Jesus came to this world to save His people from their sins. And so as we celebrate Advent, we should be on tiptoe in excited anticipation of something good.
We want to spend this Advent contemplating the way God wants us to mark and celebrate things. It is not just what we celebrate, but how we celebrate it. Think of this series of messages as an emphasis on Adverbial Advent. Not just what (the birth of Jesus), but also how (the life of Jesus, more Jesus). Remember also that the how includes not squabbling over these issues. It means being fully convinced in your own mind, and if you are hearing it rightly, being fully convinced by gospel.
“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. Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Gal. 4:3–11).
Summary of the Text:
In the time of the old covenant, the people of God were under a rigorous (God-given) system of calendar observance (v. 3). In fact, it was rigorous enough that Paul called it bondage. But when the fullness of time was come, God gave us His Son, born of a woman, born under the law (v. 4). He did this in order to redeem those who had been under the law, doing it so that they might enter into their adoption as sons (v. 5). This is something God testifies to by sending His Spirit into our hearts, a Spirit that cries out Abba, Father (v. 6). This means we are no longer slaves, but rather adopted sons (v. 7). Back when we did not know God, we used to do service to those entities which by nature are not gods (v. 8). This means that Paul is (interestingly) conflating the condition of old covenant Jews and pagan Gentiles. Why, having been liberated from all that, would you return again to the weak and beggarly elements (v. 9)? What would that return look like? It would look like observing days and month and times and years (v. 10). Paul is fearful—whatever this is, it could amount to an unraveling of the gospel (v. 11).
There Is A Line Here Somewhere:
As we noted earlier, Paul has given us the principle of leaving a man alone. Don’t hassle him because he considers one day above another (Rom. 14:5). That by itself need not be a problem. But it can become a problem, and when it does, it is a problem for everyone. How so?
Paul teaches that there is a certain kind of calendar observance that undoes the force of the gospel. And, of course, it is cheerfully admitted that there is a kind of Christmas observance that does no such thing. So what this means is that if we mark certain days, months, times and years, we had better know the difference. This should remind us of the old children’s joke—“what is the difference between a mailbox and a hippopotamus?” “I don’t know, what?” “Well, we had better not send you to mail any letters.” There is plainly a very problematic line here. Our fundamental duty as we approach this problem is to know where that line is.
If there is a difference between whiskey and water, and there is, then if we drink whiskey at all, we must be masters of what that difference is.
Incidentally, it does no good for a fellow to solve the problem by walking over to that other zone, where folks consider every day alike. It is safe over here, he mutters to himself. Well, no it isn’t. The human heart can fashion idols out of abstractions and thin air, and can do so anywhere.
Characteristics of Bondage:
So let us look at this text and see how this problem, when it is a problem, manifests itself. What are the effects of church year “alcohol content?” The problem becomes increasingly challenging the more complex the church year gets—some church year observations are the equivalent of water (but as noted elsewhere, those folks usually are getting their bootleg goods from the civic calendar), some are like ultra lite beer, and some are like 100 proof Colonel Rotgut. A whiskey connoisseur has be far more careful than a Mike’s Hard Lemonade connoisseur, and someone who is into the church year calendar needs to be attuned to the distinctions below.
It can be summed up this way:
- Immaturity v. maturity 2. Bondage v. liberty 3. Slavishness v. sonship 4. Unredeemed v. redeemed 5. Under the law v. under grace 6. Spiritless v. Spirit-filled 7. Fatherless v. fathered 8. Poor v. heirs 9. Slave to the calendar v. Master of the calendar
Not a Reenactment:
The period of Advent is not to be a reenactment of the time of the old covenant. We are telling the story of that time, not going through that time again. Before it came to pass that the fullness of the time was come, the people of God were under a burden. Even those who looked forward in true saving faith had to carry the weight of it. During this season of the year, we are carrying the responsibility of telling the story rightly, which means that we know the dénouement. We lean toward the conclusion with celebratory delight. When you are reading The Lord of the Rings to your children for the first time, and Frodo and Sam are crawling up Mt. Doom, your emotional spirit is quite different from your children’s emotional spirit, and theirs is likely different from Frodo’s and Sam’s.
At The Name of Jesus:
“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). If you wanted to sum up the miserable condition described above, the best way to do it would be with words like guilt, no forgiveness, and condemnation. That condition, when it handles the calendar, wants to do it in ways that provide some relief from the guilt without surrendering control. And that is the condition of the guilt-ridden person—clutching at the levers of control, he wants to engineer, somehow, jury-rigged relief from the guilt.
But Jesus came. He was born, lived, died, was buried, rose, and ascended. There is nothing that we can contribute to this. He shall save His people from their sins.