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“…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.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Because we are sons”

 

Regarding the readings or lections for Christmas Day and the Sunday after Christmas, Fr. John Henry Blunt wrote:

“On the one day, the Son of God is shewn to us becoming the Son of Man: on the other, the sons of men are shewn to us becoming the sons of God, through the Adoption won for them by the Holy Child Jesus.  We are “heirs of God through Christ,” because of the fulfilment of the promise conveyed by His Name, “He shall save His people from their sins.”

Our adoption as sons of God happens because of Christ.  Christ is God the Son Who has taken on Flesh and is born of a woman.  Because of Christ’s Incarnation, we can have the Spirit of God in our hearts and call God the Father, Abba, or father.

 

So let’s look at today’s lesson from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians in the fourth chapter, beginning with verses 1-3:

“1 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;

2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.

3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:”

Before Christ came into the world, there were pretty much only two sorts of people.  There were the chosen people of God, the Jews, and there were those who did not worship the one true God, the pagans.  St. Paul describes both of them as being held “in bondage under the elements of the world.”

God treated the Jews as his chosen race, but he treated them mostly like quarrelsome children.  Think of how God punished David for his adultery or how God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind.  In the previous chapter here in Galatians, St. Paul writes of how the Law of Moses was like a tutor teaching the children of Israel.

But God considered the pagans far more harshly, as they followed not God but the seasons and the stars and all manner of fables they told themselves to make sense of a harsh and unforgiving world.  They grasped at foolishness in order to gain some knowledge of natural religion.

Thus all of humanity had the potential to become the sons of God, but this was a latent and untouched potential, for humanity had not reached the point where Christ’s presence and teaching would be most effective.

St. Paul continues with verses 4-5:

“4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,

5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

God the Father sent forth the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, down to earth to be born of a woman.  God the Son pre-existed Jesus Christ, Who is God the Son Incarnate among us.  God the Son had no beginning and no end, and in the words of the Nicene Creed, is “eternally begotten” of the Father.

“The fulness of the time” is an awesome phrase.  Why was the year of Christ’s birth so “meet and right” for His Incarnation?  Fr. Melville Scott says it better than I do:

“Christ’s coming took place … at the time most suitable, when the world had learned that it was hopeless to think of improving the human race by means of any of the religions or philosophies then existing; when all was ready for the diffusion of a world creed, and the Empire by its arms and laws had paved the road for the messengers of the King of Kings.’”

And so the time was right for the Blessed Virgin Mary to give birth to the Christ.  And in His Circumcision and Presentation at the Temple, Christ was clearly born under the Law, so that He might “redeem them that were under the law.”

The last two verses of today’s epistle are verses 6-7:

“6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

Because we are sons of God through Christ, Christ does two things.  First He delivers us from evil, and then He supplies us with good.  The evil is the curse of the Law, from which Christ delivers us.  St. Paul spills a lot of ink on this one.  We are no longer condemned for our sins because Christ has come into the world as one of us, suffered and died for us, and rose again from the dead, defeating death and sin and Hell forever.

The good He does is gain us our “promotion to sonship”, and so God the Father fills our hearts with the Spirit of his Son.  With the shared sonship of the Father, the brotherhood of Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, we who have faith in Christ and been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism receive abundant new life and participate in communion with God.  Through that vital connection to the creator of the universe, we may realize and act upon our adopted sonship.  At the Last Day, our souls shall rejoin our bodies, and we shall enter into Resurrection and perfect communion with the Triune God for all eternity.  But even now we have access to the promises of God in our lives, in our world.

 

Because the Son of God was made flesh, we receive the adoption of sons.  By the adoption of sons, we enjoy communion with the Father.  Because we are sons, we have the Spirit of the Son in our hearts.

Christ taking on human flesh at the Annunciation – a holy day of obligation coming up in March, by the way – by His taking on our flesh from the Blessed Mother, St. Mary, we are ultimately saved from sin and promoted to the first-rank of creation.  We enjoy blessed sweet communion with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Nobody on earth can look at you like you’re nothing, for you are the blessed sons of God.

There are many ways one gets adopted nowadays.  One of those ways is when orphans in foreign countries, orphans living in hideous squalor, without family, without health care, without prospects for a long useful happy life, when those orphans get adopted by American or Australian or what have you couples, then they are brought into a safe and prosperous country and given – given is the word, mind you, for these are children without power or authority of their own – and given sonship or daughtership.  Such a child is instantly given safety, clothes, a warm bed, loving parents, good medical care, schooling, and citizenship.  If the child is handicapped, then even more is given to the child, for now the child’s disability is less crippling due to a more accepting society, laws guaranteeing access to public places, and healthcare which makes adjustments or corrections allowing for a more dignified and able life.

