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God’s Plan for a New Year / First Sunday after Christmas

Galatians 4:4-7

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.

Bill called his parents to wish them a happy New Year, and his dad answered the phone. Dad, what’s your New Year’s resolution? To make your mother as happy as I can all year. When mom got on the phone, Bill said, What’s your resolution, Mom? She answered, to make sure that your dad keeps his New Year’s resolution.

I don’t know if you have given any thought to making resolutions as we say good-by to the year 2023 and hello to the year 2024. However, our text from Paul’s letter to the Galatians can certainly give each of us a new appreciation for who we are in God’s plan and purpose for this new year. Listen carefully to his words:

But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are His sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So, you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are His child, God has made you also an heir.”

God sent His Son. That’s the important truth that is foundational to everything that follows. God sent His Son.

Perhaps you are familiar with the story by J. B. Phillips called “The Visited Planet.” It’s about a junior angel who is being given a tour of the universe by a senior angel. After touring all the galaxies of the universe, they come at last to our solar system. The junior angel is tired and bored and not very impressed by what he sees. The senior angel points to the earth and says, Keep an eye on that planet. The younger angel thinks the earth looks small and dirty and insignificant. That is the Visited Planet, says the senior angel. You don’t mean, says the younger angel. Yes, interrupts the senior angel, that planet has been visited by our young Prince of Glory. Do you mean’ said the younger angel, to tell me that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball? I do, said the senior angel, and I don’t think He would like you to call them creeping, crawling creatures in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them. He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him. The junior angel has no reply. The very thought is beyond his comprehension.

It is beyond comprehension, but it is the most important truth about the meaning of our lives. We are a visited planet. God came to earth at Christmas. From His birth to His baptism to His death on the cross, in Jesus Christ, God walked the dusty plains of this small planet and experienced what it means to be human. What it means to have family and friends. What it is to laugh and to love and to lose. What it is to suffer and to face death.

An angel appears to a teen-aged young woman and tells her that she will give birth to the Son of God. But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”

God sent His Son into our world. Why? To redeem all who would open their hearts and receive adoption to their new life as children of God. In other words, he came that each of us can walk in dignity and confidence as children of the Most High God.

Christmas several years ago a little girl, Cathy, received a perky little white puppy for Christmas. Cathy noticed that this perky white puppy constantly wagged his tail vigorously, so she named him Happy, because he had such a happy ending!

So, the father set about building a house for Happy. However, when the new house was completed, Happy wanted no part of it. When they put him in it, he would run out, scared to death. They tried everything but to no avail. Happy would not go into his new house. Finally, he gave up in frustration and went into the house to get a drink of water. When he looked out the kitchen window, he couldn’t believe his eyes. There was Happy, his tail wagging furiously, serenely trotting into the doghouse and lying down as if he were comfortably at home. He was amazed. He went out to investigate. He discovered what had happened. As soon as Happy saw Cathy go into the doghouse, he knew it was a safe place to be. When Happy saw Cathy go inside, he trotted right in beside her and made it his home!

This is what the Incarnation is all about, Christ entered this strife-filled world to bring peace and goodwill to all people. God has come into our world to show us the meaning of love. Not hate. Not judgement. But love. And today, two thousand years later, the ripples of that love first born in the manger of Bethlehem, still radiates out into the world.

From time to time in the Christmas season we hear someone say, wouldn’t it be great if it could be Christmas all year long. Surprise! That’s God’s intent. That’s why God invaded our planet and gave us the gift of His Son. There is only one thing that stands in the way of our celebrating Christmas all year long.

It’s you and me. If you and I lived the way Christ intends for us to live, if we lived out on a daily basis the love, compassion and charity that are part and parcel of this special season, the world would be changed. The world is waiting for the people of God to live out what we say we believe: That Jesus Christ is the hope of the world. That living the Christ life, the life of love and sacrifice and self-giving is ultimately the only way that humanity can be saved. When Christmas lives in our hearts, then we will have at least made a beginning to spreading the spirit of Christmas to the entire world and not just at one time of the year but all year, every year. Could it happen? Could it really happen?

That’s the meaning of the Kingdom of God. Read the New Testament sometime. Count how many times Jesus referred to the Kingdom of God. That was His primary mission, not only to get us into heaven but to get heaven into us.

Does the Spirit of God’s Son live within your heart? Do you have His love for all people? Do you have His joy, His patience, His faithfulness, His peace, His compassion? Then you are part of the solution rather than part of the problem for turning this world around.

Recently I read an interesting piece about the origin of Watch Night Services for New Year’s Eve. Watch Night began in 1733, with a group of Moravians in Germany, who spent their New Year’s Eve in prayer, waiting for midnight and the start of the New Year. Soon, the Watch Night idea spread to the United States.

On New Year’s Eve in 1862, Watch Night gained a whole new significance. At the stroke of midnight, when 1862 became 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became law, meaning that at the stroke of midnight all slaves in the United States would be freed. In prayer services throughout the U.S., African Americans prayed and waited for the dawn of a new age, an age of freedom. It was a night filled with hope and anticipation, because at midnight, everything would change. Life itself would be different and new. Slavery would be abolished, and all those who had been held in captivity would be free.

Several faith communities still celebrate Watch Night on New Year’s Eve, filled with singing and prayer, remembering the freedom and new life that came with the dawn of 1863, celebrating the freedom we have in Christ.

There’s an old legend concerning the shepherds who were present the night the angel announced to a group of shepherds on a hillside watching over their flocks that the long-awaited Messiah had been born. This was several years after this wondrous event and some of the older shepherds were trying to remember how the song that the angels sang went.

As they sat on the hillside under the stars at night keeping watch over their flock, they tried again and again to recall the words and the tune. As they struggled to recall exactly what the angels sang, they heard a lamb bleating in the distance. Another one had gone astray. They each looked at each other to see which would leave the warmth of the fire to go into the cold, dark night to rescue the lost sheep.

Finally, a young boy who would have been too young to have heard the angel’s announcement that first Christmas night, got up from the campfire and went out in the dark of the night to find the lost sheep. Finding the lamb, he lifted it onto his shoulders and brought it back to the fold.

As the young boy came closer, he was humming a tune that he had learned from his father who said that he had heard it one night while keeping watch over his flocks by night. It was the tune to the song that the angels had sung on that first Christmas night. They suddenly were reminded of that angelic song of “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”

Of course, it’s only a legend, but what a message it carries. Most of us have heard about the Kingdom of God all our lives but we’ve never understood that it’s something that applies to this world. It’s about bringing peace on earth and goodwill to all people. Maybe we need to buy a supply of small globes that we could pray over from time to time saying, “Thy will be done on earth, even as it is in heaven.” Amen.