1st Sunday after Christmas
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests! In the name of Jesus, born to save us, dear friends in Christ,
It’s an eerie feeling, hard to describe. Every couple months I conduct a Bible study at the Beltrami county jail here in Bemidji. In order to do the Bible study I have to enter into the jail. After checking my ID the guard radios to another guard who electronically unlocks the first door. I walk in and shut the door behind me. Then the next door is unlocked, I walk through and the door is secured behind me. I walk to the room where I have the Bible study and after the inmates have all gathered there is a click in the door and it’s locked. It’s an eerie feeling, hard to describe. When that door is shut, you’re locked in. Thankfully, I can leave whenever I want to. But not the prisoners. They are stuck, locked in, and I get a little feeling of that when the door shuts. What’s it like to be a prisoner? You can’t go wherever you want to go, you can’t do whatever you want to do, you can’t see whomever you want to see, you can’t eat whatever you want to eat.
The truth is, we all were born prisoners. You, me, everyone. We can’t leave whenever we want to. We can’t escape from this prison. We can’t do whatever we want. We were all born into the prison of sin. When you’re a prisoner you have to do whatever the guard tells you to do. You have to go to this cell block, you have to eat at this time, you have to wear these clothes, etc. That’s what it’s like in the prison of sin. We’re stuck. We lie. We cheat. We envy. We’re selfish. We’re self-centered. We’re greedy. We covet what isn’t ours. We fail to be kind. We fail to put others first. We fail to honor those in authority. We fail to help and befriend our neighbor in every bodily need. We fail to love and cherish our spouse. We fail to keep our thoughts, words, and actions pure. We fail to help improve and protect the property of others. We fail to encourage, to speak well of, to defend others. We fail to take someone’s words and actions in the kindest possible way.
And on our own we not only can’t leave this prison of sin but we have no desire to either! I’ve never met a prisoner in the Beltrami Jail who enjoys being there, who wants to be there, who doesn’t want to leave. But sin so depraves our thinking that we think sin is pleasurable, enjoyable, exciting, we run into it, we don’t want to leave it, we say to sin, “Lock me up! Enslave me! Make me your prisoner!”
Now, if you knew someone like that, someone who enjoyed breaking the law, who wanted to go to prison, would you post bail for them? Would you offer to defend them? Would you offer to take their sentence, be punished in their place? It wouldn’t even occur to us, but God did.
God went on a rescue mission. At just the right time God took action. And what did God do? God sent his Son. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. If you had ten sons, you wouldn’t dream of giving one of them up for a law-breakers, a prisoner, a scoundrel, but God gave up His own Son. “Born of a woman.” That baby lying in the manger is the God-man. God took on human flesh. God – who is above every law, because he made every law, God who could never steal because he owns everything, God who could never take any life because he made every life, put himself under the law. For what purpose? “To redeem those under law.” In other words, to liberate, to rescue, to deliver those under the law. To free us from our prison of sin.
And the goal? That we might receive “adoption to sonship.” If you remember the old NIV translation it was “to receive the full rights of sons.” They both say the same thing. But this is astounding. God not only sent Jesus, this baby lying in a manger to liberate us FROM something, but to liberate us FOR something. In the culture of the apostle Paul’s day it could happen that a wealthy individual who had no child could adopt a child. And when it went through there was an immediate legal status change: the new father immediately assumed all responsibility for the new child, all the child’s debts were immediately canceled and all the wealth of the father became the wealth of child’s. The new child became fully a new part of a new family with all the rights and responsibilities and rewards that came with it.
God didn’t just send Jesus to take on our human flesh, to be born of a woman, born under law, in order to liberate us, redeem us FROM our prison and bondage and slavery to sin, He didn’t just come to set us free FROM imprisonment, but He came to redeem us FOR being God’s own sons, God’s own children, to enjoy the full rights of sonship in God’s family.
This is incredible. But do you believe it? Do you think about the incredible ramifications of the fact that because of Jesus, because of this babe born in Bethlehem, you are God’s own son? You are God’s own child? Do you grasp that? Do you live like it? Do you live with the inexpressible joy of being God’s child, an heir of God and co-heir with Christ?
Or do we go through life plagued with guilt? Do we go through life feeling like God is distant, unattached, unconcerned with our lives? Do we go through life filled with fear, worry, anxiousness, concern? What will this new year bring? What difficulties and challenges and disappointments am I going to face? Is God going to finally give me the trouble I deserve for my sins against him?
How could we think that about our God? Look at what he tells us here! God first sent His son on the rescue mission: born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, why so? So that we might enjoy adoption to sonship, full rights of sons, a legal status change: you are God’s own child, you mean just as much to the Father as His own Son Jesus, you’ve been adopted into his family. But God also knows that we struggle with appropriating this to our lives, applying it, and living in it. So God sends someone else. The Holy Spirit.
Imagine a young son and a father walking hand in hand along the side walk. Then all of a sudden the father lifts his boy up and give him a big hug and kiss. The son was no more or less a son of his father when he was walking hand in hand than he was when his father was hugging and kissing him, but he felt it, experienced it, and was deeply reminded of his status as his father embraced and kissed him. The Holy Spirit using His tools- the means of grace – the gospel in Word and Sacrament is the Father embracing and kissing you reminding you of your adoption to sonship in God’s family.
And the Holy Spirit reminds you of two things here: confidence and inheritance. “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’” That’s our confidence. The word “abba” was a term of endearment a child had for his father, like dad or daddy. “Abba, I need a drink of water.” “Abba, hold my hand.” “Abba, help me.” Because of Jesus, because of your adoption into God’s family, that’s the closeness and confidence you have with the almighty and everlasting God. You can approach him at any time, with anything on your heart, and trust that He is your dear father in heaven.
And secondly, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son God has made you also an heir.” That means all the Father’s wealth is your wealth. The inheritance is yours. Heaven, the home of God, is your home, forever. Eternal riches, eternal glory, eternal joy- all the wealth of the Father is yours…forever.
The Holy Spirit is the kiss of the Father. In the work of that baby in the manger, God’s eternal Son, you were freed, redeemed, liberated from the prison of sin. Through holy baptism you were adopted as God’s own son and heir. Through the Word you hear again and again the comforting and assuring voice of your Father. Through the Lord’s Supper the Father presses to your lips the very body and blood of His Son as a guarantee that you are part of His family, His own child, His own son, His own heir.
That’s what Christmas is about. When the time had fully come God sent His Son so that you might be His son, His child, His heir forever. Live as God’s child. Amen.