The birth of Jesus is a great boon to the travel industry. Highways, planes, buses and trains are full as off to grandmother’s house we go. When we were living in The Pas, we usually stayed there until we’d had our Christmas Day service and then we left to travel the 9 hours home to spend a few days with family. Many of you will be traveling today and tomorrow. Many in the congregation are not here because they have traveled to spend Christmas elsewhere.
But travel related to Christmas is not new. If we think of the Christmas story, we see a lot of journey's taking place. The first Christmas journey was the journey of Mary to see Elizabeth after she learned that she was pregnant. The trip Mary and Joseph took from Nazareth to Bethlehem and that of the Magi who came west are both depicted frequently in Christmas presentations. When Herod tried to kill the infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph had to travel to Egypt and then years later back again..... But no journey was as great as when God made the journey all the way from heaven to earth. The greatest Christmas journey ever made was the journey of the incarnation.
We have a record of that journey in Galatians 4:3-7.
One of the questions we ask when we are planning a journey is, "when will we leave?" We don't want to leave too early, and we don't want to leave too late. We look for just the right time to leave.
Our text indicates that the journey of the incarnation took place "in the fullness of time." The right time for the journey was the time which God determined. In retrospect, we can see why it was just the right time.
History had arrived at a time when there was a general expectation of an imminent Messianic announcement. Even Josephus, the Jewish historian writes about it. The expectation that God would break into history was evident in the world and that is part of what made it the right time. God had announced Messiah’s coming for many years and now, He needed to say nothing more because men were ready for His coming by many indications and preparations.
Ever since the fall, sin had increased in the world. God had sent the law to show people their sin. The law was there so that people would become keenly aware of their infirmities. Now God's testing time under the law was over and that is why this was the fullness of time.
The Roman empire had created travel routes throughout the Middle East and southern Europe. The Greek language was well known in all these places. Therefore, trade and travel were more advantageous to the transmission of the gospel than at any other time in history.
Humanity had arrived at the completion of the old era, it was time for the dawn of the new.
And so when the right time had come, the journey was made. Galatians 4:4 says, “God sent his son” into the world, “born of a woman.”
If we were to travel from some plush office at the top of the Richardson building to a cardboard box dwelling of a street person, we would not understand the change Jesus experienced when he came from heaven to earth.
If we were to make a journey from the top of Sulphur Mt. in Banff, viewing the beauty of the valley and surrounding peaks, to the bottom of the garbage dump in Mexico City, we would still not grasp the distance God came when he entered this world.
Revelation 4 gives us a scene of heaven, where Jesus came from. We read,
"At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.... A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne....From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing.... Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back.... Day and night they never stop saying: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come."
If we can at all understand what that is like and then understand what it is like to die on a cross, then we can begin to understand what the incarnation was all about, what it meant that God left heaven to die in shame and agony on a cross. That was the journey of the incarnation. That was the journey Jesus took.
Charles Spurgeon writes:
“Infinite, and an infant.
Eternal, and yet born of a woman.
Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman's breast.
Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother's arms.
King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph.
Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter's despised son.”
What a Christmas journey that was!
When we go on a journey, we don’t usually just get in the car and travel somewhere without a reason. The reason may be as simple as going for a ride, or it may have the purpose of a visit, a vacation or to get to a destination.
When we read that “God sent His Son” we recognize purpose. What was the purpose of the journey of the incarnation?
Some of you are leaving shortly on a journey to Florida in order to work with MDS in disaster relief. Several hurricanes battered Florida this past fall and left the state in a mess. Your purpose in this journey is to help improve a disastrous situation.
The purpose of Jesus’ journey was similar. The surrounding text informs us that conditions for people were and are disastrous. The particular statement which alerts us to the disaster is verse 3 which says, “we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world.”
We understand that slavery is a disaster because a slave has no options, no freedom. Slavery is bondage.
