The Sunday after Christmas

David G. Phillips

Cherry Hill, Petite Riviere, LaHave  December 31, AD 2006

Galatians 4:1-7     Matthew 1:18-25


"When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth the Son, born of a woman,

…that we might receive adoption as sons...

And if sons then heirs."


In the Church we continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus for twelve days - from Christmas day until the Epiphany next Saturday on January 6.  It is a time set aside by the Church for us to ponder the mystery of God's great condescension towards us.  As we think of the beginning of a new calendar year – of new beginnings, of new resolutions, it is most appropriate that we do this thinking upon our Lord’s miraculous birth.


On Christmas Eve we read about the divine origins of Jesus Christ in the Gospel reading from John.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.


In this morning's Gospel reading from Matthew, we hear about the earthly circumstances of the birth of Jesus.  Our Gospel begins – The birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise.  We heard that Mary was espoused, that is engaged to Joseph, and that before they were married, Mary was found with child of the Holy Ghost.  In the recent movie, The Nativity, it was made clearer to my mind, the circumstances of that finding out.  According to Luke’s Gospel, when Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that this would take place she was also told that Elizabeth, her aunt was with child, so she went to stay with her until Elizabeth gave birth.  Then, Mary, a young woman, returns to the village of her family, six months pregnant.  We can imagine the shock and the scandal to Joseph, to whom she was espoused, to her family and to her whole village, when they saw her. 


Under the Law, Mary could have been stoned to death for apparently committing adultery.  But Joseph, showing mercy, decides not to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.  We can imagine Joseph’s great disappointment, even anger at her apparent unfaithfulness. 


But Joseph, has this revealed to him in a dream by an angel, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.  [in the recent movie, it is the interruption of his dream where the whole town is gathered around to stone her and Joseph is given a stone to start her execution - the angel stands in his way]


Matthew wants us to understand in the Gospel that the assertion of Mary’s virginity is the assertion that this is the fulfillment of the prophesy of Isaiah, that God would bring forth a miraculous sign in our midst of a new salvation for Israel – Behold a Virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son. [7:14]  It is also the fulfillment of the prophecy by Jeremiah, the LORD hath created a new thing in the earth, A woman shall compass [or bring forth] a man. [31, 22]  And we could also look all the way back to promise of salvation in Genesis 3 - her seed; it shall bruise thy head [that is, the head of Satan], and thou [Satan] shalt bruise his heel.


The Christ Child is called JESUS, or Joshua in Hebrew, which means Saviour, because he shall save his people from their sins, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us because He is God in our midst, tabernacling among us – here not to condemn us but to save us.


Joseph adopts Jesus, by his trust in the message of an angel, that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.  By his belief in this miraculous birth, Joseph trusts that God is fulfilling the desire really of all peoples, that there might be one born in our midst, one who is like us in every way, that he might sympathize with us, and yet one who is different from us all, born without the heritage of sin that we all find ourselves bound up in and destroyed by [Heb 4:14f].  Jesus is born without that heritage of sin so that He might save us from our sins.  Our Redeemer, the man Christ Jesus, was born of a woman, that he might redeem both men and women, that both sexes might rely upon him, who was of the one and from the other. [Isaac Williams]                   



The counterpart to God taking flesh in our midst and being born of the Virgin Mary, is our new birth of God [John 1:14], by adoption and grace as our Collect puts it [Williams].


In the reading from the letter to the Galatians, St. Paul explains what God is bringing about in us through coming to us and taking our flesh upon Him.  When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth the Son, made of a woman, [not of a man and a woman, but of a woman] made under the law to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons.  The Son of God became man that men and women might become sons of God.


Jesus is the Son of God by nature, but each of us become "sons of God", “little christs”, by grace - that's why Paul uses the term adoption - it is not ours by nature but an added gift of God.  This is not so easy for us to imagine, having grown up so securely within God’s family from our baptism, usually as infants.  There is almost an assumption that we have a right to be children of God by our birth – I hear it sometimes, “we are all children of God” – yes, but not by birth, not by right, but by a special gift of baptism through our faith in Jesus Christ.  God made us, and can do with us whatever He wants.  In Jesus Christ He makes clear to us what He wants – that we may be adopted as sons and daughters through baptism and faith.


To be made sons and daughters means, says St. Paul, thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God, through Christ. 


Being an heir means we are all inheritors of the privileges of being part of the Kingdom of God, that is, inheritors of eternal life and we are all gifted with the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts leading us more and more into that new life in the Kingdom.  There are no gifts on earth that can compare to these gifts that come with being heirs of God, through Christ.


Being adopted as God’s children means we are given increasing freedom and responsibility in the family as we mature in Christ, just as happens when we grow up in an earthly family.  Jesus says, we are no longer servants, but he calls us friends because he lets us know what is the will of our Father – to love, to be truthful, to be merciful, to be generous, to be just, to be kind – He lets us know what is expected of us, and He gives us the power to do it.  [John 15:15]


To say that we are sons of God says something also about the character of this new relationship that we have with God – who is our heavenly Father.  Our obedience to God, walking in His ways, following His commandments, is not out of fear of punishment if we fail, nor is it out of a sense of mere duty to a God as our master, but rather is a response of love to the love that has been first shown to us by Jesus.


Our relations with God are changed, so are our relations with one another.  Being adopted as God’s children means we are a part of a huge family – we are to relate to one another – to humanity in a new way, and especially to those who are in the Universal Church.  The close bonds of earthly kindred – a special loyalty, a certain forbearance and the need of continual forgiveness despite our weaknesses, the mutual care for one another’s material well being should it be needed – that bond in families by blood relation is extended to all who do the will of our heavenly Father.  We can’t just reject one another here, and be rid of those in the Church we disagree with, we will be living with one another for all eternity – we are brothers and sisters by adoption.


In our resolutions this year, let at least one be that we come to think more often and with more gratitude upon this great gift that has been bestowed upon us through the birth and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


Almighty God, who hast made us thy children by adoption and grace, hallow the ties of kindred that we may help, and not hinder, one another in all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in, through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.