The 1662 Book of Common Prayer has the following readings for the first Sunday after Christmas. (Photo credit: Anglicans Ablaze)

The Collect addresses our regenerate nature in Christ Jesus, without Whom we would still be under divine law alone:

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure Virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

The first reading is taken from the fourth chapter of St Paul’s letter to the Galatians beginning at the first verse:

NOW I say, that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

In his sermon on these verses, John MacArthur (not an Anglican, by the way) says that when He was among us, Jesus grew up much like any other child, being educated practically and religiously. He was brought up to obey, as a servant would have been. Then, God the Father appointed a perfect time for Him to be with us and conduct His earthly ministry whereby Jesus assumed His sonship as referred to in Genesis:

The bondage was long and hard. When God said way back in Genesis 3:15 that there was one coming who would bruise the serpent’s head, it was a long time before He came. A long time, but when the fullness of time came, when it was the right time, when it was the perfect time, when it was God’s time

MacArthur lists the historical reasons in the ancient world as to why this was a perfect time but is careful to emphasise that God’s holy plan does not derive from manmade events:

… the Babylonian captivity had purged Israel from idolatry and at least they were focusing on the true God and looking for the Messiah, and so Israel, the people to whom the Messiah first must come, were not engulfed in idolatry but were looking at the true God even if through their own skewed vision and were looking for the Messiah. The canon of the Old Testament had been well-established; the prophecies were laid down; the synagogues had been established so there would be places to go to preach the Gospel to people who at least ostensibly were seeking to know the true God in Israel. Furthermore, and thinking beyond that, Alexander the Great had spread the Greek language over the whole known world, certainly the Biblical world, so that everybody spoke Greek, so that the Scriptures could be in the New Testament, written in a language that would be understood by everyone. And also the Romans with their powerful Pax Romana had brought peace out of diverse cultures and built roads everywhere so that easy access both from the standpoint of travel and from the standpoint of authority would be available for missionaries spreading this Gospel. Maybe from that perspective that’s significant, but more significant than that is that in God’s mind and from God’s viewpoint, the time was right for whatever reasons God has in His eternal understanding.

Note that Paul describes our Lord’s birth on earth as being of a woman and being under the law. MacArthur explains:

Mary had that child conceived by the Holy Spirit when she was a virgin and remained a virgin, the Scripture says, until the child was born … God sent forth from the presence of God man made out of the loins of a woman. In order to save us He had to be God, for only God can overpower sin and death and hell. In order to save us he had to be man because only man can substitute for man and die man’s death. He had to be God and man, God to give His sacrifice infinite value, to bear our sins in his own body. Then it says He was not only born of a woman but born under the law. That’s a marvelous statement. Like any other man, He was responsible to the law of God. He was born under it, born with a responsibility to obey it. Like every man, He had the responsibility to obey God’s law; like no man, He obeyed it perfectly. He obeyed it perfectly. He kept it perfectly. He knew no sin. He was without sin says Scripture.

Paul goes on to say that our Lord’s sonship enabled Him to bring us into the same sonship with God the Father. He freed us from the law’s bondage and offers us eternal redemption. MacArthur tells us:

This is talking about status. This is the status of a son. No longer in bondage to the law, no longer in bondage to the flesh, no longer gritting your teeth trying to perform, now all of a sudden what happens is instead of being under the bondage of works and law and trying to salve your conscience and please God with your human fleshly effort, you are a son. And by decree and declaration of the father-provision through Jesus Christ, you enter into the freedom of being a son and you receive your inheritance. Many as receive Him, it says, God gave the right to be called the sons of God, even to those who believe on His name. So there is the realization of son-ship.

The law could only crush us, kill us, make us guilty, show us our sin. We couldn’t keep it; we couldn’t perform; we couldn’t salve our conscience; we couldn’t earn our salvation. We were always slaves even though we were destined to be sons. Until Jesus came and purchased our salvation which then being applied to us lifts us out of the childhood of slavery into the maturity of son-ship.

Paul tells the Galatians that, because of our Redeemer, we, too, can consider God our loving Father. The name Abba is a familiar one; whilst designating ‘father’ it is a more intimate one, akin to ‘Dad’ or ‘Papa’. It is a name, MacArthur says, which:

pulls me back into intimacy with God and I experience that son-ship. My own heart cries, God, you’re my father. God, I feel intimate with you in person. That’s the word Abba. The spirit witnesses to us that we are the sons of God, Paul said in Romans 8.

We, then, as Paul’s letter states, are truly sons of God thanks to Jesus Christ.

The Gospel reading is taken from the first chapter of Matthew beginning at the 18th verse (emphases mine):

NOW the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

It summarises the Nativity story, including Joseph’s inner conflict about Mary’s situation, resolved once the angel appeared to him in a dream.

The verses I have emphasised are the fulfilment of Scripture, hence the reasons for the O Antiphons from the Old Testament, upon which many meditate in the week preceding Christmas Day.

In a December 2014 entry on his Grace To You site, ‘Born to Die’, MacArthur tells us:

The important issue of Christmas is not so much that Jesus came, but why He came. There was no salvation in His birth. Nor did the sinless way He lived His life have any redemptive force of its own. His example, as flawless as it was, could not rescue men from their sins. Even His teaching, the greatest truth ever revealed to man, could not save us from our sins. There was a price to be paid for our sins. Someone had to die. Only Jesus could do it.

He goes on to say:

Don’t think I’m trying to put a damper on your Christmas spirit. Far from it—for Jesus’ death, though devised and carried out by men with evil intentions, was in no sense a tragedy. In fact, it represents the greatest victory over evil anyone has ever accomplished.

He concludes:

It’s appropriate to commemorate the birth of Christ. But don’t make the mistake of leaving Him as a baby in a manger. Keep in mind that His birth was just the first step in God’s glorious plan of redemption. Remember that it’s the triumph of Christ’s sacrificial death that gives meaning to His humble birth. You can’t truly celebrate one without the other.

We often forget this when Easter comes. We tend to sideline Easter, the greatest of the Church’s feasts, when we should be truly thankful for our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead and power over sin so that He can save us and bring us into everlasting communion with our heavenly Father.

Perhaps we tend not to think of Easter as warmly as we do Christmas because there is no adorable Child to think of — and no presents for us to open.

Christmas is, rightly, a huge celebration, but, as MacArthur says, it was but the first step in God’s divine plan accomplished through His only Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

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