Text: Galatians 4:4-7
My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
On Christmas morning as a child, my parents would make my sister, and I stay in our rooms as they set up for our families annual Christmas ritual. My mother would put on Christmas music, the "classics" as she would say, and put some cinnamon rolls in the oven. And my father would make a cup of coffee and make sure that the video camera was ready to go to capture everything on tape. After all the necessary steps were taken, they would tell us that they were prepared, and my sister and I would come running out of our rooms to see what "Santa" had brought us for Christmas.
There was undoubtedly a sense of childlike curiosity and amazement… How could Santa possibly bring all these gifts to people in one night? It's still a question that I'm trying to understand today, so if you have the answer, please let me know… Maybe my math skills aren't high enough to comprehend all the theoretical physics for such a trip. Nevertheless, Christmas as a child was something that was filled with wonderment and awe. Of course, I still feel such things today, but nothing can compare when I think back to my sister's childhood experience with Christmas.
You see, when my sister was young, there was one Christmas where she didn't open any of her gifts… My mother told me that my sister would go on to play with the beautifully wrapped boxes for at least a week after Christmas had come and gone. She didn't grasp that there was something underneath the shiny paper, and there could be something better than what was on the outside. To her, the boxes wrapped in the colorful paper were the gifts, and she honestly enjoyed playing with them. So you can imagine her surprise when my parents finally had to show her that there was something underneath all that wrapping paper… It was indeed a Christmas miracle.
But coming back to the present for a moment, the gifts we have gotten for one another have been exchanged, crumpled wrapping paper and sparkling bows have been torn off in anticipation, and as we come to this New Years Eve, many people think Christmas as something that has come and gone. So then why is it that we still often live our lives in a way that reflects an unopened Christmas present? We have received the greatest gift of all, the love and grace of God… But when we look around, we find that there aren't many people who are "wearing" or "showing off" this gift. It is tempting just to imagine what is inside, but that isn't enough. We have to unwrap this gift so that it can challenge us, shape us, push us to go outside our comfort zone in order to share it with all people, to let the shining light of this Christmas miracle speak the love, peace, joy, and hope that was meant for all times and all places.
Perhaps one day we can work towards re-obtaining such a sense of childlike excitement… But then time appears to be our greatest enemy, the adversary that prevents us from holding onto the innocence that we once possessed. The world that once looked inviting, charming, and wide open, turned out to be more oppressive than we thought. There were hurts, their pains, there were lost and shattered dreams that made it feel like there was nothing left. So then it becomes only natural to hold onto something that gives us hope, that provides us with strength, that provides the light for us during the darkest of days and provides anticipation for the coming glory of God. The critical thing to remember is that we can't keep it for ourselves…
Can we bring back a sense of childlike awe and wonder that empowers us to share this Christmas miracle with others? Are we able to find it within ourselves to bring this healing light to a world that needs light? Childlike doesn't mean powerless… Childlike doesn't mean we ignore opportunities to grow in our faith, but instead embrace opportunities that allow us to study the Word of God… Childlike, childlike means that we empty ourselves and take on a spirit of humility that allows God to work in us, to enables us to participate in this narrative of salvation that all started with the miraculous birth of Christ.
And so we find ways to rediscover this Christmas miracle in ways that are new and refreshing as Christ came into the world not to condemn the world, but to save the world, or as Paul states, "God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children." Christ was born under the law, to a woman who was deemed to be a lawbreaker by her those around her, yet it was by such means, by the power of Mary and Holy Spirit, that God frees us from the shackles of sin and death in order that we may be called the children of God. And when we find ourselves in situations where the darkness surrounds us or where the struggles of life begin to overwhelm us, we can cry out to God saying, "Abba! Father!"
What does it mean for us to cry out to God? For the Reformer John Calvin, "crying" in this case is an expression of firmness and unwavering confidence." When we cry out to God, we do so remember the words of Paul in Romans, "For we have not received a spirit of bondage to falling back into fear, but a spirit of freedom to full confidence." Will we lift our voices with the multitudes of people around the world? Will we join with our sisters and brothers in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia who face persecution for their faith, and will we lift our voices up to protect the rights of all people? Will we join with those who are oppressed? Will we summon the courage and strength to offer praise so that we are not held by a spirit of fear, fear of the "other," fear of the foreigner, fear of those who are not like us? Will we cry out as children of the living God, embracing the Spirit of light that we have carried with us throughout this season of Christmas? This is quite a challenge, I would say it should be on the top of the list of anyone who is in the practice of making a New Year's resolution…
We are children of a living God… We are sealed in the love and grace of a God who offers more than any earthly parent or guardian… We are not only held in such high regard but also trusted with the task to live out this grace and love in our daily lives so that all may bear witness to the Spirit of God that resides in each and every one of us. Dare we be faithful witnesses to this love and grace? Do we have what it takes to unwrap the divine gift we have received so that we may go out and help others discover the majesty that awaits them as well? It's a Christmas miracle that can journey with us into the new year as we go forth exploring ways that we can better connect with God and one other so that we can speak truth to power, find freedom in the midst of cell blocks and iron bars, and live boldly into the identities that have been given to us from God.
As the children of a living God, how will we carry this Spirit of Christmas throughout the rest of the year? As children of a living God will we continue to live as ones who are satisfied with wrapped gifts, not wanting them to be tarnished by the world? Or will we live as ones who bring the light of the greatest Christmas gift to all people, to those who live in darkness, to those who live under oppression, to those who face injustice, and to those who require a companion, a friend? It means that we have to take a risk… This Christmas miracle can't stay in a box forever… It has to come out, it has to be shared, and we are the ones who are meant to live it out in our lives, speak it boldly yet lovingly with our words, and go out and be with the ones Christ called us to care for… Christmas day may come once a year, but the Spirit of Christmas, the implications of this miraculous gift, are meant to be carried with us now and forever.
Let us pray… Holy God, Lord of this Christmas season and Lord of all times and all places. Renew in us a spirit of anticipation and hope. Kindle in us a fire that shines forth you love wherever we go. May we come to you with a sense of humility and eagerness so that we may go out proclaiming this Christmas miracle we have received. As we prepare ourselves for another year may your Spirit be our guide and may we strive to have our hearts be attuned to your will. Amen.