But there’s more.  The child also becomes an heir of the family.  Adopted children are not accorded lesser rights than natural-born children.  They are accorded the exact same rights as children born into the family, but they are given them graciously.  If the impoverished child is adopted into a rich family, that child will be heir to great wealth.

All of humanity suffers under the constraints of sin, disease, death, suffering, toil and all the consequences of our fall into sin.  Each of us suffers so.  On this earth in this life, we might think that some suffer more and some suffer less, but if we are to go to Hell, then we will all suffer horribly forever.  Unless.  Unless God were to come into the world and take on human flesh from a human mother, forever sanctifying the race which fell from God’s favor.  If only a woman would perfectly obey where the first woman disobeyed.  Then we might have salvation.

And we do thus have salvation through Christ!  For He truly became flesh inside the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and united God and Man forever in His precious Body.  Think on that when you kneel for the Holy Communion today.  God and Man together made one Person in Christ Jesus our Lord, Who gave His precious Body and Blood to feed you, to eat and drink in your mouth, to take into your body so that you, body and soul, may be taken up into eternal communion with God the Father, so that you may become a vessel and tabernacle of the Holy Ghost, so that you may become the adopted brothers of the Son of God and eternal sons of the eternal God.

We hardly ever think on this.  But we should.  We should think on it every single day of our lives.  And I’ll tell you what:  You ought to be reminded of this every single day of your lives.  For each of us, if we are to claim the name of Christian, are to pray the Lord’s Prayer every single day of our lives unless in a coma until the day we die.

And it starts off, “Our Father….”

We think that this is a simple and decent prayer and certainly one that other religions should be able to say with us.  But they can’t!  And why not?

Atheists acknowledge no God.  Jews dare not call our God father.  Moslems think of themselves as slaves of God, not sons.  Hindus and Buddhists and Shinto folk do not conceive of God like we do.

Only Christians dare to call Almighty God their father!  Isn’t that a kick in the pants?  We sit around thinking, “Well, we’re saying the Lord’s Prayer.  Communion will finally be here and then we sing and then we eat.”

Instead, we ought to stop and savor the word:  Father.

 

I want to leave you with two big thoughts of how our adoption as sons of God permanently changes our lives.

The first thought is this:  If we are truly adopted sons of the Most High God, the creator of Heaven and earth, then we are not merely passing through this world.  God created this earth we stand on.  And this is the day which the Lord has made.  If we are the sons of God, then we are no longer renters with no attachment or investment in the things God has made and loved, but we are heirs and thereby owners of these things as well.  Everything we let slide here we will have to answer for.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll have to fix it ourselves.

The last thought is this:  If we who believe in Christ, are washed in Holy Baptism, and commune with Christ in His Body and Blood are sons of God and tabernacles of the Holy Ghost, then we are all brothers and sisters.  If we are joint-heirs with Christ of eternal life, then we will be more than neighbors for all of eternity:  We will be related.  Do we act like family?  Do we love each other through thick and thin?  Do we accord each other mutual respect?  Or do we take advantage of each other?  Worse yet, do we ignore each other?  Do we gossip, slander, or insult each other?  I wouldn’t be surprised if we will have to own up to each ill-considered and hateful word we’ve ever said about each other either in Heaven or before we get there.

 

“…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.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Nowadays, many people dismiss angels as merely poetic or symbolic, but not truly real.  People, learned people especially, tend to dismiss Satan as the personification of evil, that is, we pretend he is a person exemplifying evil traits and not a real spiritual person.  These notions come from the folly of naturalism, the Enlightenment and Modern philosophy that only “natural (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) laws and forces operate in the world.”  This notion sits more firmly in minds of even the faithful than we would like to think.

Therefore, we tend to think very little of angels because they are not popular like they were in medieval and ancient times.  They do not really fit in with our modern ways of thinking.  We believe that if we do not think of them much, it does no damage to our Christian faith.

But this last point is wrong.  Not believing in actual spiritual beings called angels does hurt our faith in Christ.  If we do not believe in angels, we cannot consistently hold that Christ was the spiritual God from Heaven come down and made Man, and that directly contradicts the Holy Scriptures, Creeds, and teaching of Holy Mother Church.  You can explain away angels and thus deny Christ, or you can believe in both.

