Are you able to take a deep breath yet, or is the pressure still on? If you still have a Christmas party to host or a Christmas gift to give, the pressure may still be on to get or keep the house clean or to see if the person you bought the gift for will give any facial expression which confirms your fear that they really won’t like the gift you spent so much time picking out. But there will come a time when the holidays are over and that kind of stress and pressure of buying and cleaning and traveling – though all for very enjoyable reasons – will be no more…
But it will be replaced by something else, won’t it? In fact, I assume that for every single one of us out there, the fact that we are past Christmas doesn’t mean we are past stress or pressure about something in our lives, whether it’s a matter of life or death, or whether it’s a matter of something simply being an annoyance that just makes life a little less full of joy.
That’s just the way life is – which is all the more reason to remember why Jesus is – and why Jesus came – and why Jesus will come again – and why he wants us to remember what great Christmas gifts he has given us to enjoy in the meantime until he returns to take us home. At the top of that list of gifts is the gift of not needing to worry or be stressed about whether he will take us home to heaven when he returns from heaven – all of which is because of the gift Jesus gave when he came down from heaven the first time to make this earth his home for a little while. It’s because of that gift that The Pressure Is Off – a thought which I pray will help you deal with whatever pressures and stresses and fears and concerns are part of your life right now and whatever ones will be in the future.
The way to get true relief from stress is to know that someone else felt the burden. That someone else is described in verses 4-5 of our lesson: “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.” There can be no greater stress than to be what St. Paul calls “under law.” It is one thing to worry about whether the house will ever be clean enough for the Christmas gathering, and it is one thing to worry about whether someone will like the gift you bought for them or how you can afford to have put that gift on your credit card, and it is one thing to worry about why you don’t seem to have many friends or why you can’t ever seem to feel good like you used to or why your job is such a dead-end experience, but it is a totally different thing to worry about the after-effects of being “under law.”
“Under law” is talking about the reality of life for every single person who has come into this world, whether they admit it or not – the reality that they are responsible to the person who brought them into this world – the almighty Maker of heaven and earth – having the responsibility therefore to be under his law, under his control. While many people may try to ignore that, and while we can be tempted to do the same, we know very well that being under God’s law means a lot of stress and pressure. God wants me to rejoice – always. Really? God wants me to love – even my enemies. Really? God wants me to shine like a star in the universe in the middle of a crooked and depraved generation. Really? How can I do that? I don’t even know if I want to do that. Many times I don’t do that. Many times I don’t care if I don’t do that. Many times I don’t care if God cares that I don’t care that I don’t do that. The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t make any difference what I think about it, because the fact remains that I am “under law,” something that is proved true every single time we see someone die, because the only reason there is death is because death came into the world through sin, which is the what every single one of us does when we don’t do what we should do as people under law. And that is a lot of pressure.
But someone else felt the burden so that pressure would be taken off of us. That’s how much God loves us. In these words God tells us that at just the right time in the way he had planned things out, he sent his own Son to be born as a human being of a human mother so that he, too, would be “under law.” The Son of God gave the law that you and I are under, but he allowed himself to be placed under that same law, because his Father said that someone had to keep it in order for everyone else not to get buried by it. And that is exactly what Jesus did. The sinless Son of God was under the law of obedience to his parents, under the law of putting the will of his Father first in his life, under the law of not hating, not hurting, always helping, under the law of keeping lustful thoughts from his mind, filthy words from his lips, angry actions from his hands, under the law of using his talents in a way that glorifies God, his mouth in a way that does not gossip about his neighbor, his mind in a way that does not covet things that are not his own.
And not only did Jesus perfectly keep the law that he gave that he allowed himself to be under, he still allowed himself to suffer the punishment for failing to keep the law that he was under, because he allowed all your and my failures to be discredited to him. That person lied. I will die. That person was unfaithful to his spouse. I will die. That person thinks he is better than someone else. I will die. That person doesn’t believe it is important for other people to know about God’s salvation. I will die. That person can’t understand why my will is best for them. I will die. And he did all this, not to make us feel guilty, but to make us feel happy because by doing all these things he removed the guilt from us.
In other words, someone else felt the burden, but someone else gets the relief. And that relief that you and I get from the Christmas gift of Jesus is described in a couple of different ways in verses 6-7: “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.” First God sent his Son to be born under law in order to save you and me from our sins, and then God sent someone else. He sent the Spirit of his Son – the Holy Spirit – to give us the faith to believe what Jesus did when God sent him, which makes us able to enjoy the relief which results from believing that – the relief of knowing that God has given us two Christmas gifts that will never wear out or need to be thrown away – the Christmas gifts of being able to call God “Abba, Father,” and the gift of knowing that we are an heir of God, meaning that we will someday get the inheritance of all inheritances.
Both of those gifts come from Jesus making us part of God’s family – the “full rights of sons,” Paul calls it. That means that you and I who were born outside of God’s family because we were born “under law” and unable to keep it, have now been adopted into God’s family and are considered as much a child of God as Jesus is considered God’s Son. That’s the kind of relief God gives us. We never have to be afraid the he won’t listen to us, because we can call him “Father” – or “Abba,” a tender word for a father who dearly loves us. We get to call the God who made us – and the God we sin against – dear, dear Father, asking him, as he has promised to do, to listen to everything we have to say to him, knowing that he loves it when we talk to him and when we live for him and when we listen to him in his Word.
And it’s that listening to his Word which gives us the promise that God’s Christmas gift is a gift that won’t end, because it’s an eternal inheritance. If you ever wonder – or when you wonder – if all the stress and trouble and burden and pressure of life is worth it – when you wonder if there can possibly be any good result from all the stress and trouble and burden and pressure of life that you are under – when you wonder if you will be able to survive under all that stress and trouble and burden and pressure of life – just keep remembering with all your heart the gift God gave you for Christmas – the gift of someone else to feel the real burden that weighs down on us – the gift that gives you the relief of knowing you can talk to your dear Father in heaven about it at any time day or night, the gift of knowing that when the day of life ends, there will be something more to come – something much more to come – because you have an inheritance that allows you to live in the same place where Jesus now is – a place where you will be under none of the stresses and troubles and burdens and pressures that you once feared might be too much to handle. And knowing that about then, please remember that in whatever you are going through right now — because of what that great Someone Else has done for all of us someone elses — even right now … The Pressure Is Off. Amen.