Worship

Christmas Day Festival Service

Monday, December 25, 2023

Watch the livestream beginning at 10 a.m. on Christmas Day. After the livestream is finished, the video will be available to watch at any time.

First Lesson: Micah 5:2-5a (NIV)
Second Lesson: Galatians 4:4-7 (NIV)

Gospel: John 1:1-18 (NIV)

Music:

  • Hymn: CW 354 “O Come, All Ye Faithful”
  • Hymn: CW 358 “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”
  • Hymn: CW 349 ” A Great and Mighty Wonder”
  • Hymn: CW 363 “Now Sing Wed, Now Rejoice”
  • Hymn: CW 350 “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
  • Hymn: CW 344 “What Child is This”
  • Hymn: CW 343 “Once in Royal David’s City”
  • Hymn: CW 366 “O Rejoice, All Christians Loudly”
  • Hymn: CW 333 “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
  • Hymn: CW 353 “Joy to the World”

Christmas Day (December 25, 2023)
Galatians 4:4-7        Pastor Wolfe

Christmas is for Kids!

When I think about Christmas memories, so many of them center around children. I remember the Christmas Eve children’s programs we held at my home church when I was young. I remember the giant tree in the corner of church and the Styrofoam symbols (I later learned they were called “chrismons”) that hung on the tree. I remember coming home from the program to find Christmas presents under the tree when there hadn’t been presents there when we left. I remember baking Christmas cookies with our 4-H club, and a snowball fight after, and then singing Christmas carols at the nursing home.

Now that I’m older, my favorite Christmas memories are still about kids. Seeing my own children reciting Luke 2 in mechanical fashion: ”In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree, that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria…” I don’t remember the gifts we’ve given to my children over the years, but I remember their faces and their joy.

Even as a church, Christmas at Salem is for the kids too, in a sense. Christmas for Kids is one of our biggest outreach events. The midweek Christmas services put on by the kids in our school are literally the most-attended services of the year.

And while the old curmudgeon in me wants to say that Christmas isn’t about children – it’s about Christ, Paul in his letter to the Galatians reminds me that it really is about children. The child in the manger came to make children of all of us. The miracle of God taking on human flesh was done for a reason – to deliver children of sin away from their slavery to Satan and adopt us into his household. He became man so that we could become his. It turns out Christmas is for kids after all.

Today’s text starts out with a phrase that many recognize as a part of the fabric of Christmas itself. “When the time had fully come.” What does that mean? It literally reads “Now when the fullness of time had come.” God wasn’t waiting for the clock to run out until Christmas – he was building up to it the whole time. This was the moment that time was marching toward ever since the beginning. Finally now, all the pieces were in the right place – everything was ready. God had been guiding the world to this moment. But the fullness of time means more than just the peaceful society created by Rome, or a common language brought by the Greeks, or safe roads brought about by a strong government.

The book of Galatians as a whole centers on the purpose of God’s law and gospel. The law, of course, is those things that God tells us to do and not to do, and the consequences we face for not doing them. Think of the Ten Commandments God gave through Moses. Earlier in Galatians Paul had explained the purpose of the law. It was to be the guide that would lead Israel to look for a Savior. It wasn’t for Israel to save itself by following all the laws, but to lead the people to recognize their need for God’s intervention. Israel’s history is full of examples of God stepping in to save his people when the time was right. For centuries, the people had shown their sinfulness, but God in mercy intervened. In Egypt, at the time of the judges. The Assyrian army wiped out at Jerusalem. Now the time was right to step into history once again to deliver his people. This time spiritually and eternally.

And so God sent his Son, born of a woman. Notice Paul doesn’t say born of a woman and a man – just born of a woman. As the angels had promised, this child had no human father. On this Christmas Day we celebrate the miracle that began all Christ’s miracles. That Jesus is both the Son of the Most High God and the son of a human woman. We call this the Virgin birth, and it isn’t some old tradition that we an discard or disregard today. If Jesus isn’t truly human, born of a woman and truly God, Son of the Most High, then we would be lost in our sin still. That truth is the heart of this text.