If we believe in Christ and thus believe in angels, then we may be comforted by the idea of the Heavenly Host doing God’s will and ministering to us.  Hebrews i.14:  “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”  That we are aided by supernatural spirits gives us comfort, hope, and courage in our battle against sin.  We join the ranks of Christians throughout all the centuries who took practical help from angels.

Naturalistic philosophy holds that science teaches us about our world.  But science can only examine the material world, although it does that very well.  Many questions of our race remain unanswered by science.  Psychology and medicine explain some of the cases of demon possession and miracles in the Bible, but they cannot explain all of them.  Evil angels cause evil disorders.  What science teaches us is correct so far as it can go.  The natural world and the supernatural world are but different parts of God’s good Creation.

Indeed, our personal experiences bear out the existence of both holy and diabolical angels.  Who here has not been sorely tempted and then found sudden inexplicable relief?  Who here was otherwise doing fine until suddenly tempted or troubled with the most unsettling thoughts?  Some of this may come from habit, diet, and rest, but can all of it be explained so?

The Holy Scriptures mention angels many times, but the angels are never the point of the Holy Scriptures.  Thus, most Biblical references are indirect.  To understand angels in the Bible, we must look at references that are about other things and glean what we can from them.

We know they exist and that they communicate with men.  Angels conveyed messages to Abraham, Jacob, Balaam, Moses, Daniel, St. Mary, the ladies at the Empty Tomb, and the apostles.  We know that they are not flesh and blood from Ephesians vi.12.  We know that angels do not marry from St. Matthew xxii.30.  We know that they are wise from 2 Samuel xiv.20.  We know that they are moral creatures from St. John viii.44.  We know that they will be judged on the Last Day from St. Jude 6.  We know that we share with the angels in the communion of saints from Hebrews xii.22-23

Angels appear throughout the Scriptures, from Satan and the angel in the Garden of Eden in Genesis to St. Michael and Satan in the Revelation of St. John the Divine read today for the Epistle.  But angels especially appear around Christ.

St. Gabriel appeared to Zacharias to announce the birth of St. John Baptist.  The same St. Gabriel appeared unto the Blessed Virgin Mary to announce the birth of our Lord and Savior.  The heavenly host appeared to the shepherds “keeping watch over their flock by night”.  Angels ministered to Christ in the wilderness after His Temptation and announced His Resurrection on Easter morn.  Christ taught that angels minister to His children.  Christ exorcized demons and came to deliver men from the power of the one who had power over body and soul in Hell.

Fr. Hall:  “It has always been generally believed by Christians that multitudes of angels exist; that they are created and personal spirits, possessed of high intellectual power and capable of considerable although limited influence upon nature and upon man; that they belong to various orders, to which diverse functions are distributed; that, originally created good, many of them have fallen away, and under Satan’s leadership oppose themselves to divine purposes and to man’s moral and spiritual welfare; and that the holy angels not only minister to God in heavenly places, but also to the souls of men, defending them against the assaults of Satan and his hosts.”

Other than this common core of belief, Christians from the age of the early Church Fathers until now have supposed many things.  The most accepted of these, Pseudo-Dionysius, whose writings have been very persuasive, lists nine orders of angels he found in Holy Scripture.  The highest of the three sets of three are the thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim, who minister directly to God in his presence.  The middle of the three sets are the dominions, virtues, and powers, who are, in the words of Fr. Hall, “more or less associated with works of power in nature and warfare.”  The lowest order includes principalities, archangels, and angels, who are often God’s messengers to men.  These orders are included in the Eastern liturgies of St. Basil and St. James and are included in our closing hymn today.

Angels have more powers than men but less than God.  They are personal, moral creatures who possess free will, know more than men, and enjoy the presence of God – the Beatific Vision.  But they do not know the Day of Judgement, and they cannot discern men’s thoughts.  They are not of flesh and blood but seem to have power over men’s bodies.  They are local in presence and motion but can move very swiftly.

Since they do not marry, they do not generate themselves.  They were each created directly by God.  Unlike us, when some of them fell, they did not all fall.  Therefore, Christ did not have to come to save angels.  Christ only came to save man.

Holy Scripture assumes that there are seven archangels, of whom Ss. Michael and Gabriel are named in the primary canon and Ss. Uriel and Raphael are named in the deutero-canonical Scripture, otherwise known as the Apocrypha.  Jewish tradition names the other three.

