2017 February Issue
Preaching :Galatians 4:4-7
"What did you get for Christmas?" is probably a question that will be asked by many who gather for worship on this First Sunday After Christmas. Children will tell of toys. Fathers may speak of ties or of some new tool, and mothers may simply sigh and say how glad they are for a day of rest after all of cooking and cleaning associated with the Christmas Festival. "What did we get for Christmas?" would be a good question for the preacher to ask and answer on this day when some may be wondering if all the cost and energy expended for the celebration was really worth it.
The text from Galatians is a clear and direct answer to this question. It provides the preacher with an opportunity to proclaim the good news of the Gospel as God's gift to us as individuals and to the church. Having a baptism on this day would heighten the dramatic effect of preaching on this text, and provide an opportunity to relate this passage to the gift we all receive in the Sacrament of Baptism. It is in our baptism that we receive the gift of membership in the family of faith and citizenship in the kingdom of God. The preacher might also find this a good opportunity to talk about how we show that we appreciate a gift through the way we care for it. To treat a fine gift as if it is worthless is to show that we do not understand the value of the gift or the importance of the giver. This gift is the one gift that will not show up on someone's Visa or Master Card. It is free, it is a gift from God for the people of God.
What is the gift that we have received? In Christ we receive the gift of freedom. On the First Sunday in Advent the congregation may have sung "O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel." Today the message is that we have been ransomed, redeemed and given freedom through the grace of God. Today the congregation can sing "Joy to the World, the Lord Has come." But with his coming there is more than freedom that has been given. We are set free from the bondage of sin and death, but we are also adopted into the family of God. In addition to freedom we have been given the gift of a new identity. This new identity signals a new relationship with God as Father and provides us with a new spirit — the Spirit of Christ.
This brief text from Galatians is a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the gospel. The sermon for the day should be offered in that same spirit. This is not an admonition. It does not confront, or warn, or demand that something be done in response to this gift. The son of God came to redeem and not to judge. He came to set us free from the burden of the law and not to place us under a new and heavier burden. All of this has taken place in the fullness of time at the initiative of God and not in response to any plea or bargaining on our part.
There is one final gift that should not go unnoticed. Not only are we members of the family of God and citizens of the kingdom of God, we are also to be included in the will. We are heirs with Christ. No second hand citizenship is this. We will be participants and recipients of the glory that is to come in the final advent of God's kingdom. We will be players in God's story and participants in God's future. Thus, we have been liberated from the oppression of living meaningless lives that are disconnected from any lasting significance. We have been set free from the consequences of our own sordid and failed history. All who felt like nobodies are now some bodies. Men and women who were convinced by their personal history that they were worthless and unlovable now are assured that they are valuable and loved. For the first time we hear who we really are. In Christ we receive a new history and a new future. This is truly good news! This is the answer to the question: "What did we get for Christmas?" At last something has happened that is truly worth celebrating. Christmas is God's solution for our problem.
Finally the preacher may want to note that while we celebrate Christmas on February 25, it is important to remember that Christmas can happen anywhere and at anytime. Christmas points to the birth and presence in our lives. Our Bethlehem may be anywhere in some kairos moment when God chooses to enter into our story and suddenly make our story a part of God's story. This is the good news of the gospel. This is the good news of Christmas. This is God's gift for God's people at Christmas.
Hugh L. Eichelberger