Bible Text: Galatians 4:1-7; Matthew 1:34-39 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the Sunday after Christmas Day Galatians 4:1-7 & St. Matthew 1:18-25 by William Klock Today is the Second Sunday of Christmas, but the lessons are those for the First.  We missed the first Sunday because it coincided with the feast of St. Stephen.  Because these lessons are so important to what it means to be “Christmas people”, because they show us the new life that lay behind St. Stephens profound profession of faith, and because the promotion this week of our pastor, friend, and brother Bill reminds us that in some sense there is a veil between eternity and our lives here.  We need to hear the message of the lessons today—we need to remember our baptism and what it means for us here and now. St. Paul wrote this letter to the churches of Galatia—not just one congregation, but a group of them that covered a whole region—because some of the Jewish Christians in those churches were teaching that in order to a be a Christian, you first had to be a Jew and obey all the regulations and observances of the Old Testament. The relationship between Law and Gospel has often been a problem for Christians.  The Church sometimes swings like a pendulum, at some times virtually ignoring the law and acting like it doesn’t matter and is irrelevant.  (We’re in one of those times right now.)  But at other times swinging to the opposite extreme and throwing the yoke of legalism onto people who have been freed by their baptism into Christ.  In the Galatian churches this teaching was threatening to throw the yoke of slavery onto these people whom Christ had freed.  The New Testament often likens the Jews who lived under the law to slaves and, of course, those who are in Christ to freemen.  In this case, Paul illustrates his point in a similar way, likening the Jews to the son of a wealthy man who is waiting for his inheritance.  Look at Galatians 4:1-2: I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. A young son might one day be a rich and powerful man, but until he comes of age, he’s not only under the authority of his father like the slaves of the household, but he was also under the authority of his father’s slaves—his tutors and guardians.  In a sense, that son was lower than a slave, despite the inheritance that was to one day be his.  Paul goes on:  In the same way we also, when we were children [before Christ came] were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. (Galatians 4:3) The Jews were slaves to the law and the Gentiles were slaves to pagan religions.  The Jews were better off in having a law that pointed them to Christ, but all, Jew and Gentile alike, were in bondage.  But Paul doesn’t leave us in bondage. But when the fullness of time had come, [just as when a son has reached his coming of age and receives his inheritance] God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, [his Son came as one of us] to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 1:4-5) Christ makes us free.  Again, Christ makes us free.  What does that mean?  Paul says we’ve been “redeemed”—Jesus has paid the price and purchased us out of slavery.  The Son of God came as one of us, paid the penalty of our sins on the cross, and restores us to the Father.  Through the Incarnation and the Cross, we are joined to Christ—to the Son of God—and are ourselves made sons and daughters of God by adoption.  We are lifted from our slavery to the law and made co-inheritors with Christ—made free in him, which is why Jesus tells us, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing” (John 15:15).  Paul goes on: And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” [“Abba” is what a son would call his own father—sort of like “Papa”.  This was how Jesus prayed to his Father that night in the garden, and because we are his sons and daughters by adoption, so can we.] So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:6-7) Through our union with Jesus Christ, we now live as God’s adopted sons and daughters—no longer under the curse of the law, but free in Christ.  We need this reminder.  It’s not just that we sometimes fall back into legalistic thinking; it’s that we often forget altogether that we are sons and daughters right now.  We live as though there are no practical applications of this new life on this side of eternity.  We push all the promises of God into heaven instead of living them now.  We need this reminder: “For as many of you as were baptized  into Christ have put on Christ.”  Not “will put on Christ,” but “have put on Christ.”  We should be living like our master.  Instead of standing under the law’s curse of death, we fulfil the whole law as we live in the Spirit of love.  St. John tells us, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”  And lest we forget that this means a changed life here and now, he also tells us, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world” (1 John 4:13, 17).  We are God’s adopted sons and daughters, and as much as we await the fullness of our inheritance in eternity, we are his sons and daughters already and his loving Spirit lives in us today. Today’s Gospel points us to the same reality of our sonship.  We might think that after Christmas, the lessons would talk about Jesus as he was growing up, but instead they take us to a time beforehis birth.  St. Matthew tells us: Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.  When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18) The first thing he tells us is that the birth of Jesus, the Second Adam, was a miraculous one.  That’s vitally important as we saw on Christmas Eve.  The baby in the manger isn’t just a baby.  He’s the Son of God.  But then Matthew goes on telling us about Joseph. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:17-23) Even the child’s name and title bring us back to this theme of adoption.   He was named Jesus: “The Lord Saves”.  But Matthew also takes us back to the name Isaiah said he would be called by—Emmanuel: “God with us”.  The first name identifies him as the Son of God and the second as the Son of Man.  The first one reminds us that he saves us from our sins and the second that through him we are united with God.  Satan lied to the first Adam, telling him that he could be a god himself, knowing good and evil, and now, in his mercy, God has opened our eyes to Satan’s lie and given the truth to all of us who are born again in Christ.  Through submission to Christ we are made one with God and our eyes are opened to the evil and sin of Satan while God makes his goodness known to us. Through Christ, God has restored us and given us new birth.  That’s what lies behind our being “Christmas People”, but that new life isn’t just a change in our eternal destination—it’s a new life that we live now.  It’s redemption that we live now.  And we live it now because we are one with Christ and because we are God’s sons and daughters by adoption—not just after we die or after Jesus comes back, but right here and right now.  And so, because our new life flows from him, if we want to know what our lives should look like here and now, we look to him.  Isaiah wrote, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn” (Isaiah 51:1).  He was pointing the people back to the faith of Abraham, but this verse points us as Christians to Jesus too.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, each of us is a “chip off the old block”—and the block is Christ. Through Jesus we are born again.  By his indwelling Spirit we have new life.  And yet while we know these things in our heads, a lot of the time we really fail to see what that means today and for how we live now.  Instead of living out the new birth, we’re born again, but we keep living as if we were still dead.  We’re free in Christ, but we keep living as slaves, only trusting we’ll be free on the other side of eternity.  St. Paul reminds us in the Epistle that we are no more slaves, but sons of God.  And the Gospel—these verses that tell us who the baby in the manger really is—it reminds us that God himself came to free us and call us his own.  He is the Son of Man who came down from heaven whom he told Nicodemus about; he is the Word made flesh; he is the living tabernacle in which our souls can take refuge in the wilderness of the world; he is the living water, he is the bread of heaven—and we are united with him—and that means that we have new life now. I was thinking about this last week.  The book of Revelation crops up in the readings a lot in these last weeks of December and one particular passage seems to strike me every year during Christmas.  In Revelation 12:1-5 we read: And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun…. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.  And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon….And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.  She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne. These verses are a wonderful picture of the great spiritual battle that took place at Christmas—as the Virgin gave birth to the Messiah who would destroy the serpent, and yet it’s more than that.  