Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas
Text: Galatians 4:1–7
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
I’d like us to take a moment and consider what our Savior’s birth teaches us about humanity. What does it mean to be human? From the perspective of Man himself, there are distinct answers to this question. I do not mean that every philosopher who ever lived, thought, and wrote agreed. Rather that there are two events in history that completely change our understanding of what it means to be human.
In the beginning, God made man in His own image, male and female, He made them. Adam could look at Eve and say, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Together they shared dominion over all creation. What does it mean to be Man in the Garden of Eden? It means to be over all living things—to watch over and care for all the animal and plants. To be man means to be God’s creation and God’s agent. God created man to be as gods to the rest of creation. To be Man means to have reason and senses in addition to our bodies. We are made for thinking, for contemplation, for admiring beauty, for giving thanks, and for rendering service.
It is true of man from Adam’s creation out of the dust that we are made by God and for God. Thus it is still true today and we still confess today:
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are Your works;
my soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:14; ESV)
This is why on this day the Church prays: O God, our Maker and Redeemer, You wonderfully created us.
But it is not long after creation that something changes. With the fall into sin we experience our humanity differently. After the fall, it is still true that we are made by God. What it means to be human does not change. What changes is our ability to be human in the way that God intended it. Our human nature is corrupted by sin, making it impossible to experience our own humanity as God intended it. Our Dominion over creation was to be God’s dominion exercised through us. Man’s dominion over creation was to be the dominion of care and nurture. We were made to serve, not to demand that others serve us.
We see this corruption all around us. Woman was given to Man as a helper, and yet how quickly after the fall does Adam turn on his wife. To this day, how many houses are filled with strife because people look for others to serve them rather than find ways to love and serve each other? How often had the world seen devastation of some ecosystem or another because we looked to the land to bring us profit rather than seek to sustain God’s creation?
What does it mean to be man? Our sin has so corrupted our perspective that men seek to make themselves effeminate, while women pursue strength and power in order to level the playing field. Eve was given to Adam as a helper; husband and wife together were to share the same goal. It was not good for Adam to be alone and so Eve was given to him. But today more and more families have only one parent. Too many men have been told they were qualified, needed, or wanted to raise a family, and they have left.
Where do we see a picture of true masculinity? For like it or not, there can be no true humanity without a Man. Now I am not saying that the solution for every single mother is to marry the first man who comes along. The problem runs deeper than anything we can hope to correct. That’s my point. Humanity is so marred by sin we can’t restore it to what it was meant to be. Looking around us, every person we see is corrupted by sin. “To err is human, to forgive is divine” is not a theologically correct statement. Humanity was at its most human before any error crept in. We are most human when we do not sin, yet we cannot escape sin. You cannot make yourself into a better person. You cannot make yourself the ideal man or woman, because you cannot escape your own sin.
Thus, while it remains true that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, we also now must confess:
I Know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight…
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:3-4a, 5; ESV)
And so it is that Man, who was made to have dominion over all creation, who was to fill the earth and subdue it, is himself placed under guardians and managers. Like children who are placed under the supervision of nannies and tutors, God placed the human race under the care of Law. Paul speaks of the elementary principles of the world. There has been much debate as to how this phrase should be understood. In context I can think of no better explanation than that which guides us apart from the Gospel brought to fulfillment in Christ. For the Jew it is the ceremonial La, which is but a shadow of things to come. For the Gentile, it is reason shrouded in myth. Both are pointed to God’s existence, but neither can claim for Himself a humanity released from sin.
What does it mean to be human? Before the fall, it means to be God’s creation and God’s agent, delighting in the work He has given. After the fall, humanity is corrupted by sin. That does not mean that sin has become part of our humanity, but rather that we cannot separate ourselves from it. But there is a second event in history which changes our perspective again. We already made reference to this in our worship this morning.
We pray: O God, our Maker and Redeemer, You wonderfully created us and in the incarnation of Your Son yet more wondrously restored our human nature. You added your Amen to that prayer.
In the incarnation of Jesus, we are given a fresh perspective on our humanity. This is why, though sin is inseparable from humanity after the fall, it never becomes the essence of humanity. Though every man, save Christ, is born infected by sin, it is not sin that makes us human. Sin masks our humanity. Therefore if you want to see true humanity and true masculinity, you look to Jesus Christ. There you see man without sin. There you see love without fault. Service without compulsion. Dominion without abuse.
Jesus is the only answer for our sin. He is the only answer for broken homes and hurting families. Jesus is the only answer for children who do not know their fathers or cry out in vain for a mother’s love. Jesus is the only answer for a society that has forgotten brotherly love.
But Jesus comes to do something more than bring us back to Eden. Jesus doesn’t simply come to teach us how to be better stewards and more loving families, though He does do that. Jesus, in taking on our flesh, elevates it beyond what was given to Adam. Perhaps you recall that line about Christ’s two natures in the Athanasian Creed: Although He is God and Man, He is not two, but on Christ: one, however, not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God.
This is why we say that in the incarnation Jesus has more wondrously restored our human nature. In Christ’s incarnation, God has taken on our flesh and in doing so brings humanity into His essence. Thus in Christ, we see God lying in a manger, we hear God being greeted by Simeon and Anna. The eternal Son of God grows in our flesh, learns, becomes strong and wise. In perfect Childhood, your childhood is redeemed. In His perfect adolescence, your adolescence is redeemed. Your humanity still struggles with sin, but cannot stop Christ’s redemption.
In Christ’s incarnation, Man is restored to God. Christ came under the law to redeem those under the law. Thus you are not a slave to sin but an adopted son of God. What does it mean for man to be God’s Son? It means that everything that belongs to God is Yours. You are in the family of God, not by what You have done, but by what Christ has done for you. You have a place in the family, and that means you have a place in the family business and the family business is to love. For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45; ESV). That is what true dominion looks like.
Therefore take up the family prayer, “Abba, Father!” For that is the prayer of the Obedient Son and perfect Man, as He goes about the work given to Him by the Father: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36; ESV).
Perfect obedience lived out in perfect service, perfectly confident in the heavenly father. That is what true humanity looks like. That is yours only in Christ Jesus, who took your place on earth that you might share His place in heaven.
Grant, O God, that we may ever be alive in Him who made Himself to be like us.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria