By Paul Koch –
So here we are once again standing at that strange moment in the year when we are going to turn the page on the calendar. Tonight, at the ringing of midnight we will welcome in the year 2018 and say goodbye to 2017. There will be celebrations around the globe as different cultures mark the passing of time in their own way. Some will be at late night parties with friends and family, some will gather in big cities and countdown the final moments with total strangers. I, for one, look forward to a champagne toast and a kiss from my bride as we ring in the new year. One of the great things about New Year’s Eve is it’s a rare moment when we stop and consider the passing of time. We turn our attention to the years that have already gone by and the pondering of how many years we may have left. Amid the parties and the celebrations there is a real attempt on this night to reflect on our use of time.
When we do this, when we allow ourselves to be a little more introspective, when we take stock of our use of time, we begin to do strange things like make resolutions. We measure out our past and see things that we do not like about our use of time. We see the opportunities that we wasted, the friendships that we’ve ignored, and the adventures we passed on. Perhaps we look at our waistline and regret the lack of exercise and number of cookies we’ve eaten. The new year, then, spans before us as a blank slate that we can fill with whatever we want. There we put our hopes and dreams and we resolve to take certain steps to achieve those things. We know, of course, that it won’t be easy. I mean we struggled to get through last year and this year we will be doing it a little older and little more worn down, a little slower.
So, when we step back and take note of time and when we take stock, we are faced with both regrets and frustrations on the one hand, and hopes and dreams on the other. We try and use time to our advantage, but it isn’t all that easy to do. However, our Lord, the Creator of the heavens and earth, He too uses time. He is the One who established time itself, putting in place the sun, moon and stars to mark the seasons and the passage of time. His use of time is purposeful and intentional. It isn’t marked with regrets or failed resolutions. No, He uses time to achieve exactly what He sets out to achieve. And so we read, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.” (Gal. 4:4-5) At the right time, the perfect time, our Lord was born of Mary in the little town of Bethlehem all those years ago.
That point in time rises above all others. It is the full point, the right point, to which we look back now as the children of God. Now God’s children have always had this strange place in the flow of time. We are a people who move forward in time but always look backwards. That is, we journey through the changing in the calendar years driven and secured by something that happened a long time ago. This isn’t new to us in the Christian church, ancient Israel did the same thing. As you read the texts of the Old Testament time and again you find them looking back to the great day of their deliverance. Moses says to the people, “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Ex. 13:3) Every time they faced trial and suffering and disappointment they would look back and remember how God had delivered them. They had yearly fests that recalled this great working of God. In fact, they had a weekly gathering in which they would remember what God had done. By remembering, they had the courage and strength to go forward.
Today, we do the same thing. We head off into the new year with a certain confidence and boldness because we look back and we know what it is that our Lord has already done for us. Just as God delivered His ancient people from slavery in Egypt, so He has delivered you from slavery. Just as they looked back to the great Passover of God, so we look back to the life, death and resurrection of our Lord. For there in that gift is your freedom. He was born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law. The law of God was your prison house. It condemned you and showed you your sins over and again. There was no hope in the law, no way out of it for you. Try as you might, no matter how diligently you work to navigate through the law of God you always find that you come up short. You do not do what you are supposed to do. You do not love others as you should or worship as you ought. No, you fail. You are labeled guilty by the law, worthy of eternal death. But in the fulness of time one came to set you free from this. Free, from sin, death and the power of the evil one.
Now we learn that God sent His Son to redeem those under the law, “so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:5) We are alerted here to something wonderful and surprising about our life of faith. This looking back has a real time present-day component to it. The work of Christ setting sinners free has resulted in your adoption. To be adopted by God is a complete game changer. It is the move from slavery to sonship, from an outcast to an heir of the kingdom of God. This is the language that flows through the Lord’s prayer. We pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” As sons we call upon our God as our Father. As sons we ask not just for a helping hand when times get tough, but we ask for the whole kingdom of God.
So, something dramatic and life changing has been done to you. You, who were enslaved to sin, bound up in your own ideals and passions and desires, have been set free. You have been adopted as the children of God. Adoption has nothing to do with your effort or work or inherit value, but the love of another. And the one who loved you enough to adopt you is the almighty God and the cost of that adoption was given in the fulness of time. But that adoption comes to you today. It comes to you in a Word that is proclaimed into your ears. It comes in a Word that declares to you this day that you are forgiven and free from the bondage of sin. The adoption comes when you gather around the table of the Lord and feed upon his body and blood in, with, and under bread and wine for the forgiveness of sin.
This morning at Grace Lutheran Church we gathered around the baptismal font and witnessed the adoption of another child into the family of God. This was the fullness of time for this child. All that had gone before, all the great and powerful works of God funneled down to this moment. The looking back to God’s great provision at Passover, the looking back to God’s gift of love upon Calvary’s cross, all of it leads to this moment. It leads to this adoption as God sent His Spirit bound up in Word and water to wash and declare this one to be a child of the Most-High. Here is His freedom. Here new life began.
As we turn the calendar over and notice the passage of time, we ought to marvel at the incredible working of our God. His use of time is not full of regrets or resolutions for new things. No, He uses each moment for His own purposes. The baptizing of a child, the absolution you hear proclaimed into your ears and hearts, the supper that you partake of is not accidental. No, this is the working of a God who has chosen you. He hasn’t waited for your decision. He hasn’t waited for you to figure it all out and get your life cleaned up. No, He has come to you today. He has come in water and word and bread and wine to set you free and adopt you as His own. This is the fullness of time. This is the day of your salvation and hope.
And the children of God are not speechless. They are not the unseen and unheard masses. No, you now cry out “Abba! Father!” The Spirit dwells in your hearts and turns you toward your neighbor to speak what you have heard, to love as you have been loved and to forgive as you have been forgiven. Let us go into 2018 with the strength and courage of the sons of God. Let us go to proclaim the fullness of time into the lives of those we know and love. Looking back, let us go forward with boldness.