Because it’s a picture of the birth of Christ and the Father’s provision for him, it’s also a picture of us.  That woman clothed with the sun and in her labour pains is the Church giving birth to her own son—to the saints who, especially in that first generation, were persecuted and martyred.  Revelation 14:4 describes them as the “redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb.”  It’s the Church of God, clothed with the Sun of Righteousness, giving birth to Christ the first-born in his members.  Someone asked me once, “How can this be both a picture of Christ and a picture of the Church?”  It can because he is the Son of God and through him we too are sons of God.  We are risen with him, we reign with him, and we sit with him in the heavenly places. And this is our problem.  We fail to understand the Scriptures—and in failing to understand the Scriptures we fail to realise that our hope isn’t just for some time in the future—because sometimes we don’t realise just how privileged we are through our new birth in Jesus.  Throughout the gospels Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven, but for some reason we don’t realise that for the most part in describing that kingdom, he’s describing his Church here and now on earth and that heaven is something that in large part exists in our hearts by faith.  And when we don’t realise these facts of life—of what it means to be God’s adopted sons and daughters right now—we read the Scriptures, but we miss just how practical they are for life today.  Instead, we push it all into the future—something we’ll experience after we die.  We’ve looked at a couple of passages from Revelation already, so consider some of the other images that we see there: the throne of God and the One sitting on the throne and all around him the great company of saints rejoicing and praising him; think of the image of wearing crowns and reigning together with Christ for a thousand years—that long reign of the Church here in the world; think about those who have been redeemed and follow the Lamb who leads them to living fountains of water.  If we miss what it means to be God’s children by adoption, it never occurs to us these things are simply pictures of the new life in Christ that we read about in the prophets and the gospels, and the epistles—that they’re portraits of the great blessings we have because we are born again with Jesus—not just future blessings, but blessing today and blessing that should be making an impact on how we live in the world—how we witness Christ. The Scriptures show us these amazing things—heaven on earth, in a sense—but too often we miss them.  For some reason we’re sometimes hesitant to accept that his kingdom has already begun and that his throne is among us.  And yet thinking specifically of Revelation, St. John tells us that God has revealed these things because they are important now, that they’re practical, and should make a difference in how we live today—not just to inspire hope in us for tomorrow.  Consider that Daniel—whose book is sort of the Old Testament counterpart to Revelation—when Daniel had received his visions, was told by the angel to seal the book up.  It was full of prophetic revelations about the coming of Christ—something that wouldn’t happen for more than half a millennium. Daniel’s prophecy would inspire faith and hope in the coming Messiah, but it wasn’t about his own time.  And yet St. John received his vision and the angel, deliberately using the same language of Daniel to make the connection, tells him not to seal the book.  Why?  Because in contrast to Daniel, John’s book wasn’t about things that were hundreds and hundred of years away, but that they described the Church right then and in the near future—that what was described in those pages was the life of God’s sons and daughters as they live in his kingdom—in his Church—here on earth.  And yet what the angel told John not to seal, we choose ourselves to seal up—to push it into the future—and when we do that we miss the reality of the privilege of sonship that God has brought right to our own door.  Brothers and sisters, heaven is near!  Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).  Jesus reminds us that he and his kingdom are not something far away or something we have to hope and long for—they’re right here if we are in him.  Let me repeat that: Jesus and his kingdom are right here if we are in him. Isaac Williams wrote, “We are too much inclined to put away from us what God tells us of our condition, as being grafted by Baptism into the Body of his Son, and having the inestimable gift of His Spirit.  And thus we fall short of a due apprehension of the Scriptures; for we are led away by our own earthly wisdom and human sense of things…we cannot think that, as St. Paul says, we are made to sit together in Heavenly places with Christ, above the troubles and cares of this world; neither are we humbled at the reflection that because we are not doing so we are unfaithful to our high calling.” Brothers and sisters, we inadvertently give up our birthright.  And yet if we would only be diligent to walk in the Spirit and to learn as the Spirit reveals the deep things of God—the things such as eye has not seen nor ear heard—consider the difference it would make in our lives.  Think of the blessings John shows, again in Revelation: “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power” (Revelation 20:6).  Jesus tells us that those who partake of his living water will never die.  It’s death that casts a dark shadow over life, so what better blessing can there be than to have no more reason to fear death.  Many of us visited with our brother, Bill, during these last months and noticed his peace even as he knew his time was near.  Bill was a profound encouragement to me in that even as he faced death, he had joy and was at peace.  But Bill was at peace because he knew he was God’s son through Jesus.  Friends, St. John wrote, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:19).  What peace we would face were we to live with that blessing in mind every day.  Each of us has been called to that marriage supper.  We receive the foretaste of it every Sunday as we come to his Table. In other places we—God’s sons and daughters—are described as “sealed” by the Spirit of God, and kept from all harm, temptation, and trouble.  In another picture we’re described as playing instruments and singing before the throne, making that music to the Lord that St. Paul describes—peace and joy and a thankful spirit that rejoices in the goodness of Christ; we sing the song of the angels to the shepherds—the song of the glory of God, peace on earth, and goodwill towards men.  In yet another picture John sees us standing by that sea through which we escaped from our great enemy, holding harps, and singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb—giving thanks to God in the words of Scripture—of his Word—and bearing testimony of Christ.  Or he shows us as having washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, serving God day and night in his temple as he sits on his throne in our midst—we hunger no more as we feast on the bread of that came down from heaven, and we thirst no more as we drink his living water.  The lamb leads us by his own living guidance and refreshes us at the fountains of his own everlasting peace; and the God of comfort himself wipes away every tear and sorrow. We could sit all morning and look at all the images John gives us of the sons and daughters of God—those “called, and chosen, and faithful”—but all these simply show us the life we have in Christ that we read about in the rest of Scripture—just given to us here in images that grab our attention.  So instead of trying to push these images into the future, we need to see them for what they are: the amazing and glorious things that are ours through our adoption as God’s sons and daughters through Jesus Christ.  Our friend and brother, Bill Hedges, was promoted to the Church Triumphant this past Thursday morning and we can take comfort and joy in the blessings of the life he has there, but brothers and sisters, remember that there is little more than a thin veil between the Church Triumphant and the rest of us here in the Church Militant.  The blessings and life of the kingdom of heaven are ours, regardless of which side of the veil we’re on.  Through Jesus, God has adopted us as his children.  We are free and heirs with our Lord—but not heirs still living as slaves and waiting for their inheritance, but heirs living in the full blessings of the inheritance owned by the Son of God—our brother--now sitting at his Father’s right hand and ruling over his kingdom! Melville Scott, a wise and insightful priest, preacher, and writer whom I only just encountered last month and whom I wish had written so much more than he did, wrote these very profound words that struck me yesterday and that should remind us of the reality of our sonship: “Though absent from the heavenly City, we are none the less its citizens, for the Church on earth and the Church in Heaven are in truth one, and the Kingdom of Grace is but a suburb of the Kingdom of Glory.” Friends, let us live our lives in the full knowledge that we live them in the Kingdom of Grace. Bill understood this fact and that was why he was living in the light and couldn’t help but tell everyone around him about it. Let us too live in the hope and joy of the Gospel’s new life—not new life as just a future hope, but new life right here and right now, that we might shine the light of Christ our Saviour in the midst of a dark world that has no hope at all.  And so we pray: “Almighty God, who gave us your only Son to take our nature upon him and to be born of a pure virgin, grant that we, who are born again in him and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”
