Message: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18
Friends, we’ve got this in between Sunday. Jesus is born. The wise men are on their way. The gospels tell us other events as well. Luke’s gospel writes of Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus to our Lord with a visit to the temple. There his name is made Holy. In Matthew’s gospel Joseph and Mary are getting ready to escape to Egypt as the threat of Herod is truly compromising the life of their newborn son. John’s gospel writes of the coming of the true light of the world shining upon all people, the Word made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. Mark’s gospel remains silent until Jesus is well into adulthood. Next week we’ll greet the wise men and give thanks for gift of the Christ child made known to all – not some, but to All, with the feast of Epiphany. But, this week we are blessed with this in between Sunday to just explore a little bit into Christ, born among us to bring us freedom.
The designers of the lectionary have given us several options for readings this in between Sunday. But, it seems that Galatians is tagged with the other readings throughout the lectionary options. So, today, on this in between Sunday, let’s do something a little bit different. We’re just going to look at the book of Galatians for a short while.
Often referred to as the Bill of Rights of the Christian Life, let’s learn what the book of Galatians is teaching us about the freedom given to us through the birth of our Savior. Three points Paul makes to the church at Galatia: Freedom in Christ; Gifts in the Holy Spirit; and The Cross as our New Creation.
The church of Galatia, now modern day Turkey, was founded by Paul while his church planting missionary journeys about the middle of the first century. The Galatian Churches are largely not Jewish Christians. Paul is called specifically to minister to the Gentiles, non-Jews, those folks who are not circumcised signifying their descendancy to the great patriarch Abraham; those who have not adhered to the ancient practice of following the Law of Moses as given by God and have come to know Christ.
Now Paul has gotten word that there are some Jewish-Christian missionaries influencing the churches in Galatia insisting that the Gentiles must be circumcised as according to Jewish Law in order to be fully included in a new life in Christ. In other words, the well- meaning missionaries are preaching first you have to become Jewish before you can be a Christian. Paul is mad. Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t matter in Jesus Christ, but grace and faith does. Paul writes to the churches, “you foolish Galatians! Who put a spell on you?”
First point, FREEDOM – (chapter 3 – Freedom). Proclaiming our freedom in Christ, Paul defends the “truth of the gospel”. Initially, Paul is sympathetic with the disruptive missionaries. He understands the importance of the Mosaic Law. God’s people, when first led by patriarchs Abraham and Moses were like little children, growing in the faith. So God gave his people the Law as a discipline, a way of life to practice and obey that they would know God. Then, as God’s people grew from obedience to the Law through Patriarchs, Prophets, and Kings, God would come to them as one of them in the person of Jesus Christ.
Paul writes to clarify, “before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law.” But, faith, revealed us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that we are no longer are under the custodianship of the law. Rather, Christ’s faith in us frees us to be faithful. Because of faith we live a just, right relationship with God in Christ.
More importantly, ALL of us, not some, are made free in Christ. In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. ALL are made children of God, ALL are descendants of Abraham. We are all in one, equal relationship with Christ, made free.
Second point, GIFTS – (chapter 5 – Gifts) Paul writes, with our freedom in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, God gives us gifts, like fruits of an orchard: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and we inherit the gift of living God’s way. What happens when we live God’s way? As a child of God in Christ, belonging to Christ, we’re called to use these gifts.
Use love and joy to express our affection for one another and an exuberance for life. Show peace and patience as a willingness to serenely stick through the tough stuff. Act in goodness and faithfulness believing the basic holiness in all things. Lead with gentleness and self-control rather than forcefully insisting on a certain way. Use our gifts creatively, forgivingly, living always in response to the freedom God in Christ grants us. At the right time, Paul writes to the troubled churches, harvest a good crop; a true, everlasting life in Christ.
Final point: NEW CREATION – (chapter 6 – changed by the cross) Paul writes, the cross of Christ changes us forever and for all time. We learn from the misguided missionaries that there is the way of the culture and the way of the cross. Culture and Cross do not always comply.
The cross is not an easy path to take. Walking the way of the cross can often mean we’re turning away from the culture; leaving behind the way of an old system for a NEW CREATION in Christ. The missionaries trying to influence the Galatian churches, aim to disregard the status of the new Christians now equipped with the Holy Spirit. Paul spews anger at these disruptors, as they boast of following a path that takes the easy road, adhering only to a culture of convenience and to those laws that work in their favor.
He goes on to write, in LARGE LETTERS, in response to their boasting, that God forbid he boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. For it is courageously carrying the cross that crucifies Christ to us and us to Christ. Paul writes, may peace and mercy be upon whoever chooses to follow the way of the cross that sets us free into a new culture, a NEW CREATION in Christ.
It seems that Paul’s letter not only makes an impact on the churches of Galatia in the first century. Paul’s letter has become known as the Charter of Christian Liberty. Some fifteen hundred years later reformer Martin Luther said of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “The epistle to the Galatians is my epistle. To it I am as it were in wedlock.” Released from bondage into freedom in Christ, that we are made right with God through faith, not works, Galatians fueled the Protestant Reformation, setting sparks for the English Reformation, the formation of the Anglican Church and eventually our tradition today as the Episcopal Church.
The New Year is upon us. Typically, we make New Year’s resolutions; ways we can improve ourselves throughout the next year; changes we need to make. Could it be that following Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a resolution we take on? Paul is doing his best to persuade the newly formed Church to live by the Gospel. Be faithful to the Gospel. Why? Because the Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ who was and is faithful to us. In Jesus’ faithfulness to us he grants us freedom that we may live in a right relationship with God. The Law doesn’t make us righteous. Jesus Christ, in his life, death and resurrection, for us, make us righteous. This is God’s gift to us in the Christ child born among us: the freedom of God’s abounding love given to us in Christ.
Galatians, a treatise written by a faithful apostle, passionate about the Christian faith: to tell us that we are made free, not through works in the Law but faith in God in Christ’s saving grace; our Christ who sends us the Holy Spirit with fruits of the Spirit to guide us in a way of living a Christ like life; and who because of his death upon the Cross presents for us a NEW CREATION of freedom in the faith and love of Christ. This is our little romp through our Bill of Rights for the Christian Faith. May your New Year’s resolutions bring you closer to Christ! Happy New Year good friends!