A sermon preached December 31, 2017 at New Creation Church, Hagerstown, MD by the Rev. Justin Clemente
Lectionary readings: Galatians 3:23-4:3 & John 1:1-18
Introduction: A Double Birth
Well, we’ve been to the manger. We’ve heard the alleluias of God’s angels singing for joy as their King comes to earth. Our passages today help us to understand and meditate on the impact, the consequences, for us, of Christ’s birth. I’m talking specifically about the epistle and Gospel passages for the day. This year as I read and studied and meditated on these passages, for me a theme rose to the top very quickly – double birth.
Let’s do a quick overview – in both John and Galatians we have set forth the birth of the eternal Word of Father into history as God’s Son. In fact, I did a little analysis on our passages today, and there at least nine direct or indirect references to Jesus’ birth, his coming into the world, or his Sonship.
But there’s another birth here. At least Twelve times, these passages refer to the fact that through Christ we’re born of God, God’s offspring, or an heir of God. The passages speak to us not only of the magnitude of Jesus’ birth, but of the massive consequences wrought by his birth.
Let’s flesh that out together.
The Word’s Birth…
- Was a scandal then as it is now
John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John is using categories of thought that would have been familiar to both Jews and Gentiles, but which flipped them on their head – neither the Jew nor the Gentile expected “the Word” to become flesh. In contrast, we believe that “He who Is, became.”
- Is absolutely distinctive of Christianity
“Christianity is singular among the world religions. .. Christian faith requires us to believe in love – love that is stable, eternal, unending, unchanging, undying, supernatural. Christian faith requires us to believe that eternal love is interpersonal – tri-personal and triune. [And yet] Christian faith requires us to believe that eternal love broke into history on Christmas Day.” – Scott Hahn
- Represents the apex of God’s plan of salvation
Galatians 4:4-5 “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
Galatians 4 tells us that Christ’s death (via his birth) brought about what nothing else could – salvation. It also tells us that it came about at the right time, so that message would flourish and bear fruit because of the Pax Romana.
Our Birth as Sons…
- Could only be accomplished by Jesus and can only be attained by faith
Galatians 3:23-25 “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”
Here, Paul reminds the Galatians that the commandments of God could never redeem – they, like a strict governess, could only press upon us our need for Christ. We have here a great picture of the whole world locked up, waiting for the Word to born. As Paul Blackham says, “God ordained a tremendous period of waiting” before Christ both to point forward to him and show his necessity.
- Creates a community where distinctions no longer divide
Galatians 3:26-28“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
We should be reminded that in the Roman context, it was the male who received the status of “sonship.” In Christ, all believers, men and women alike, receive this. What Paul is saying is actually highly subversive to the values of his day and, I might add, ours. What Paul is saying is that the Church is the community where divisions are healed in Christ because such distinctions, although they exist no longer matter in an ultimate sense. This is good news for our world.
- Gives us confidence that God is our Father
Galatians 6:6-7 “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
John 1:12-13, “12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Because Christ was born, so we are born anew, we receive a new nature and God’s own Spirit, who testifies with us, that we are God’s own.
Scott Hahn summarizes the joy Christmas brings in Christ’s birth and ours in him by saying, “God has created the whole world for the sake of the joy we celebrate on Christmas. He fashioned human nature so that every man, woman, and child should desire Christmas joy and seek fulfillment in Bethlehem, the House of Bread – through the Bread that came down heaven. God made us so that we would find all other joys unsatisfying apart from the joy of Christmas.”
All praise, honor, and glory to God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.