Bible Text: Galatians 5:16-24; Luke 17:11-19 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity Galatians 5:16-24 & St. Luke 17:11-19 by William Klock I want to begin this morning with our Gospel lesson from Luke 17.  The story begins in verse 11, where we’re told that Jesus was setting off with his disciples for his last trip to Jerusalem.  The Passover was coming and it was time for Jesus to fulfil his saving mission.  And St. Luke tells us that as they were passing through a village on the border between Samaria and Galilee they were approached by ten men—ten lepers—who called out from a distance: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” These were social outcasts.  They were forced to live in camps on the outskirts of the towns.  People feared them.  If for some reason a leper had to venture near healthy people, he was required to call out “Unclean!  Unclean!  Make way for the Unclean!”  To be a leper was to bear a two-fold curse.  It was an ugly disease and today we tend to think of it strictly in clinical terms: the discomfort and the pain; the fact that these people were forced to live apart from everyone in poverty and squalor; and the fact that the disease (or diseases) they knew as leprosy in those days was contagious.  But there was more to it than simply being a physical disease.  To be a leper was to carry around a terribly spiritual stigma too.  To be leper was to be perpetually ritually unclean.  Lepers were outside the religious community of Israel.  Because they were ritually unclean, lepers couldn’t enter the temple, but for the same reason, they also couldn’t be near other people.  To touch someone or something that was unclean was to become unclean yourself.  So when a leper walked through town calling out “Unclean!  Unclean!” he wasn’t just warning people about the clinical nature of his disease—“Keep clear!  You don’t want what I’ve got!”—he was also warning people to stay away lest they become ritually defiled.  Chances were that if you accidentally bumped into a leper you weren’t going to catch leprosy yourself, but whether you got the disease or not, you’d still be left unclean and have to go through the rituals of purification.  In the meantime you’d be cut off yourself from other people and from the temple and any other religious activities. Because of all this, leprosy became associated with sin.  In a very real sense it was a lot like an ancient equivalent to HIV.  The easiest way to get HIV is through illicit sex or drug use, but that doesn’t mean that everyone gets it because they’ve sinned.  I knew a man who contracted HIV through a blood transfusion, but that didn’t mean that people didn’t connect him with the usual social stigma associated with HIV.  Leprosy was very similar to that in Jesus’ time.  People made certain assumptions about lepers and there wasn’t much compassion for them.  Not only were they feared because of the disease they carried, but most people assumed that lepers were sick because they had sinned and deserved it. And so ten of these men heard that Jesus was coming through town. They had obviously heard how he had healed other people and they hoped that maybe he could heal them and in faith they came and called out: “Jesus!  We’ve heard how merciful you are.  Show us your mercy.  Heal our disease!”  And Jesus heard them and he had mercy on them and told them: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” We might think that’s kind of weird.  When Jesus healed other people he often healed them right away.  But not always.  This is one of those cases where men came to him in faith—they wouldn’t have come asking for healing if they hadn’t believed he could do it—but Jesus asked them to do something to confirm their faith.  He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. A man or woman who had had leprosy would be examined by a priest and it was only the priest who could declare a leper clean.  We see the faith that these men had, because even though they weren’t healed yet, they ran off to see the local priest.  They trusted that Jesus would heal them.  And that’s exactly what happened.  As they went off toward the priest’s house they were healed. At this point you would think that these ten men would show some real gratitude.  It wasn’t just that they were healed from some minor disease—not even just a major disease.  Their healing meant not just physical health, but restoration from being impoverished outcasts to being able to return to their families and friends and to the worshipping community.  I wonder myself which was worse: the disease or the stigma associated with it.  So this was a big deal.  And yet St. Luke tells us that only one of them—one who happened to be a Samaritan, one of the enemies of the Jews and one who was considered a religious heretic and compromiser—only that one turned and came back to thank Jesus.  Luke says “he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.” And Jesus asked him, “Weren’t there ten of you?  Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Jesus made a point of this one man’s true gratitude to the disciples and to the other people who were no doubt around.  He knew that there was more to this man’s faith than just his having heard about Jesus as a healer of physical diseases.   Jesus could see into this man’s heart and knew that he had come, knowing him to be the true Saviour.  Jesus knew that this man came to him not just for relief from the physical consequences of his sin, but for healing—for forgiveness—of his sins that had caused the physical pain and suffering.  And so Jesus says to him, “Get up and go your way.  Go show yourself to the priest so that he and everyone else can see that you’ve been healed.  Your faith has saved you.”  The ESV says, “Your faith has made you well.”  The word that Luke uses, though, is the word for “save”.  The other nine men were healed.  Jesus gave them something good.  To be healed of leprosy was great.  But what they received didn’t fix their realproblem.  They were still sinners in need of forgiveness.  This man, though, was truly and fully saved.  As his leprosy faded from his body, he realized that there was more to Jesus than his just being a faith healer.  This was God Incarnate.  This was a man who could forgive sins and heal him of his deeper and eternal spiritual problem.  That’s why he turned back to give thanks, and as he did so Jesus confirmed that spiritual healing the same way the priest would later confirm his physical healing. And that leper who came back to thank Jesus is a picture of what it means to be a true follower of Jesus—a true Christian believer.  The nine got what they wanted from Jesus and went off to do their own thing.  They showed a profound lack of gratitude.  But if you look at the story you can understand why.  I don’t want to underplay the horribleness of their disease, but what they wanted from Jesus was simply physical relief, and as terrible as leprosy was, that was a shallow request to make of the One who offered them eternal salvation from sin and from sin’s consequences.  They were happy not to have leprosy anymore, but they were still slaves to sin and they still stood condemned to everlasting damnation when they died.  They had a shallow understanding of the Saviour.  But the tenth man truly understood what redemption means—and that’s why he came back.  He knew on some level that he was sinner; he knew he stood condemned; and he knew that Jesus could forgive.  In his case the healing from leprosy was like a sacramental seal of his redemption—an outward sign and seal of the inward grace that Jesus applied to him in cleansing him of his sins.  Jesus told him to go show himself to the priest, and as he headed off and was healed of his disease he realized that there was more—that he was truly well, through and through, in body and spirit—and so he turned back to express his gratitude. As Christians, then, who represents us best?  Obviously, it should be the man who came back and thanked Jesus, but if we really look at our lives and how we approach Jesus, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of the time we’re more like the other nine.  I know that’s certainly true for me.  We see ourselves in those nine men when our prayers are little more than lists of “Gimme, gimme gimme”; when he come to sing songs of thanks and praise on Sunday, but give little thought to Jesus during the week; and when we live our lives for ourselves, continuing on in our sins.  