Paul writes that as a man born of a woman this child is born “under the law.” Now, the law doesn’t naturally apply to God. He made it and created it for man to live under. So why would the Son of God be born of a woman and place himself under that law? Paul tells us: “to redeem those under the law.” I know it sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. God says in his word that anyone who wants to be with him in eternity must be perfect and holy. Must follow all the laws. And God gives many laws to show perfection. Look out for others before you look out for yourself. Use your tongue to build up and never to hurt. Don’t covet your neighbor’s house or spouse, even if they seem better than yours. Don’t hate. Don’t lust. And if you do any of these, even once, you cannot be with God. Your life will end in death and the suffering of separation from God in hell. That’s the law that we are under. That’s the law that Jesus willingly put himself under.

Since we so often and so seriously break the law, Jesus had come and fulfill it for us. Essentially, Jesus volunteered and said, “I’ll serve in their place! I’ll do their chores for them! I’ll take their punishment for them!” And justice answered, “that’s fine – as long as the law gets kept and the payment is made.” So what you are looking at when you look in the manger is the perfect child who come to be a better you. A child without sin. A child perfectly in harmony with God’s law.

Christmas gives us a chance to remember that Jesus didn’t just die on the cross for us. Jesus’ death is payment for what we’ve done wrong, and it is critically important, but his death is only half of what he had to do to save us. His perfectly lived life is just as important. He did the holy things that we have not done. He loved and obeyed perfectly in all the ways we don’t. And the result is that we now have the credit on our account to stand before God with the law fulfilled. Jesus’ death, and his life, make all the difference because it means that we are no longer slaves to sin, but sons of God.

You’ll sometimes here people talk about humanity as a brotherhood. Or they’ll describe people as all being children of God. But did you know that the Bible never uses that term for anyone but believers? By nature we are sons of Satan. Enemies of God, the Bible even says. But in faith, by the work of Jesus, that changes. In fact, Paul says plainly here that we aren’t just any children, we receive “the full rights of sons.” In Paul’s time the sons were the heirs. They were the ones to get all the blessings, all the benefits. Think about it – we could be happy just to be a servant in God’s house. To be there and bask in his glory. To see him every day and catch his eye from time to time. That would be enough, but God gives us so much more. Through Jesus, he picks us up off the street and adopts us as his own. Dearly loved children of a perfect Father.

A perfect father. A good father gives up everything for his children. A good father listens and loves and protects and provides. A good father always puts his children’s interests ahead of his own and gives them rules and guidance to bless them as they grow. Some of us have had good fathers. Others maybe not. But we have one perfect Father. One who always listens, always protects. One who acts for the good of his children. One who guides and disciplines in love. This is what we have because of the child in the manger. We aren’t just slaves in God’s household – working for a benefit or to pay off a debt. We are sons and heirs of the promise of heaven! God has made us a part of the family! And so think of the joy behind Paul’s words here, “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”

As we begin a new year next week, maybe it’s time for you to think of your relationship with God in a new way. God is not your master. Your relationship with him isn’t a business transaction where you do what he wants and then he’ll stay off your back. He’s not going to abandon you if you fail to do the right thing – just as a good father wouldn’t abandon his kids if they made a mistake. No, instead of calling him, “sir” or “master,” he invites us to call him “dear father, abba” We are children, not slaves. Our works for him, our love for him, are not forced by command, but flow from thankful love.

While our works don’t raise or keep our status with the Father, our response to his love does tell him something. If your child never shows love or says thanks, if they don’t follow your rules or guidance, do you know their love? Do you see it? If they selfishly take all you give and show nothing in return do they truly honor you and thank you? God calls us to serve and honor him with our lives. To praise him with all we do. But brothers and sisters, do it as a child thanking a loving father, not as a servant obeying a master. Our relationship with God is more full of love than you ever imagined. Our place in his heart is more central than you ever hoped. Let his Spirit rule in your heart in response.

That’s what this child in the manger came for. To live, and die, so that we can be part of his family. God made man, so that we can be with God as his children. So I guess maybe Christmas is really for kids after all. The one child, come to earth to make us children of God. May God bless you with a merry Christmas and a heart of faith. Amen.

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