Beloved. Today we are at the 7th day of Christmas, the day that “my true love gave to me” the 7 swans A-swimming. According to lore, this is a catechism song with the 7 swans representing the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Although much of the world has already forgotten about Christmas and is focusing on the New Year’s celebrations, we in the Church are still in the midst of the joy and celebration of Jesus’ birth and will do so for the full 12 days of the Christmas season.
In today’s epistle, we have a wonderful summary of the Advent and Christmas season and a look ahead to Lent and Easter. St. Paul writes: But when the set time had fully come [that’s Advent—that’s God preparing the world for the coming of the Savior], God sent his Son to be born of a woman [that’s Christmas—God becoming man, the blessed virgin giving birth to God Himself], so that he would be born under the law [that’s what we remember tomorrow—Jesus’ circumcision as an 8 day old Baby, when He was placed under the Law of God to keep it for us], in order to redeem those under the law [that’s Lent—when by His holy life and His innocent suffering and death Jesus rescued us from sin and death—the just consequences of not obeying God’s holy Law], so that we would be adopted as sons [that’s Easter]. How beautiful are the works of our Lord for our salvation!
Through St. Paul, the Holy Spirit gives a beautiful description in our text of Advent and Christmas: But when the set time had fully come. Christmas didn’t just happen; Jesus wasn’t suddenly dropped from heaven; it wasn’t as if God on a whim decided that now was as good a time as any to come. Instead, it was when the set time had fully come. All throughout the Old Testament times God was working to prepare the world for the coming of its Savior. In today’s Gospel we meet two OT saints, two who were under the law and looking forward to the Promise of God to be fulfilled, to the coming of the Savior. We meet Simeon who is described this way: righteous and devout, waiting for the comfort of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. The Holy Spirit was mightily at work in the OT times bringing people to and keeping them in faith in the coming Savior; and here, we see a special working of the Holy Spirit who not only promised Simeon he would not die until he had seen the Savior but who that day led Simeon to the temple to see the Baby Jesus and revealed to him Which Baby it was. We also meet in the Gospel godly Anna, She did not leave the temple complex, since she was worshipping with fasting and prayers night and day. Standing nearby at that very hour, she gave thanks to the Lord. And, in a reward of grace for her faithfulness, the Holy Spirit also revealed Jesus to her that day. She kept speaking about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. So wonderfully did God work in preparing the world for Jesus’ coming by arranging all the events so Jesus would be born at the right time, and also by preparing hearts to receive Jesus when He would come. As we begin the second half of the Christmas season, let us anew and afresh welcome Jesus’ coming, welcome the proclamation of the angels [Lk. 2.11]: There is born for you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And let us remember: our salvation is the only reason for that first Christmas.
As we ponder that fact a few moments this morning, that our salvation is the only reason for that first Christmas, we will see from our text first what Christmas is—namely, God becoming man; and then we will see that Christmas led to our salvation.
The basic fact of Christmas and what Christmas is, is found in our text: But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son to be born of a woman. It is such a short and simple sentence—God sent his Son to be born of a woman—but one filled with the richest and most amazing content because it tells us exactly Who Jesus is. It tells us that Jesus is the true God: God sent his Son; and, it tells us that although there is one God, there are three Persons: The Father [God], the Son since when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son; and the Holy Spirit, since the following verse tells us God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. Right in those few words of our text, we have the great mysteries of the holy Christian faith: first, the doctrine of the Trinity, that there is only one God but that He is three distinct Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and then, the Son, the Second Person of the holy Trinity became a true human being—all for us and our salvation.
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son. The Father, God almighty, sending His Son means that the Son, by His very nature, must be God—God almighty. The same thing applies to us—any son will be the same nature of his father, that is, both will be human; or to put it differently, the offspring of a dog will always be a dog, not a raccoon. So here: the Son of God will be God. The Holy Triune God has revealed Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the Psalm, St. David records the words of God the Son to God the Father [Psalm 2.7]: The Lord [that is, the Father] has said to Me [the Son], “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.” That’s the eternal Today. The Father is the Father because He is eternally begetting; the Son is the Son because He is eternally begotten. A great mystery—the relation between the Persons of the Trinity—but one we get a bit of a glimpse at.
It was precisely this Son, this eternally begotten Son of God that was sent: But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son. What does it mean that God sent his Son? It means that He was already existing; He was sent when the set time had fully come because He already was; He already existed. You cannot send a letter you haven’t written; you cannot send your daughter to the store if don’t have a daughter. So also here: But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son. God sent His Son—who is also by nature very God and who already existed.