I think that last point is where we truly show our lack of gratitude and our shallow understanding of faith and of our Saviour.  Jesus tells us that if we love him we will obey his commandments.  St. James reminds us that true and saving faith manifests itself in love and good works—in obedience to Jesus.  But if we look at our own lives—at our own obedience to Jesus and at the fruit we bear—we often aren’t very good at showing Jesus the gratitude that he truly deserves. St. Paul gets at this in our Epistle from Galatians 5 as he talks about walking in the Spirit.  Look at verses 16-18: But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. All ten lepers came to Jesus living in the flesh, but one went away walking in the Spirit because of his faith.  We come to Jesus living in the flesh too, but through faith in his grace we leave walking in the Spirit—we leave having been made well and saved by faith.  And Paul reminds us that there should be a clear contrast between these two ways of life.  The desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit are polar opposites—each is against the other—so it shouldn’t be very hard to tell if someone is walking in the flesh or walking in the Spirit.  It’s not that we won’t struggle.  Walking in the Spirit—walking in the power and grace of Jesus—isn’t always easy.  We still carry around the desires of the flesh.  We’ve crucified our old man on the cross with Jesus, but sometimes we dig the old man back up out of the grave.  Even St. Paul struggled.  In Romans 7 he writes about fighting to do the things he knows are right and so easily falling back into doing the things he knows are wrong…but even still, because he was walking in the Spirit, despite his struggles, his life in general was characterized by an overwhelming desire to please God by being obedient to his commandments and by a real and true sense of repentance when he failed. But again, Paul tells the Galatians that it’s easy to tell who’s walking in the flesh and who’s walking in the Spirit.  He goes on in verse 19: Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. When I read that it sounds like Paul’s describing the first and only fraternity party I went to in University.  It was a bunch of boys and girls away from any kind of authority for the first time in their lives and they went wild, thinking there were no consequences.  Frankly, this is all the “fun” stuff—at least until the consequences come home.  These are the desires that are deep down in the fallen heart of man and if we don’t all engage in all these sins it’s only because we know that if we did, we would destroy ourselves and our relationships and be worse off for it.  The fact is that even when we avoid some of these sins, we do so for reasons of selfishness.  Fallen men and women live for the flesh and we see it in everything they do or that they don’t do.  And Paul warns us in verse 21: I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. That’s not to say that God won’t forgive our sins.  Paul’s point is that the person who is truly following Christ is going to be walking in the Spirit and striving for purity in his or her life.  As Christians we fail sometimes, but if we’re truly walking in the Spirit our lives should be characterised by a progressive growth in holiness and a real desire to put our sins behind us.  In contrast, if our lives are characterised by sin—and especially by unrepentant sin—it means that we’re not walking in the Spirit.  Again, Jesus said that if we love him—if we feel any sense of gratitude for what he has done for us—we will obey him—or at least we will do our very best to obey, living in the power of his Spirit, and repenting when we fail.  But the opposite is just as true: If our lives are characterised by wilful and unrepentant disobedience, we do not love Christ.  And that means that we haven’t experienced his grace.  Think about it.  How can a sinner condemned to hell yet redeemed by the very blood of God Incarnate not be passionately in love with his Saviour? When we are in love with our Saviour.  When we can sing those words of John Newton, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me” and personally understand them, we can never go on in disobedient living.  We can never run off with the nine unthankful lepers and take for granted the death of Jesus on the cross for our sake.  If we understand what Jesus has done for us and if we have put our faith in him, we will walk in his Spirit and the difference in how we live our lives will be like night and day.  Paul goes on in verses 22-24: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. That’s a drastically different set of characteristics than those that Paul described as the “works of the flesh”.  We need to ask which list characterizes our lives.  I think it’s important to point out that the fruit of the Spirit go beyond just avoiding the sinful things Paul listed as works of the flesh.  I know lots of people who avoid drunkenness or dissensions or sexual immorality for purely practical reasons—it’s got nothing to do with pleasing God.  They know that being a drunk or starting fights or being sexually immoral all have consequences that they don’t want to live with.  But friends, that like not speeding on the highway because there’s a cop following you.  I bet we’ve all been in that situation.  We’d really rather be speeding, but we drive the limit because there’s a copy behind us and we don’t want a ticket.  Not sinning because we don’t want to deal with the consequences isn’t walking in the Spirit.  We all know that in that situation, as soon as the cop pulls off the highway we’ll speed up.  Walking in the Spirit means actually desiring to do what we know to be right because we want to please God out of love and gratitude.  That’s why Paul doesn’t say, “The fruit of the Spirit is avoiding sexual immorality, avoiding drunkenness, avoiding sorcery, and playing nice with others.”  No, he actually describes a positive attitude of love, thankfulness, and a real desire for holiness: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Think about that in terms of the cop following you on the highway.  You might be doing the right thing, but my guess it there’s not much joy or patience in it.  When you’re angry with someone and the only thing keeping you from lashing out at them is the other people around you, you might be doing the right thing by not lashing out, but chances are there’s not much kindness or gentleness in how you’re feeling.  You’re only doing the right thing because you have to.  In contrast, when we’re walking in the Spirit and living obediently out of gratitude for the grace of God, we’ll be doing the right things because our lives will first be characterized by the fruit of the Spirit.  We’ll be kind to others, because our lives will be characterized by kindness.  We’ll do the speed limit because our lives are characterized by patience.  We’ll avoid drunkenness and sexual immorality because our lives will be defined by self-control and goodness. That’s what true worship is all about.  We tend to think of worship in terms of coming on Sunday to sing songs and to hear God’s Word and to receive the Lord’s Supper—and that’s all a part of worship.  But that’s the corporate equipping part.  It’s what should be preparing us to be sent out into the world to do the real work of worship as we live in thankful obedience the rest of the week.  Real worship is living continually before the face of God in ways we know are pleasing to him.  Fr. Parsch put it this way: “A Christian especially has reasons to be continually grateful, because he has been deluged with favours by God, his heavenly Father.  From the midst of thousands he has been snatched out of the powers of darkness and transferred to the realm of light and grace.  We must want to follow with grateful heart all the ways that God marks out for us in the course of our lives, even though we do not understand them and find them very hard.” Friends, that’s not only what glorifies God; that’s what’s going to draw others to Christ.  When the world sees us gathering to sing and hear the Word, and receive Communion on Sunday morning, that’s not what’s going to attract them to Jesus.  That’s just weird stuff that Christians do when they could be out fishing or playing golf on the weekend.  No, what really draws people to Jesus is to see us living our lives through the rest of the week and living our lives differently than they live their own—living in love and good works—precisely because we’ve experienced the amazing grace of God and our first and greatest desire is to walk in the Spirit and offer our lives, each and every day, as offerings of thanks and praise.  That’s what it means to be salt and light.  That’s what it means to be lights shining in the darkness of the world.  That’s what it means to show the world the new life we have been given by Jesus. Let us pray: Father, as we prayed in the collect this morning, grow us in the fruit of your Spirit.  Let our lives be characterised by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that we might give you faithful service out of love and gratitude for your grace.  Let us live our lives like the man who understood what you had done for him and came back in thanksgiving, not like the other nine who took your grace for granted.  Let others see the transforming power of your Spirit at work in our lives, that they might be drawn to you as they see our faithful witness.  We ask this in the name of Jesus.  Amen.