But what is it we were in slavery to? The text talks about the “basic principles of the world.” The word “basic principles” means ABC’s. What are the ABC’s of human existence in this world?
Romans describes how things are in this world. Romans 1:20,21 speaks about how we “neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks.” Romans 2:8 further describes our lost condition with the words, “self seeking…reject the truth…follow evil.” Romans 2:23 adds a comment about those who are bound up in legalism when it says, “you who brag about the law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law?” The concluding summary is given in Romans 3:10 “no one righteous…”
The destructive reality of human life, the ABC’s of human reality is that our life is self centred, self indulgent, self deprecating and seeking a self salvation - all of it hopeless and empty.
Charles Spurgeon writes about a picture of such bondage, “The surgeon of a regiment in India relates the following incident: "A soldier rushed into the tent to inform me that one of his comrades was drowning in a pond, and nobody could save him because of the dense weeds which covered the surface. We found the poor fellow manfully attempting to extricate himself from the meshes of rope-like grass that encircled his body. But the more he laboured to escape, the more firmly they became coiled around his limbs. At last the floating plants closed in and left no trace of the disaster. After some delay, a raft was made and we put off to the spot. A native dived, holding on by a stake, and brought the body to the surface. I shall never forget the expression on the dead man's face--the clenched teeth and fearful distortion of the countenance, while coils of long trailing weeds clung to his body and limbs, the muscles of which stood out stiff and rigid, while his hands grasped thick masses, showing how bravely he had struggled for life."
Spurgeon comments, “This heart-rending picture is a terribly accurate representation of a man with a conscience alarmed by remorse, struggling with sinful habits but finding them too strong for him. Divine grace can save the wretch from his unhappy condition, but if he be destitute of that, his remorseful agonies will only make him more hopelessly the slave of his passions.”
But it is exactly to this situation that Jesus came into this world. The Christmas story is a story of changing a desperate situation to one of hope and possibility and life. God sent his son to clean up a mess.
When we were in Columbus, Mississippi, working with MDS, we were asked to work on a house that was a total disaster. When they first looked at it, they suggested that it was beyond repair, that it should be destroyed and a new house built. But the lady who owned the property did not have enough money to build a new one and so MDS looked at it again to see what could be done. In the week we were there, we worked hard and by the time we left, the house had possibilities. It had walls and although it still did not have a roof, the rafters were constructed. I have always wanted to see what the house finally looked like after it was all done, but I never have. I don’t know what changes took place and how much the house changed. Was disaster changed to hope and something useful?
The same mystery does not exist about the disaster Jesus came into this earth to fix. There are four statements in these verses which tell us exactly what has changed and what things looks like because Jesus came.
A few weeks ago, I left downtown Winnipeg at about 5:30 in the evening. I headed for one bridge and traffic was backed way up, so I went to another bridge and found the same problem. My hope of getting home quickly was gone, I was in a traffic jam and would have to wait. I drove two car lengths and had to stop and wait. It seemed like I would be stuck forever. When I finally got past the bottle neck, it was so good to finally be able to drive, I felt free.
If slavery to sin feels like a forever traffic jam, redemption feels like getting beyond the bottle neck. Redemption is freedom from slavery. The passage says that Jesus came to earth to redeem us from the desperate situation described in verse 3. It assures us that we are “no longer a slave.”
Redemption is the language of the marketplace. If someone was a slave, a person who had compassion on that slave could buy him out of slavery by paying the price for him and then releasing him. That is what Jesus did. We were slaves to the elementary principles of the world. Because Jesus died on the cross, He has purchased us and has released us from the destruction of sin and the power of death.
Because Jesus came, we are no longer bound to sin. We are no longer trapped in hopelessness. We are no longer in bondage to death. What does that freedom mean to you?
Not only are we redeemed from slavery, we are also redeemed for a new relationship. Galatians 4:5 reminds us that we “receive the full rights of sons and daughters.” Galatians 4:7 encourages that we are “no longer a slave, but a son.”
