1st Sunday after Christmas
December 27, 2020
“The Fullness of Time”
Grace and peace to you in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. Today the sermon is based on the Epistle Lesson read earlier from Galatians 4.
My Dear Friends in Christ,
Time. There is a lot of emphasis on time these days. People want time to run out on 2020, which it will do later this week. What kind of time will it take to get the COVID vaccine out and the population vaccinated? When will we get a stimulus check, and how much? $600 per American with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to other countries? I’m no politician, but even I know that’s no way to run a railroad. Why send all that aid to Oman and Burma when people in Omaha and Birmingham are still reeling from COVID-19?
I know that the tendency by now is to think that the time for Christmas is over. In so many people’s eyes and hearts, homes and lives, Christmas time is over. But here’s the thing. Christmas is not just a day. It is also a season – a time – in the Church. Christmas as a church season lasts for 12 days (we don’t even get THAT song anymore). The time of the Christmas season extends from December 25th until January 5th. On January 6th a new season begins; the season of Epiphany. Many people in the church, and most definitely outside the church, are of the opinion that the time of Christmas is over. That’s not true, and today I would have us consider “time.” What is the “fullness of time,” and what does that mean to you this Christmas season?
St. Paul is a man who knew the beautiful and, at the same time, cruel march of time. Paul wrote Galatians somewhere between 51-53 AD. It is a letter written to demonstrate that faith in Christ changes a person here and now but also eternally…for all time. Paul had been among the Galatian Christians, but since his departure they had fallen away from the true Gospel. Paul’s duties would not allow him the time to return physically, so he wrote his letter to them.
In today’s lesson, Paul writes “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV). At a specific and appropriate time in human history, God acted to fulfill His eternal purpose. All of God’s eternal, cosmic, divine tumblers all had to come together in the “fullness” of time to fulfill the salvation narrative/plan.
In this world there is a time for everything: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV). But why then? Why not today when our Lord’s birth could have been fully documented and photographed by journalists and played endlessly on YouTube? Why entrust the proclamation of the birth of this world’s Savior to shepherds and not CNN or endless postings on social media? Could it be that had it occurred another way, that is, that involved technological advancements, that faith itself would no longer matter? “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). In the fullness of time – God’s time – He acted to bring forth His salvation so that you might hear the Word (the testimony HE provides) and believe, which now changes your life at this time and for all time…eternally.
When I was growing up, my parents listened to KFAB radio out of Omaha. KFAB used to broadcast segments done by radio legend Paul Harvey, who signed off each program the same – “Paul Harvey…good day.” He once told a story that helps explain why and when God does the things He does. It goes like this.
There once was a kind decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation of Jesus stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas time. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus story, about God coming to Earth as a man, so he chose not to worship or live as a Christian.
“I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church on Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the candle light service.
Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. The man wasn’t worried; the church was close by so his family wouldn’t be in danger. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his new Lee Child book. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…Then another, and then another. At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large picture window in the front of the house.
Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children kept their horse. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, boots, gloves, and tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bird food, sprinkled it on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the barn. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the food, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms. Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.
And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me. That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.
“If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and walk with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid; that it’s okay to trust me and follow me. Then I could show them the way to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand and trust me and follow me.”
At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells – “O Come, All Ye Faithful” – listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And that’s when the true meaning and magnitude of Christmas sank into his heart and he sank to his knees in the snow.
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” That is what time is all about; how God in time – the fullness of time – works to save you. He did it 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. He will come again to bring about final completion of time. And He will work mightily and wonderfully in the fullness of your lifetime as well.
Happy New Year everyone. Good day! Amen.