Bible Text: Galatians 6:11-18; Matthew 6:24-34 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity Galatians 6:11-18 & St. Matthew 6:24-34 by William Klock Let me ask you this morning: In what do you glory?  When you depart this earthly life, what is it that you’d want people to remember you for?  Where is your passion?  Or let me put it this way: In what do you trust?  Would people remember you mainly as a person of generosity?  Of good works?  Of graciousness or mercy?  Or in a different vein: For your passion for the environment?  Your patriotism?  Your being at every single event at the Legion?  Your devotion to your work and your career?  Would they remember you for a hobby you were devoted to?  Maybe an old classic car?  A sports team?  What about a lifetime or delicious baking or handicrafts?  Would people remember you for your devotion to your money or the earthly possessions you worked so hard to accumulate?  On exactly what do you stake your reputation?  What is your heart passionate about?  And in what do you trust for your security? I’m sure all sorts of answers have been running through your heads as I’ve asked these questions.  Now compare the things that came to mind with what St. Paul says in Galatians 6:14.  This is the verse that sums up today’s theme.  Paul writes, “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”  Brothers and sisters, the cross of Christ changed everything for Paul.  It was his devotion to Jesus and, more importantly, his complete trust in Jesus that he wanted to be known for.  When Paul died, no one was talking about what a big Canucks fan he was.  They were talking about what a big fan of Jesus he was.  He spent his life making tents for a living.  Considering his work ethic, I bet he made a really great tent.  But when Paul died, no one was talking about his tents or how he’d made such a secure future for himself financially because of his superior product line.  No.  Paul died for the sake of Christ—in the line of apostolic duty—and people remember him for his devotion to Jesus—for the fact that he trusted in his Lord so much that he was willing to follow him to death. In our Epistle we see Paul closing his letter to the Christians in the Galatian churches.  In fact, half-way through this last chapter—chapter six—Paul brings his argument to a climax and to make his point even stronger he takes the paper away from his secretary and writes the words himself.  In verse 11 he writes, “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.”  What he has to say here was incredibly important and it was important because it was on what he writes here that the Gospel stands or falls—or more specifically, it was on what he says here that they’re salvation stood or fell. Some background: The letter to the Galatians was written to a group of churches which were under the influence of some people we call the “Judaisers”.  Basically, they were people who insisted that in order to be a true Christian, you first had to be a good Jew.  You had to be circumcised, eat only clean foods, follow the Jewish calendar, and ultimately live according to the Old Testament law.  The problem is that this wasn’t the Gospel that Paul had taught them.  It wasn’t the Gospel at all, in fact.  They had forgotten that the law only condemns.  It’s grace that saves.  If we trust in our own works or if we trust in our ability to live up to a set of rules—even if it’s the set of rules that God gave to Moses—then we aren’t trusting in Jesus.  And if we aren’t trusting in Jesus, to put it bluntly, we aren’t truly redeemed.  That’s why this was so important.  So in verses 12 and 13 Paul warns them: It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.  For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. It seems most likely that the Judaisers were converts from Judaism, which explains this extra baggage they were carrying.  Maybe they had been Pharisees.  Whatever the case, they claimed to trust in Jesus for their salvation, but they were still very concerned to put on a good outward show of righteousness by keeping the law.  Circumcision was important to them because it was the sacramental sign of the Old Testament.  As our baptism marks us out as Christians, in the Old Testament, circumcision marked you out as a Jew.  There wasn’t much point in trying to live according to the law unless you were first circumcised, so that was where the Judaisers put their main emphasis. Jerome and Augustine both suggest that the Judaisers really got a foothold in the Galatian churches during one of the times of persecution.  You see, in the Roman Empire Jews had a special status.  Normally the Romans required that conquered peoples submit to their gods.  Over the centuries the Jews had caused enough problems and put up a loud enough fuss that the Romans granted them an exemption.  In the first years after Jesus’ ascension, Christians continued to worship in the Jewish synagogues and as far as the Romans were concerned, Christians were just another Jewish sect and they left them alone.  It took a while before Christianity reached the Gentile world and a few decades longer before people started seeing Christianity as something independent from Judaism.  And so when the Romans started persecuting Christians, it became very tempting for Christians to sort of deny Jesus and claim they were Jews.  Maybe they didn’t deny him outright.  They still claimed they were Christians, but when the Roman soldiers came, instead of clearly proclaiming Jesus as their Lord, they’d hedge around the issue and claim they were Jews—they could even show the soldiers they were circumcised—and of course everyone knew that Jews didn’t worship Jesus.  Not only was it an utterly terrible witness, it demonstrated very plainly that these people really did not trust in God.  In contrast, Paul, who was a Jew and could have made the same kind of claims, consistently claimed Jesus as his Lord event though it meant his own martyrdom. The end result was that these Judaisers were pushing their brothers and sisters into a life of religious legalism that undermined the Gospel.  From what Paul describes here, we can almost envision them clapping the gentile men on the back after they were circumcised, as if they were now somehow real Christians.  It was a form of Christian Pharisaism.  They revelled in the law, but just like the Pharisees, they didn’t really keep the law—just the parts they wanted to.  But it’s so easy to do this sort of thing.  It makes us feel good if we can keep score—if we can find some way to feel like we’re doing well and earning God’s favour.  Fallen men and women are prideful by nature.  Turning to Jesus as our sole means of salvation requires humility—it requires that we admit we’re sinners and that we can’t save ourselves.  And so Christians are always finding new ways to say they trust in Jesus, while still trusting in themselves—even if only just a little bit—so that they don’t have to completely give up their pride.  We glory in our good works, we glory in our right doctrine, we glory in our financial contributions to the kingdom, we glory in our ministries or our church buildings.  There are all sorts of things we take pride in, as if we did it on our own.  Paul steps in and reminds us that there’s only one thing we should glory in.  Look at verses 14 to 16: But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.  And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. The word Paul uses when he talks about “boasting” is a word that refers to the thing or things that we put our confidence in.  The Judaisers were putting their confidence in their circumcision and in their living by the law.  Paul had been there.  He was a Hebrew of Hebrews.  He had been a member of the Sanhedrin—the governing religious body of the Jews.  He had been a rabbi and more specifically a Pharisee.  And yet on the road to Damascus to persecute more Christians Paul had been met by Jesus and realised that not one of all those things he valued, boasted about, and put his confidence in could save him.  He could only find salvation by humbly admitting he was a sinner, that he deserved eternal death as an enemy of God, and by then putting his faith in the atoning death of Jesus as a covering for his sins.  Nothing else; only Jesus.  God doesn’t care if you’re circumcised in the flesh; he cares if you’re circumcised in your heart and if you’ve been made a new creation in Jesus Christ and by the work of the Holy Spirit.  Paul says, “Peace and mercy” be on you if you walk by this rule of the Spirit.  He crushes the Judaisers.  They were trying to earn God’s favour by following the rule of the law and thinking that they could enter God’s kingdom by acting like the people of Old Testament Israel.  Paul says, “You won’t find peace or mercy there.  You can’t earn God’s peace or his mercy.  It comes only by faith.  