So what is Christmas? It is the eternal God coming into/ stepping into time, into human history: But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son to be born of a woman. Here we also see that other great mystery, the mystery of Christmas—the incarnation, God becoming also a true human being: God sent his Son to be born of a woman. Jesus is both true God, eternally begotten of the Father and also true man born of the Virgin Mary. To be born of the blessed Virgin, means that Jesus is also true man. The angel St. Gabriel simply put it this way when St. Mary asked him how [Luke 1.35]: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. It’s not as if God turned into man; it’s not that man turned into God. Instead, it’s just that by the working of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ human nature, which He would receive from St. Mary, was from the very first moment of its existence received into the Person of the Son of God/ the Second Person of the Trinity. From that moment on into all eternity, the almighty and eternal Son of God would be both true God and true Man. The person of Jesus is both God and man. That’s what Christmas is—God becoming man.
But let us remember not just the fact that God became man—as wonderful and amazing as it is—but let us also remember the why of Christmas/ the why God became man. In short, it’s what we confess in the Creed: for us men and for our salvation. There’s no other reason for that first Christmas than our salvation.
Again our text: But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son to be born of a woman, so that he would be born under the law, in order to redeem those under the law, so that we would be adopted as sons. Christmas is God becoming also true man and coming into our world, entering human history and time for three reasons: one, so that he would be born under the law: two, in order to redeem those under the law; three, so that we would be adopted as sons.
By becoming also true man, Jesus, if you will, entered our prison. By coming to this earth Jesus, as both God and man, could and did place Himself under the holy Law of God for us, that same Law we break day in and day out by our sins; the law that condemns us all to hell by our failing to do it all, perfectly. Jesus placed Himself under the law to fulfill, to obey it perfectly for us. The Law that Jesus fulfilled was the Law given to humanity. Coming into this world, being true man Jesus was subjected to the Law and fulfilled/ kept/ obeyed it—not for Himself because He is the true God, holy and righteous and, as the Lawgiver, above it—but He obeyed it all for us, doing for us what we are unable to do; He obeyed it so that that the divine, holy law of God would be obeyed as God intended, demands.
The glorious thing for us is that Jesus’ obedience is credited to us.
The wonderful thing is that because Jesus is true man, He can truly place Himself under the Law, given by God to people to keep, and keep it for us/ in our place/ as our Substitute. A Person has kept that Law as God demanded and that Person, Jesus, has done it for us. That’s all part of His reason for coming that first Christmas: in order to redeem those under the law.
The joy of Christmas for us now and throughout the year—and what our faith treasures and values is that Jesus, the God-man, placed Himself under the Law for us and obeyed it for us. Faith receives Jesus’ holy keeping of the Law; faith clothes itself with Jesus; God credits Jesus’ holiness to us.
Not only did God lay on Jesus, and Jesus willingly accept, the obligation to keep the Law perfectly for us, but by coming in order to redeem those under the law Jesus also willingly accepted the obligation to bear the punishment of all the people for all the sins we commit. Sin cannot stand before a holy God. He must punish it. But He is also a merciful and gracious God. So God laid on Jesus and Jesus willingly accepted the sins of all people in order to pay the penalty—the wrath of God; and Jesus did that on the cross with His holy suffering and death. Now the wrath of God over all our sins has been poured out on Jesus; His righteous anger is stilled. The thing is, because of Christmas—of God becoming also true man—it’s not just a mere man on the cross suffering any dying. It’s the very God Himself! That’s why Jesus’ sacrifice has such infinite worth—it’s the blood of God Himself; and because Jesus is true man, He is not only our Substitute, but He has blood to shed.
And now, what do Christmas and Jesus and His saving work, all lead to? So that we would be adopted as sons. When you see the Baby in the manger these last few days of the Christmas season, yes, that’s a picture of Jesus, the God-man being born for us, to be our Savior. But be reminded that His coming was so that we could have a new birth, so that we could be born from above. Now we can become God’s dear children and heirs of heaven. Notice, this is by adoption. We don’t have it by right; nor do we earn or deserve it. Instead, it’s because in God’s pure grace and mercy He sent His Son that first Christmas, born of a woman, born under the law in order to save us. Now by the washing of Holy Baptism we have received adoption into God’s holy family—and all that it means both now and eternally. Now we live in a state of grace. God continues to forgive us our sin for Jesus’ sake; He gives us His Holy Spirit; He gives us every heavenly and spiritual blessing; He is always working for our spiritual and eternal good; He nourishes our soul with His body and blood. The only reason for that first Christmas is our salvation. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son to be born of a woman, so that he would be born under the law, in order to redeem those under the law, so that we would be adopted as sons. Merry Christmas today and every day. INJ