Summary: The message of Christmas is that we are no longer slaves, God in the person of Jesus adopts us as children and heirs in God’s family.
Sermon for Christmas I Yr B, 29/12/2002
Based on Gal 4:4-7
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
While working as a waitress at a restaurant in Jasper National Park, Janet Rayner recalls the following incident: “I had the pleasure of serving an elderly gentleman from England. When he inquired about our house wine I told him it was a dry Chablis from B.C. “Well, my dear,” he replied, “that’s what I call aged!”
It is interesting, is it not, to observe how human beings understand time. The house wine from B.C., of course was a reference to the province of British Columbia, NOT the period of time before Christ’s birth. Time is understood in many different ways. For example, the season of the church year we are in now is that of Christmas, which only began on the evening of December 24, and spans a mere 12 days, ending on January 5. Yet, how many people, even Christians, celebrate Christmas way before December 24?! In our society, it seems that the world of advertising and commerce commence their celebration of Christmas almost the day after Halloween! By the time Christmas Eve and Christmas Day role around, a lot of folks are weary of celebrating Christmas and ready to take down the tree and decorations. Sad, isn’t it, that they beep out the season of Advent altogether, which serves to prepare us for Christmas, not to celebrate it during Advent. For those of us who do observe the season of Advent, we’re ready to begin our celebration of the twelve days of Christmas when Christmas Eve arrives!
Time is understood in so many different ways. Our understanding of time has some very practical implications on our faith and life. Here I’m reminded of the following Jewish story as told on one occasion by Rabbi Irving Greenberg:
When the Messiah arrives, of course there will be a large gathering of people to welcome him. Both Christians and Jews will be there, along with the mass media. The Messiah will hold a press conference, and both the Jews and Christians will ask him the same most urgent question; seeking to prove who has been right all these centuries. They will ask, ‘Tell us, is this your first or second coming?’ The Messiah will answer very wisely by saying: “No comment.” 1
The story, in my view, is a profound one, for at least two reasons. First, the Messiah’s answer to the question teaches us humility. We as Jews and Christians sometimes might become too proud or arrogant—falsely believing that we have a monopoly on the whole truth. We may believe we do quite sincerely, but, nonetheless; there is always room in our system of beliefs for a little (perhaps a lot of!) humility; realising that we still have significant things to learn about the truth from others different than ourselves. Second, in a more indirect, implicit way, the Messiah’s answer is telling both Jews and Christians that what is really important is not whether it’s his first or second coming, but that he is here now and we are in relationship with him together. In saying “No comment,” he is preventing the dynamic of “We are right and you are wrong.” He is keeping both Jews and Christians together in relationship with one another. As they both get to know and follow the Messiah more, most likely they will live together in love and unity with one another.
In our second lesson today, the apostle Paul is writing with a great deal of conviction when he tells us what he believes about the time of Christ’s birth. Paul is convinced that all of history reached a high point when Jesus was born. He makes his point by describing the time before Christ’s birth as a time when humankind was living under slavery and the requirements of the law—which, according to Paul, only Jesus was able to observe fully. He then goes on to say that beginning with the birth of Jesus, history reached a “fullness of time,” since now humankind is transformed in Christ from slaves to children of God and heirs. In verse four, Paul states: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”
So, for centuries according to Paul, history was moving ahead and leading up to “the fullness of time.” It is like our gospel today, when both Simeon and Anna were coming to the end of their lives, and their lives reached the highest point when they were privileged to see baby Jesus, the Messiah. Their whole lives had been waiting for and leading up to that very moment. Now they could depart in peace because everything had been fulfilled, they had done all that they needed to do.