Forget the rule of the law; all that does it make you look like Israel.  Follow the rule of grace, the rule of the Spirit, and Jesus will bind you into his body and make you part of the true Israel. In verse 17 Paul appeals to his own example when he writes: From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. Basically Paul is calling them spiritual wimps.  When it came to persecution they had found a way to get around declaring Jesus to be their Lord.  They should have been shamed in that, but instead they took pride.  In contrast, Paul points to the scars he had received for the sake of the Gospel—scars and injuries from the times he’d been whipped and beaten, and from the rocks that had been thrown at him when he was stoned and left for dead.  He wasn’t afraid to call Jesus his Lord.  He didn’t look for a way out of it or a way to save his skin—even years later when it meant that he was martyred for that faith.  Do you know what a martyr is?  It’s from a Greek word that means to be a witness.  The Church has always honoured martyrs because they’re the ones who stick to their guns and refuse to deny Jesus as their Lord even when it meant torture and death.  It was that kind of a witness along with the ordinary witness of faithful men and women that gradually turned the Roman empire away from paganism and to the Gospel. Think of that now in terms of the time and place we live in.  Jack brought in an article yesterday from the Times-Colonist about how Canadians are increasingly turning away from Christianity and from the Church.  It’s not really that people are less “spiritual”, but that they’re looking for salvation—or really they’re looking for affirmation—in false religions and idolatry of their own making.  A year or two ago I was with some other pastors and we got to wondering what percentage of our community attends church.  We ran through all the churches in town and how many each seats and figured that if every church had one service on Sunday and filled every seat, there would only be room for a couple per cent of the Comox Valley’s population.  Brothers and sisters, we truly live in a pagan world.  It’s a mission field not that unlike the one the early Christian martyrs lived in and we need to see it that way.  We need to have a heart to see people come to Christ and that means that we need to by martyrs—we need to be witnesses. We don’t witness the faith as well as we should.  But comprising the faith, as the Galatians did, isn’t the only way that we compromise our witness.  Think back to those questions I asked when we started.  What do you think you’ll be known for after you’re gone?  Will people remember you for your devotion to Jesus or for your devotion to other things in life?  Will they remember that you served God with your whole being and trusted him wholly to provide for you?  Or will they remember someone who was always stressed out about how to make ends meet or maybe someone who worked hard so that he could have all sorts of really nice “stuff” and go on expensive holidays?  Paul worked for a living, but ask yourself: Do we remember him for his trust in God and his devotion to the Gospel or do we remember him for the tents he made?  In our Gospel lesson Jesus tells us: No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and [mammon].  (Matthew 6:24) Mammon is an Aramaic word that describes wealth and riches and worldly “stuff”.  Devotion to mammon is the exact opposite of what Jesus refers to when he talks about laying up treasures in heaven.  Jesus’ point is that the heart can only have one master and that our heart’s master needs to be God.  It’s not that there aren’t other things that we need to take care of in this life.  Again, Paul no doubt spent plenty of time making tents so that he could earn money to buy food and shelter and to pay for all his travel expenses.  The thing to remember is that Paul didn’t let his work—or even his need for food and shelter—become his master. Our problem is that we too often let anxiety rule our hearts.  As Christians that doesn’t make sense.  We say we trust God for the salvation of our eternal souls, but then when it comes to the things we need in life for our survival, we get anxious and we trust in our own ability to meet them instead of God’s ability to take care of us.  Do we really think that our Creator—the God who made heaven and earth, who made each of us, who tells us how much he loves us, who has promised us a place in heaven someday, isn’t capable of taking care of us here and now?  And yet what does it communicate to the unbelievers around us when they know that we supposedly have trusted in Jesus for the salvation of our souls, but that we obviously don’t really trust him for our daily bread? This is why Jesus tells us: “Don’t be anxious about your life or about what you’re going to eat or drink or wear.  There’s more to life than that.”  He points to the birds and reminds us that they don’t have jobs, but God takes care of them.  He points to the flowers in the field.  They don’t work, but God clothes them in beauty.  He reminds those of you from Saskatchewan of the fields of wheat and how beautiful God has made them and then asks, “If God makes something so beautiful that’s only going to be cut down and ground into bread flower, what makes you think that he won’t take care of you, the child that he loves?” Jesus reminds us, “Gentiles get stressed out over things like this.”  They don’t know God.  They haven’t experienced his love and provision.  They don’t have the Scriptures to give them example after example after example of how God takes care of his people.  But you!  You’re his people, his children, why do you trust him with your soul and then act like the Gentiles do when it comes to everything else?”  Jesus gives us that reminder that I’m sure we’ve all memorised even if we haven’t done very well living it out: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Seek first the kingdom of God and be a living witness to God’s goodness.  Devote yourself to him and he will take care of you.  Show the people around you your faith and the power of the Gospel by truly living it—by trusting in God for everything in life even when life is hard and even when it doesn’t make any worldly sense to trust him. Brothers and sisters let me close by saying that our Lord calls us to be witnesses—to be martyrs for the faith.  We live in a world that is in desperate need of the Gospel.  We aren’t being put to death for our faith like those early Christians were.  Our problem isn’t necessarily that of the Galatian Judaisers who were compromising their faith in Christ in order to save their skins from the arena.  But, brothers and sisters, how often do we comprise our witness in other ways?  Do we find ways to avoid a clear witness to our faith in Jesus in order to avoid the world’s ridicule or to avoid controversy with friends or family or coworkers?  And how often does the world look at us and see only divided loyalties?  They know we go to church on Sunday and that we profess Jesus to be our Saviour, but they see us devoted to and serving other things.  When we die they’ll say, “So-and-so was a devoted Canucks fan, or he was a workaholic, or she spent every waking hour on her hobbies and handicrafts…oh, yeah, and he went to church too—as if that last bit was only an after thought.  That’s not really much of a witness. Our lives may not be on the line, but consider that if our witness is weak, we’re putting the lives—the eternal lives—of unbelievers on the line.  If we don’t witness Jesus to them in word and in action, who will?  God asked Isaiah, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for me?”  God asks us the same thing of us and I think our tendency is to duck and cover.  “Who, me?  No, not me!  I don’t know how.  I’m not equipped.  I’m not a radical.  I don’t want people to think I’m a crazy religious zealot!”  Friends, we need to be like Isaiah.  He had seen the holiness of God.  He knew his own sinfulness and the sinfulness of his people and because of that he knew what the eternal consequences would be if no one went and he cried out, “Here am I!  Send me!”  Friends, that doesn’t necessarily mean travelling a half-world away from home.  More often that not we can answer God’s call—we can say, “Here I am!  Send me!”—by simply devoting ourselves to Jesus, by being unwilling to compromise our faith, and by consciously and whole-heartedly trusting in the promises of our heavenly Father in such a way that everyone around us sees.  In Christ we have been crucified to the world and the world to us, like St. Paul, let us then glory, boast, and trust in the cross and only in the cross. Let us pray:  Heavenly Father, thank you for your saving grace and for your promise of care.  Forgive us for the times when we put other things in life first.  Forgive for the many times that we compromise our witness to your Gospel.  Teach us, we pray, to trust you in every area of life that the people around us might see our witness and be drawn to you.  We ask this in the name of Jesus our Saviour.  Amen.
