But when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.
Galatians 4: 4-7 (Epistle from the Feast of the Nativity)
People often ask me why does God seem so harsh in the Old Testment. And that is a very good question. The best answer I have been able to come up with came from a day I was sitting on the solea of our church with our women’s Bible study group and this question came up. This group is a loving and supportive group of women who pray for one another and genuinely care for one another. I told them that imagine if a group of armed thugs came into our church at this moment. Would we invite them to join our group? Would they even accept or understand such an invitation? If we invited a group of violent people to join a loving and supportive group of people studying the Bible, they wouldn’t understand what we were saying. First we would need to speak to them in THEIR language—we might have to yell at them, maybe even curse at them. We’d have to insist they put away their weapons. Before talking to them about love, we’d have to talk to them about safety, to set down some rules, to make sure that everyone would stay safe. We could then integrate them into our group and if they stuck with it long enough, at some point they would hopefully be able to express love and support, the pillars of this group.
When mankind fell away from God, we mankind freely chose to go away from God, we stopped understanding what God was all about. We stopped understanding what it meant to be one with God, to love God, to be in communion with God. So, sending a savior at that very moment would not have worked probably, since mankind was not ready for redemption. First we have to understand sin. First we have to miss union with God. God put down Law and order, through the Ten Commandments and the 603 other commandments. He talked about things like “an eye for an eye,” because this is language that people could understand.
However, just as with the example of the gang members coming to Bible study, God didn’t begin and end with rules. He gave rules in order to put down order. He also began to send prophets in order to give hope and to pave the road to redemption, to get the people ready for the arrival of the Savior, the Messiah.
“When the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son.” (Galatians 4:4) Because at this point, mankind was ready to receive Christ, at least some segment of mankind. Saint Paul reminds us that Christ was “born under the Law to redeem those who were under the Law.”(4:4-5) However, God’s end-point was not to have Christ just be the rule maker and for us to live under the Law. His goal was for us to see God as Father, and for us to live as son. So that we are not slaves under the Law, or living in fear of the Law, but we have not only the joy of a child, but also the inheritance that a son receives from a father. As children of God, we are heirs to His promises, specifically the promise of eternal life.
Why God chose to incarnate Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago and not 500 years ago or 1,500 years ago is something we do not know. We know that mankind could not have received Christ right after the Fall. We were not ready. And we know that in God’s infinite mercy, He was not going to leave us living under the Law indefinitely. God had a plan for our salvation, and through Jesus Christ, two thousand years ago, He put that plan into action, a plan that began at the Incarnation.
The Feast of the Nativity marks the beginning of God’s plan being put into action. It marks the interval when the fullness of time had come. And it marks the beginning of our reclamation of a title as God’s children and heirs, rather than just followers of His Law.
When a child stands to inherit his or her parents’ home or other possessions, they treat those possessions well. If we, as children of God, stand to inherit God’s Kingdom, we should safeguard this inheritance by how we live our lives today. We should continually examine whether we are living up to Godly standards of behavior. And are we behaving in a way that honors our Father, that makes Him proud of us?
Christ is born; glorify Him! Christ is come from heaven; go and meet Him. Christ is on earth; arise to Him. Sing to the Lord, all you who dwell on the earth; and in merry spirits, O you peoples praise His birth. For He is glorified. (Katavasias of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
As children of God, let us honor our Father each day in the way that we behave. And let us behave appropriately not out of fear but out of love!