We know angels protect us and guide us in God’s will.  They seek to help us towards salvation and guard us against the evil angels.  They accompany our prayers to Heaven, witness our tribulations, rejoice over our repentance, come with Christ on the Day of Judgement, and generally do God’s bidding.

Fr. John Henry Blunt wrote:  “It has been a constant tradition of Christianity that angels attend at the ministration of Holy Baptism, and at the celebration of the Holy Communion; and that as Lazarus was the object of their tender care, so in sickness and death they are about the bed of the faithful, and carry their souls to the presence of Christ in Paradise.”

Then, there are evil angels.  God is good, and he created everything good.  But those of us with free will, namely men and angels, have the capacity to rebel against God and goodness.

Our pets and animals, however, cannot willfully choose evil.  They naturally live for the glory of God.  However, we are responsible as stewards with dominion over the earth to take care of them and treat them well.  But these animals of ours cannot choose evil.

But the evil angels do.  They beheld God’s face and wanted to live for themselves anyway.  They were given freedom by God and chose to misuse that good gift.  Evil angels fell before the Fall of Man, for Satan there tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Evil came to men from fallen angels.  Many theologians have sought to explain this, but that is the extent to which Scripture teaches.  We can only speculate how Satan and the evil angels fell and why they tempted man.

Satan has limited dominion over our world and will be consigned to the “lake of fire and brimstone” at the Day of Doom.  Since we are fallen and unstable, we are particularly susceptible to the wiles of Satan and his demons.  They are far older, wiser, and more evil than we are; they are very dangerous.  But in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, we are washed in the Blood of the Lamb Who Was Slain, and their evil influence upon us is limited.

Unclean spirits cannot alter God’s natural laws but only manipulate them for evil purposes.  Holy Scripture shows this limitation.  When we use mediums and other wicked means to communicate with the dead, setting aside cases of fraud, the poor quality and vanity of that supernatural communication shows the origin of these communications to be from demons.  St. John warns us to test the spirits.  St. Paul tells us that the power to discern spirits is a gift of the Holy Ghost.  Christ said, “by their fruits ye shall know them.”

In St. Matthew, we see that the damnation of Satan and the demons is eternal.  His work to corrupt man had its singular epic success in the fall of man, but subsequently their evil work has expended itself upon sinful men.  The plans of God are not thwarted.  Satan can plot and plan all he likes, but the eternal goodness of God continues on as always, unabated, unaltered.  Those evil plans are often turned into following God’s perfect plan, as goodness and grace and protection pours upon his people through his ministering spirits.  We repent and return to God despite the wiles and viciousness of the Devil.  The holy angels protect and defend us, the Holy Scriptures teach us, the Holy Sacraments empower us, and the Holy Spirit of God lives in us.  The power and hostility of demons are real, but God’s eternity, grace, and loving-kindness are so much more powerful.  We are not pawns in the battle of good and evil.  We are powerful yet flawed men who must decide for ourselves if we shall fight on behalf of our Father in Heaven, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost alongside the saints and angels, or if we shall fight in rebellion to the Blessed and ever glorious Holy Trinity along with other evil men and the wicked angels.

We have countless fellow-creatures and friends who wish us well, who watch over us day and night, who are always ready to whisper to us a word of encouragement or warning.  They possess heavenly rectitude and wise judgement and ever stand ready as good examples for us.  Satan and his evil angels are out to get us, but our friends the heavenly host do battle and assist us.

The angels in Heaven are above us now, but after the Last Judgement when we enter into the glory that Christ has prepared for us, we shall indeed be higher than the angels.  Angels are not little gods.  They, too, are creatures.  We never worship them.  Only Christ can lead us into Salvation.  They are not our brothers, but they are our fellow creatures who share in God’s love and ministry.  We are never alone.  We always have help.

And let us dare not forget the words of the Mass, which in a short while I shall sing on behalf of all the faithful gathered here together:  “Therefore with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious Name, evermore praising Thee, and saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory: Glory be to Thee, O Lord most High.”

Believe in the holy angels of God.  Ask for divine help from on high whenever you are in trouble or temptation.  Befriend your guardian angel.  Y’all are in it together.  And as St. Peter warns:  “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:  Whom resist stedfast in the faith.”

 

St. Michael and All Angels, pray for us.  Amen.

“THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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