Bible Text: Galatians 4:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the Sunday after Christmas Galatians 4:1-7 & St. Matthew 1:18-25 The collect for Christmas—the prayer we prayed just before our Scripture readings—is one of the most profound in the Church Year.  It reminds us that the Saviour has come, and that for all of us who have been regenerated—and in New Testament language regeneration means baptism into Jesus Christ; a change of our state before God, being lifted from the world and placed into his kingdom—the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives to renew us.  Christmas is a time to recall that we are now God’s children by a gracious adoption and that his Spirit empowers and calls us to live a new life of freedom and grace in Jesus. We need this reminder, because even as though we’ve been transplanted into the Kingdom and even though the Spirit is at work to renew us, we have a tendency to forget where we stand and to retreat back into our old lives.  Our Epistle today, taken from the book of Galatians, was written by St. Paul to people who were living more in the old ways than in the new way of Jesus. Some of the Jewish Christians in the Galatian churches were teaching that in order to be a Christian, you first had to be a Jew and obey all the regulations and observances of the Old Testament.  They were pushing Law over Gospel. It’s providential that Paul wrote to these Christians about this issue, because it’s a problem that crops up pretty regularly in Church history.  The Church has a tendency to swing like a pendulum, at some times virtually ignoring the law and acting like it doesn’t matter and is irrelevant.  (Much of the modern Church is in this kind of swing right now.)  But at other times swinging to the opposite extreme and throwing the yoke of legalism onto people who have been freed by their baptism into Christ.  This is exactly what was happening in the Galatian churches.  The New Testament often compares the Jews who lived under the law to slaves and, of course, those who are in Christ to freemen.  In this case, Paul illustrates his point in a similar way, comparing the Jews to the son of a wealthy man who is waiting for his inheritance.  Look at Galatians 4:1-2: I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. A young son might one day be a rich and powerful man, but until he comes of age, he’s not only under the authority of his father like the slaves of the household, but he’s also under the authority of his father’s slaves—his tutors and guardians.  In a sense, that son was lower than a slave, despite the inheritance that would one day be his.  Paul goes on:  In the same way we also, when we were children [before Christ came] were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. (Galatians 4:3) The Jews were slaves to the law and the Gentiles were slaves to pagan religions.  The Jews were better off in having a law that pointed them to Christ, but all, Jew and Gentile both, were in bondage.  But God wants us to be free, and so Paul goes on: But when the fullness of time had come, [just as when a son has reached his coming of age and receives his inheritance] God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, [his Son came as one of us] to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 1:4-5) Christ makes us free.  Again, Christ makes us free.  What does that mean?  Paul says we’ve been “redeemed”—Jesus has paid the price and purchased us out of slavery.  The Son of God came as one of us, paid the penalty of our sins on the cross, and restored us to the Father.  Through the Incarnation and the Cross, we are joined to Christ—to the Son of God—and are ourselves made sons and daughters of God by adoption.  We are lifted from our slavery to the law and made co-inheritors with Christ—made free in him, which is why Jesus tells us, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing” (John 15:15).  Paul goes on: And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” [“Abba” is the intimate way a son would address his biological father.  This was how Jesus prayed to his Father that night in the garden, and because we are his sons and daughters by adoption, so can we.] So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:6-7) Through our union with Jesus Christ, we now live as God’s adopted sons and daughters—no longer under the curse of the law, but free in Christ.  We need this reminder.  It’s not just that we sometimes fall back into legalistic thinking; it’s that we often forget altogether that we are sons and daughters right now.  We live as though there are no practical applications of this new life on this side of eternity.  We push all the promises of God into heaven instead of living them now.  We need this reminder: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  Not “will put on Christ,” but “have put on Christ.”  We should be living like our master.  Instead of standing under the law’s curse of death, we fulfil the whole law as we live in the Spirit of love.  St. John tells us, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”  And lest we forget that this means a changed life here and now, he also tells us, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world” (1 John 4:13, 17).  We are God’s adopted sons and daughters, and as much as we are waiting for the fullness of our inheritance in eternity, we are his sons and daughters already and his loving Spirit lives in us today. Today’s Gospel points us to the same reality of our being God’s adopted sons and daughters as St. Matthew walks us through the events of the first Christmas: Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.  When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.(Matthew 1:18) The first thing Matthew tells us is that the birth of Jesus, the Second Adam, was a miraculous one.  That’s vitally important as we saw on Christmas Eve.  The baby in the manger isn’t just a another baby; he’s the Son of God.  But then Matthew goes on telling us about Joseph. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:17-23) Even the child’s name and title bring us back to this theme of adoption.   He was named Jesus: “The Lord Saves”.  But Matthew also takes us back to the name Isaiah said he would be called by: Immanuel, “God with us”.  The first name, Jesus, identifies him as the Son of God and the second, Immanuel, as the Son of Man.  The first one reminds us that he saves us from our sins and the second that through him we are united with God.  Satan lied to the first Adam, telling him that he could be a god himself, knowing good and evil, and now, in his mercy, God has opened our eyes to Satan’s lie and given the truth to all of us who are born again in Christ.  Through submission to Christ we are made one with God, Satan’s lies are exposed, and our eyes are opened to the perfect goodness of God. Through Christ, God has restored us and given us new birth.  That’s what lies behind our being “Christmas People”, but remember that new life isn’t just a change in our eternal destination—it’s a new life that we live now.  It’s redemption that we live now.  And we live it now because we are one with Christ and because we are God’s sons and daughters by adoption—not just after we die or after Jesus comes back, but right here and right now.  And so, because our new life flows from him, if we want to know what our lives should look like here and now, we look to him.  Isaiah wrote, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn” (Isaiah 51:1).  He was pointing the people back to the faith of Abraham, but this verse points us as Christians to Jesus too.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, each of us is a “chip off the old block”—and the block is Christ. Through Jesus we are born again.  By his indwelling Spirit we have new life.  And yet while we know these things in our heads, a lot of the time we really fail to see what they mean today and for how we live now.  We are born again, but we keep living the old life—as if we were still spiritually dead.  It’s stupid and silly—it’s like Lazarus, being raised and called forth from the tomb, saying: “That’s okay, Jesus, I kind of like it in here and I’m going to stay”—and yet this is just what we do. We’re free in Christ, but we keep living as slaves, only trusting we’ll be free on the other side of eternity.  St. Paul reminds us in the Epistle that we are no more slaves, but sons of God.  And the Gospel—these verses that tell us who the baby in the manger really is—reminds us that God himself came to free us and call us his own.  He is the Son of Man who came down from heaven whom he told Nicodemus about; he is the Word made flesh; he is the living tabernacle in which our souls can take refuge in the wilderness of the world; he is the living water, he is the bread of heaven—and we are united with him—and that means that we have new life now. The Daily Office lessons for these last weeks of December point to this reality as well.  They’re mostly taken from the book of Revelation.  The lesson from Revelation 12, especially verses 1 to 5 struck me a week ago: And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun…. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.  And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon….And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.  