer under the guardianship of the Law, as Paul says in verse 2.  We are under the grace of Jesus Christ, which gives life.  Remember the words in the communion liturgy?  We have been delivered from our slavery to sin and death and a new covenant has been made with us by water and the Spirit.  Through our baptism, we enter into a saving relationship with God and the Spirit dwells within us.
When we enter into this relationship with God, we become part of a larger family.  I know there are probably quite a few people here today that are familiar with what a big family is like, especially given that you may have seen a whole lot of them in the past week.  Personally, I have a relatively small family.  Katie’s family has given me some experience in what it means to be a part of a big family, and one of the things that I have picked up on is that it is a place where there are so many different people, yet they all have one thing in common: they are family.  That’s is what the body of Christ is like as well.  It is a big family.  There are certainly a lot of different people in this family, but we are family nonetheless.  So, if you haven’t taken that step to be in relationship with God, I want to invite you to do that today.  Step out in faith and rely on the One who wants to adopt you as a child.  Welcome to the family.