Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Psalm 67; Luke 2:16-21
Our second lesson, from St. Paul’s letter to the Church at Galatia, says, “When the designated time had come, God sent forth his Son born of a woman, born under the law, to deliver from the law those who were subjected to it, so that we might receive our status as adopted children.” In order to free us from the burden of the law, Our Lord, in his Divine and human person fulfilled the law perfectly, so that we who through grace share his nature, are no longer bound by its restrictions, but are free to follow the law of love in Christ. This law is no longer external, imposed from the outside, but written on our hearts by the Spirit which cries out “Abba!” Which in the lesson is translated “Father”, but is more specifically “Daddy!”, a child’s cry of love and trust, confidence and security. This is the relationship we are to have with God in Christ, a family relationship, we are all adopted children, being born again into the family of believers, born into Jesus’ own family, with his Father our Father, his Mother Our Mother, his brothers and sisters our brothers and sisters, through all times and in all places. Our family is beyond counting, but not beyond knowing and loving. We have some of their pictures on our walls here, and in our homes, we talk to them, listen to them, learn from them, and cry out to them in need. And like all loving families, they listen and respond.
Some of the first members of this family are mentioned in our Gospel lesson from St. Luke, “The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger; once they saw, they understood what had been told them concerning this child. All who heard of it were astonished at the report given them by the shepherds. Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, in accord with what had been told them.” The Orthodox Study Bible says: The shepherds are also images of the bishops and presbyters of the Church, who proclaim Christ to the world. St. Ambrose writes that Mary’s own faith was strengthened by the news from the shepherds, and he asks, “If Mary herself learns from the shepherds, why do so many refuse to learn from the presbyters of the Church?” A good question, and one that is relevant now as well. Why, for all of its vast size, is the Church not bigger? Why has not the whole world, after two thousand years, gratefully embraced the good news the angels proclaimed to the shepherds? I think one of the foundational reasons is the eternal tension between law and freedom. Jesus was born under the law in order to fulfill it, and what we celebrate today is the first overt act of this fulfilling. According to St. Luke, “When the eighth day arrived for his circumcision, the name Jesus was given the child, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.” We have here submission to the Old Covenant, circumcision on the eighth day, but also the freedom of the New Covenant in that the name he is given, “Jesus” which is “Yahweh saves”, was received from the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation, a free gift of God, a gift of freedom from God. The law is there, but the fulfillment of the law takes us beyond it, to a new territory of direct relationship with and in the Triune God.
This immediacy and intimacy are uncomfortable and frightening for many people. They are more comfortable with the formality and distance provided by legalism. A nice black and white contract, with a list of obligations to be checked off. No heart and gut-wrenching repentance, and amendment of life, no soul-searing acknowledgement of sin and failure, but also no joy of forgiveness, mercy, communion, or the transforming light and life of theosis. This battle between law and freedom takes place both within the Church, and in the world. Our current war with fundamentalists of many kinds is just this battle. Given the choice most people, without grace, would choose law, and do. Even we do, though hopefully we struggle against it.
Every time we want someone to “do it my way”, because it is easier for us, and we want control, we are choosing law over freedom. Every time we put ourselves down because we have failed to live up to some arbitrary standard set by society of looks, or weight, or finances, or employment, or behavior we choose law instead of freedom. When we judge other people, calling them aloud, or only in our minds and hearts, “stupid, ignorant, idiot, lowlife” we have chosen law, not either freedom or love. And by doing this we have bound ourselves, as well as them. St. Paul writes, “You are no longer a slave but a child! And the fact that you are a child makes you an heir, by God’s design.” “By God’s design”! we are made for freedom, for love, for joy, for communion, for mercy, for peace. Let us choose this, for ourselves, for others, for the world, let us pray, for ourselves, for others, for the world, “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”
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