She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne. These verses are a wonderful picture of the great spiritual battle that took place at Christmas: as the Virgin gave birth to the Messiah who would destroy the serpent, and yet it’s more than that.  Because it’s a picture of the birth of Jesus and the Father’s protection of him, it’s also a picture of us.  That woman clothed with the sun and in her labour pains is the Church giving birth to her own son—to the saints who, especially in that first generation, were persecuted and martyred.  Revelation 14:4 describes them as the “redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb.”  It’s the Church of God, clothed with the Sun of Righteousness, giving birth to Christ the first-born in his members.  Someone asked me once, “How can this be both a picture of Christ and a picture of the Church?”  It can because he is the Son of God and through him we too are sons and daughters of God.  We are risen with him, we reign with him, and we sit with him in the heavenly places. And this is our problem.  We fail to understand the Scriptures—and in failing to understand the Scriptures we fail to realise that our hope isn’t just for some time in the future—because sometimes we don’t realise just how privileged we are through our new birth in Jesus.  Throughout the gospels Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven, but for some reason we don’t realise that for the most part in describing that kingdom, he’s describing his Church here and now on earth and that heaven is something that in large part exists in our hearts by faith.  And when we don’t realise these facts of life—of what it means to be God’s adopted sons and daughters right now.  We read the Scriptures, but we miss just how practical they are for life today.  Instead, we push it all into the future—something we’ll experience after we die.  We’ve looked at a couple of passages from Revelation already, so consider some of the other images that we see there: the throne of God and the One sitting on the throne and all around him the great company of saints rejoicing and praising him; think of the image of wearing crowns and reigning together with Christ for a thousand years; think about those who have been redeemed and follow the Lamb who leads them to living fountains of water.  If we miss what it means to be God’s children by adoption, it never occurs to us these things are simply pictures of the new life in Christ that we read about in the prophets and the apostles—that they’re portraits of the great blessings we have because we are born again with Jesus—not just future blessings, but blessing today and blessing that should be making an impact on how we live in the world—how we witness Christ. The Scriptures show us these amazing things—heaven on earth, in a sense—but too often we miss them.  For some reason we’re sometimes hesitant to accept that his kingdom has already begun and that his throne is among us.  And yet thinking specifically of Revelation, St. John tells us that God has revealed these things because they are important now, that they’re practical, and should make a difference in how we live today—not just to inspire hope in us for tomorrow.  Consider that Daniel—whose book is sort of the Old Testament counterpart to Revelation—when Daniel had received his visions, was told by the angel to seal the book up.  It was full of prophetic revelations about the coming of Christ—something that wouldn’t happen for more than 500 years. Daniel’s prophecy would inspire faith and hope in the coming Messiah, but it wasn’t about his own time and so it remained sealed.  And yet St. John received his vision and the angel, deliberately using the same language of Daniel to make the connection, tells him not to seal the book.  Why?  Because in contrast to Daniel, John’s book wasn’t about things that were hundreds and hundred of years away, but that they described the Church right then and in the near future—that what was described in those pages was the life of God’s sons and daughters as they live in his kingdom—in his Church—here on earth.  And yet what the angel told John not to seal, we choose ourselves to seal up—to push it into the future—and when we do that we miss the reality of the privilege of sonship that God has brought right to our own door.  Brothers and sisters, heaven is near!  Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).  Jesus reminds us that he and his kingdom are not something far away or something we have to hope and long for—they’re right here if we are in him.  Let me repeat that: Jesus and his kingdom are right here if we are in him. Isaac Williams wrote, “We are too much inclined to put away from us what God tells us of our condition, as being grafted by Baptism into the Body of his Son, and having the inestimable gift of His Spirit.  And thus we fall short of a due apprehension of the Scriptures; for we are led away by our own earthly wisdom and human sense of things…we cannot think that, as St. Paul says, we are made to sit together in Heavenly places with Christ, above the troubles and cares of this world; neither are we humbled at the reflection that because we are not doing so we are unfaithful to our high calling.” Brothers and sisters, we inadvertently give up our birthright.  And yet if we would only be diligent to walk in the Spirit and to learn from him as he reveals the deep things of God—the things such as eye has not seen nor ear heard—consider the difference it would make in our lives.  Think of the blessings John shows, again in Revelation: “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power” (Revelation 20:6).  Jesus tells us that those who partake of his living water will never die.  It’s death that casts a dark shadow over life, so what better blessing can there be than to have no more reason to fear death.  And, friends, St. John wrote, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:19).  What peace we would face were we to live with that blessing in mind every day.  Each of us has been called to that marriage supper.  We receive the foretaste of it every Sunday as we come to his Table. In other places we—God’s sons and daughters—are described as “sealed” by the Spirit of God, and kept from all harm, temptation, and trouble.  In another picture we’re described as playing instruments and singing before the throne, making that music to the Lord that St. Paul describes—peace and joy and a thankful spirit that rejoices in the goodness of Christ; we sing the song of the angels to the shepherds—the song of the glory of God, peace on earth, and goodwill towards men.  In yet another picture John sees us standing by that sea through which we escaped from our great enemy, holding harps, and singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb—giving thanks to God in the words of Scripture—of his Word—and bearing testimony of Christ.  Or he shows us as having washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, serving God day and night in his temple as he sits on his throne in our midst—we hunger no more as we feast on the bread of that came down from heaven, and we thirst no more as we drink his living water.  The lamb leads us by his own living guidance and refreshes us at the fountains of his own everlasting peace; and the God of comfort himself wipes away every tear and sorrow. We could sit all morning and look at all the images John gives us of the sons and daughters of God—those “called, and chosen, and faithful.”  Scripture is clear: God has given us new life today.  Instead of trying to push these images into the future, we need to see them for what they are: the amazing and glorious things that are ours through our adoption as God’s sons and daughters through Jesus Christ.  We live in hope of a future resurrection to life immortal and of the consummation of our redemption in Christ, but brothers and sisters, remember that there is little more than a thin veil between today and eternity.  The blessings and life of the kingdom of heaven are ours, regardless of which side of the veil we’re on.  Through Jesus, God has adopted us as his children.  We are free and heirs with our Lord—but not heirs still living as slaves and waiting for their inheritance, but heirs living in the full blessings of the inheritance owned by the Son of God—our brother—now sitting at his Father’s right hand and ruling over his kingdom! Melville Scott, wrote: “Though absent from the heavenly City, we are none the less its citizens, for the Church on earth and the Church in Heaven are in truth one, and the Kingdom of Grace is but a suburb of the Kingdom of Glory.”  Friends, let us live our lives in the full knowledge that we live them in the Kingdom of Grace.  Let us live today in the hope and joy of the Gospel’s new life—not new life as just a future hope, but new life right here and right now, that we might shine the light of Christ our Saviour in the midst of a dark world that has no hope at all. And so we pray: “Almighty God, you have given your only 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 your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”