Christmas is about The Son coming to earth as a child so that we could become a son or daughter of God.
One writer says, “In Paul’s world, adoption was ordinarily of young adult males of good character to become heirs and maintain the family name of the childless rich. Paul, however, proclaims God’s gracious adoption of persons of bad character to become sons of God.”
Russian law allows foreign nationals to adopt Russian orphans. But there is a catch: only children with birth defects and incurable medical conditions may be adopted. Adopting Olya is the story of one such adoption.
Four-year-old Olya has lived in a Children’s Home in Chelyabinsk all her life. She has been diagnosed with a vague "developmental disability." When we meet her, she shows us a little photo album: "This is Daddy Sam, this is Mom, this is my sister 'Abecca, this is my kitty."
Olya knows her future American family only from these photos. Sam and Meredith know her only from a videotape. At 3 o'clock in the morning, they arrive in Chelyabinsk. There is a lot of paperwork to be done and a medical examination to be passed. Two middlemen, former Soviet bureaucrats, will be smoothing the way with the city administration.
A few hours after their plane lands, Sam and Meredith are at the orphanage with gifts for Olya, two Californians in a backwoods Russian orphanage.
Olya becomes their child and eventually improves developmentally and rejoices to be part of this new family. This couple spent a lot of time and money in order to adopt Olya as their child.
When we think about what was spent, that God came from heaven to earth to be able to say about you and me, “this is my son, my daughter” how wonderful to belong in this way. We are loved supremely, we are loved sacrificially by God. Because of the journey of the incarnation, we are children of God. No matter what others may think of us, its God's opinion that counts, and God calls us his children.
Some of you have received a new piece of equipment or a new appliance for Christmas, perhaps a camera, a DVD player or a coffee maker or something. If you have never used such an item before, it is a little frustrating to figure out how it works. Of course, you have the manual, but they are sometimes hard to understand and it takes a lot of work to read them. It is much easier if someone who knows how to use it shows you how.
With sonship comes the personal presence of God. Galatians 4:6 says that “God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.” One writer says, “The purpose of the Son’s mission was to give the rights of sonship; the purpose of the Spirit’s mission, to give the power of using them.”
But having the Spirit means so much more than simply God present with us. The text tells us that the Spirit calls out “Abba, Father.” That speaks of the intimacy of a relationship with God. Do we grasp the wonder of that relationship? This relationship means that we are under God’s care and discipline. It means that we know that we have a Father in heaven who is also present with us. We can pray to Him and trust Him everywhere we go. It means that we have a loving relationship with a Father who cares for us.
Because we are sons, we also have a great inheritance. By God’s grace, we find in verse 7 that “God has made you also an heir.”
There is a commercial on TV of a couple who win a lottery. We see the couple standing on a dock by a beautiful lake. They hand each of two adult children the keys to a cottage on the lake. It is a beautiful picture of sharing and of giving a special inheritance to children. It contains images of being together and enjoying a great life.
There is a picture that is almost the same, but much better in the Bible. It is not a wish or a dream built on the back of the poverty of others as a lottery is. It is a picture which guarantees a “house on the lake” in the presence of our Father for all eternity. John 14:2 says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”
That is the inheritance which is ours because the Father sent His Son so that we could be His sons and daughters.
Sometimes when I visit someone in the hospital in Winnipeg they will ask me, "did you come all the way just to see me?" People appreciate it if we make a journey for their sake. They realize that it demonstrates our love for them.
"It was a long distance from heaven to Calvary, but Jesus made the journey in utter unselfishness and love." When we realize how the journey was planned for just the right time, when we realize the great distance of the journey, when we realize the great purpose it came to accomplish and when we realize that it has resulted in our being daughters and sons of God, we can rejoice to know that God loves us very much.
In our celebrations this Christmas, may we rest in his love, rejoicing in the journey of the incarnation and all that it means.