Sermon for 1 January, 2011 - Galatians 4:4-7
by Pastor Stephen Schultz
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’. So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.
There has been a lot of talk in recent months about asylum seekers. It has increasingly become a political minefield because of the numbers of people endeavouring to enter our country by any means possible. There was the tragedy off Christmas Island a couple of weeks ago where many asylum seekers perished. There are undoubtedly countless more that have died unbeknownst to us.
The issue has been brought closer to home as a result of the government decision to temporarily settle a number of detainees at Inverbrackie until their requests for asylum are processed. I know that our government and others have much work to do to arrive at solutions to this growing problem. With humanitarian disasters increasing in our world the flood of refugees will continue. I’m also sure that there will be some amongst the asylum seekers who do not have honorable intentions.
Despite this, I find myself sympathizing with their plight. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a refugee without a place to call home. I’ve always enjoyed the security of a roof over my head. If I had to flee from Australia at some time in the future I’m not sure where I’d go. I could pick a number of countries as desirable locations. But that doesn’t mean they would want me. Have you ever thought what it would be like to be a ‘persona non grata’ – a ‘person who is not welcome’?
I couldn’t help but think of this as I heard the Christmas narrative again this last year. It would seem that the holy family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus were not especially welcome. Firstly, they struggled to find accommodation in Bethlehem – Joseph’s ancestral home town. Then, as a result of Herod’s actions, they became refugees and fled to Egypt. They returned to Israel after the death of Herod and intended to settle in Judea. But because Herod’s son was ruling there, they were forced to withdraw to Galilee, to the town of Nazareth (Luke 2:4-7; Matthew 2:1-23).
I’m not sure why they didn’t head straight back to Nazareth, because that is where they had come from in the first place. Perhaps they weren’t especially welcome there either, because of the scandal attached to the birth of their child.
This theme of being unwelcome continued into the adult life of Jesus. You will probably remember him saying at one point: ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (Luke 9:58).
Jesus is the word of God who ‘became flesh to make his dwelling among us’ (John 1:14) – and ironically we didn’t have a lot of room for him. Jesus came to the earth he created with his own hands – and yet, there was to be no asylum for him here. As the Gospel writer John expresses it: ‘He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him’ (1:10-11).
Then on the night when Jesus was betrayed he told his disciples that they would all fall away on account of him (Matthew 26:31). In the end, the only lodging we could find to accommodate our Lord was the wood of a cross on Calvary’s hill.
Despite all of this background, the eternal Word of God, Jesus Christ, still became flesh to make his dwelling among us. For Jesus did not come to this earth in order to seek asylum. He came to our earth in order to grant it!
We were estranged from God and not welcome in his presence. Our sin had made us enemies of God and cast us out of the Garden of Eden and out of his life-giving presence. The son of Adam and Eve, Cain, was told: ‘you will be a restless wanderer on the earth’ (Genesis 4:12). That is our lot in life – to be restless wanderers on this earth until we find our rest and peace in God.
And so, we try and seek asylum in all sorts of different ways. We try and seek it in the material pleasures of this world – in lust and greed and power and drink and drugs and in so many other ways. But these things only increase our restlessness rather than alleviate it. They offer us no sanctuary but simply emphasize just how impoverished and aimless we truly are as we journey through life.
And that is where Jesus enters the scene – not to seek asylum from us but to grant it to us. The one we offered a humble manger to be born in and the wood of a cross to die on welcomes us into the embrace of God’s heavenly kingdom.
Today we celebrate the ‘name of Jesus’ and we celebrate it because we enter the sanctuary and rest of God through it. ‘There is no other name under heaven given to us by which we must be saved’, the apostle Peter told his listeners (Acts 4:12).
Jesus was treated as illegitimate in his claims to be the Son of God. He was executed as a blasphemer because of these claims. But his legitimacy as God’s Son was confirmed by the Father himself when he raised Jesus from the dead. It was not in a tomb where the body of our Lord would reside. It is at the right hand side of the Father in heaven where Jesus is seated. In this position he has all authority in heaven and earth and he has the name that is above all names.
And what does Jesus do with his authority and with his name? He grants people like you and me asylum with it. Through the authority and name of Jesus we have access once more to our God. We have been brought back into his presence as dearly loved and legitimate children. We don’t have to wander away from him anymore. We are now free once again to walk with him!
As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians: ‘So you are no longer a slave, but a son (a daughter); and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir’ (4:7). How amazing is that! We have inherited the kingdom of God for no other reason than because of what Jesus has done. He came to dwell among us, to carry the burden of our sin and to suffer and die for us.
Even after doing all of that it is still possible for people to reject Jesus and not grant him a place in their lives. Let that not be the case for any of us. For as the Gospel writer John also said: ‘to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God’ (1:12-13).
In this New Year of 2011 let us call on the name of our Lord Jesus in faith and seek asylum from all life’s trials in him. He has become flesh to make his dwelling among us and we can be completely at home with our God through him. Amen.