Have you ever wondered why Jesus was born when He was and not sooner or later? In a non-traditional Christmas passage the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 4:4, “when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.” Paul is telling his first readers as well as us that it was not just at any time, but at the right time in keeping with God’s plan that Jesus was born.
Jesus was born at the right time, but we don’t know exactly when that time was. As surprising as it is to us, the early church did not celebrate the birth of Jesus—only His resurrection. And when they did begin celebrating His birth there were more than a dozen different dates chosen. It wasn’t until the fourth century that December 25th was settled upon and that date was chosen to counter ancient pagan festivals celebrating the winter solstice. We aren’t even sure of the year in which Jesus was born! But we do know that the timing, set by God, was right.
More important than the timing of Christmas is the what of Christmas: “God sent his Son, born of a woman.” Everyone can agree, regardless of what they believe about Him, that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. What makes some uncomfortable is the idea that Jesus is God’s Son and that God sent Him. And perhaps even more challenging in terms of belief, the fact that God sent His Son tells us that Jesus existed prior to His conception in the womb of Mary.
Flowing from the what of Christmas is the why of Christmas. Paul continues in verse 5 concerning the reason for sending Jesus, “to redeem those under the law that we might receive adoption to sonship.” The idea of being redeemed suggests the image of a slave. A slave in the first century in the Roman Empire could be set free only if someone paid the purchase price to set that slave free. As those under the law, before we were redeemed we were slaves. But on the cross Jesus paid the penalty to purchase our freedom. A redeemed slave is no longer a slave. Our redemption in Christ makes us free from the guilt and punishment we deserve.
But the why of Jesus’ coming was more than just our redemption; it was also for our adoption. In the Roman Empire when an upper-class family selected a young person for adoption that person was on probationary status until they proved themselves worthy. If they failed, their adoption would be revoked and they would be kicked out of the family. But if they measured up, eventually they were given full status as sons and would become heirs of the family estate.
In Galatians 4:7 Paul gives us the result of Christmas, “So you are no longer slaves, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” Because of what God has done for us in Jesus we are not on probation and we do not have to measure up by showing our worthiness. We have been redeemed and fully adopted as heirs. Not only that, Paul tells us in verse 6 that God has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to confirm that we are His children.
Along with everything else you are doing this Christmas season, I encourage you to take a few moments and reflect on the non-traditional Christmas passage of Galatians 4:4-7. Consider the timing, the what, the why, and the result of God sending His Son. Praise and thank Him for the privilege of being redeemed and adopted as well as having the indwelling gift of the His Holy Spirit.
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photo credit: John Pavelka <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/28705377@N04/4260460351″>Manger Scene (Creche)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>