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Galatians 4:4-7

“In the Fullness of Time”

2020 is the year for some apocalyptic preaching. In describing the phrase, “In the fullness of time,” Richard Hays remarks that this expression “indicates the apocalyptic reference for Paul’s thought” (New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, “Galatians” 283). Louis Martyn also emphasizes the apocalyptic inbreaking of Paul’s message in describing this section of the letter as focused on redemptive invasion (Galatians, Anchor Bible, 384). As we preach the good news this Christmas, we can all use some redemptive invasion at the start of a new church year that longs for the coming of freedom and healing from a year of pandemic, racial awakening (or racial anxiety and tension), and a fraught election cycle. Sign me up for God’s redemptive invasion. I’m here for it and I am pretty sure our congregations need this message of hope too.

My daily commute includes one of those oft-changed church signs. I’ve always been interested in church signs. During the fall, this sign had up some sort of line that I’ll paraphrase as: “do the elephant and donkey have you worn out: try the lamb.” I initially caught it subconsciously, and in my head, I had what I thought was a better version of the trope: Has looking to the elephant or donkey distracted you from looking at the lamb? Christmas is full of tempting distractions from the inbreaking gift of God that is Jesus. For many of our hearers this week, they will have turned to the comfort and hope of Christmas extra early this year in light of the chaos of work from home, eLearning, pandemic fatigue, and so many who are mourning the loss of loved ones and plans that were altered or cancelled. By the time we get to December 27th, some of us may be ready to pack up the Christmas decorations and move on since the tree is all dried out because we decided we should decorate on November 7th.

Into this context of exhaustion, despair, grief, and distraction, Galatians 4:4-7 offers us a powerful reminder of God’s story in this Christmas season. The verses in the second reading this week are part of a larger unit that seeks to define identity for Paul’s readers as lying within the confines of Abraham’s descendants and ultimately as heirs of God’s through adoption as God’s children. Paul lays this out as a battle against the cosmic power of the law to enslave us and God’s decisive action in Jesus to invade our lives and our situation and redeem us. This point is reiterated several times from 3:6-4:7. In 3:13, Christ rede