By Paul Koch –
The story of Christmas moves pretty fast. Since the beginning of November all the way up until Christmas morning you could find Christmas music on the radio, find the decorations and lights just about everywhere you shop, and people would greet you by saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”. Then, like the sudden closing of a good book, it all just stops. Everything quickly shifts back to normal. In fact, though there is a great amount of buildup in the churches around Christmas time, we also move quite quickly from that silent, holy night. For the story of our Lord’s birth must move on. He didn’t come to just make a big splash, to be announced by angels and be born of a virgin. No, He came for a purpose and the text of Scripture moves us quickly along to get to the heart of why He came.
So, no sooner do we hear the great story of His arrival in the little town of Bethlehem then we hear about His circumcision on the eighth day. The eight day is the first day of a new week and the first day of a radical reordering of God’s gifts among believers. This infant child receives the sign of the covenant, marking Him as a child of God, just as all God’s sons had been marked since the days of Abraham. Here God submits to His own law as His blood is spilled for the first time. In the moment that the blood is shed by the act of circumcision, He is given the name told by the angel: Jesus. This is the faithful Son of God. He is the perfectly obedient child who, though He had no sin in and of himself, takes up the law as He bleeds on the eighth day. Here we are reminded of what He had come to do and what Christmas morning was all about. For we recall that the name Jesus means, “God is Salvation.” This Jesus will save His people from their sins.
Highlighted in this act of circumcision is the relationship between humanity and the law of God. This relationship has never been one that is free from complications and failures. As the story of Christmas moves quickly forward, we find that Jesus takes up the law again and again. He succeeds where we have failed. Perhaps we don’t often take note of this. Jesus doesn’t pull people away from the law. He doesn’t lead them off into the wilderness like some sort of New Age prophet offering something outside of the commands and decrees of God. No, He drives straight into the law. He returns again and again to Jerusalem, to the temple, to the holy observances, to be the faithful son in whom God is well pleased. And that journey begins on the eight day, with the shedding of His innocent blood.
Paul’s words to the Galatians are helpful to understand our relationship to the law and what it means for you that Christ has come as one born under the law. In chapter 3 Paul says, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” He goes on to speak about the law as a sort of guardian. It was a gift from God given to be our protector and our guide. The law reveals to us the way of holiness. We see the realities of this work of the law in our world today. There are still courthouses around this country that feature, either in a small framed picture on the wall or sometimes in a massive statue out front, the 10 Commandments. Those commandments, especially the second table of the law about not murdering or stealing or committing adultery, these make up the fabric of how we live among our fellow man. God’s law continues to punish the evildoer and reward the good in our society.
And yet, while that law gives protection and guidance to our civil affairs, it does something very different to our spiritual lives. While we may feel the sting of the law when we get pulled over for speeding and must pay a hefty fine, or find ourselves in a lawsuit over shady deals, we know that there is a way to pay back for our infraction and continue on with our lives as a law-abiding citizen. But when the law condemns your thoughts, your desires, and your words, then the way to restitution isn’t as clear. Because of your sin the guide of the law quickly becomes a jailer because the law reveals that you are bound up in yourselves. You are unable to do the good you want to do and always doing what you know that you should not do. Lust and greed and hatred and envy swirl around within your hearts and minds, and you find yourselves in a prison that leads to condemnation.
The law weighs upon you and begins to beat you down. It never allows your sin to hide away from its prying eyes. It searches sin out brings it into crystal clarity. Oh, you may say, “but look at this great thing I’ve done! Look at how I have volunteered and given of myself.” But the law will say, “I see your pride and arrogance”. And you may say, “I’ve tried, I’ve done all I could. I’ve given it my best shot.” So the law declares, “I don’t care. I don’t care how hard you worked. I care only for perfection! I demand that you are holy as the Lord your God is holy.” So the guardianship of the law feels like a mighty hammer beating you down again and again, crushing you with each and every blow, even as it holds out the hope that next time you might get it right.
You are bound. You are unable to find a way out of the prison house of the law. That is, until Christ came. Until that child born of Mary would do what had never been done before. Until one would live perfectly under the demands of the law, from His circumcision through His baptism to His death and resurrection, He would not waver to be the faithful Son of God in all things. St. Paul says, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” What a glorious and beautiful word we find in this text. From the prison house, we find life and hope and promise of something more. From the judgment and the decrees of death we find strength and light. And it all comes flooding to us in that little word “until.” The law was our guardian “until” Christ came. Until something new came to set you free.
This “until” is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the good news that He has come for you, come to deliver you, come to save each and every one of you. The protection and guardianship of the law were necessary until the coming of Christ. Here the prison doors are blasted open. Here the chains of your sin and bondage come falling around you. For you are justified. You are declared righteous. You are given all the promises of life everlasting, not because you kept the law, but through faith alone in Christ alone who delivers forgiveness of all your sin. As Paul says to you this day, “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
How does this happen? How are we so suddenly removed from the prison house of sin and death and eternal condemnation and brought to freedom and light and everlasting life? Well, quite simply – baptism. Baptism, that simple washing of water and Word, there you put on Christ. There you received a circumcision made without hands and were set apart as an heir of all the blessings of God. There in those waters, outside of your own work or effort, you were clothed in Christ. Clothed in His gifts, clothed in His righteousness and blessing. Now then, you are given freedom that the law could never provide. Now you have confidence in the promises of God.
So Paul continues, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” The people of God were set apart and marked by the sign of circumcision and in Christ it is all given freely to you. You then, through baptism, have received the blessings of the one who first bled at 8 days old and would bleed it all out some 30 years later on a cross outside of Jerusalem. Which means you are given a bold new life. You are bearers of a promise that the world desperately needs to hear. You now carry the light into the darkness to set the captives free, for you know about the “until.” You know the way out of the prison house.
Bear the light of hope and forgiveness. Tell them all about true freedom by grace through faith in Christ alone.