3. Q. From where do you know your sins and misery?
A. From the law of God.
4. Q. What does God's law require of us?
A. Christ teaches us this in a summary in Matthew 22: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.
5. Q. Can you keep all this perfectly?
A. No, I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbour.
As we celebrate Christmas, we are reminded of why Christ came in the first place. Let's look at Galatians 4:1-7. Actually, we have to go back to Chapter 3:
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had 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 you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
As the Heidelberg Catechism summarizes, we are incapable of keeping God's law, but we are prisoners under that covenant until the Son comes to rescue us. Now, this doesn't mean we are innocent victims. I think that's one of the greatest travesties of the modern Church. We are told constantly that we have "missed the mark", we have "made mistakes", or we have "failures." We are told that sin is something that happened TO us. No, we are rebels. We are haters of God. We are completely responsible for our actions, words, and thoughts. Just because sin is genetic doesn't make us less evil. You've heard in the movies, "some people are just born bad." Well, actually, all of us are born bad.
Notice the answer to question 5 doesn't say, "sadly, we just can't keep the law, no matter how hard we try." This is true, but the full answer is that we don't even try. "No, I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbour." Now, notice sin comes before the law, even though sin is the transgression of the law, because remember the law was handed down through Moses. How can you have the transgression before the law itself? Well the answer is clear to see: the law is handed down to codify the transgressions that were already taking place. The ten commandments are not a law handed down for us to then break. It's an image of perfection to show us how far we have strayed from the attributes of a true child of God. The law exists to tutor us on what true holiness is.
But the law is not the covenant itself. The law shows us that we are completely unable to keep the covenant of works to merit our salvation. Only a transfer out of the covenant of works and into a covenant of grace is the solution. This is the wonderful hope that the passage in Galatians provides. Those who have put their faith in Christ (the outward sign being baptism) have been transferred to the covenant of grace.
Now, what does this have to do with the nativity? Jesus had to be born under that same law, that same covenant of works, so that he could fulfill it. The law of works still needs to be kept, and Christ not only is the one who can do it, he does do it! We being in Christ by faith have fulfilled the covenant of works, too, because we are IN Christ. We are no longer rebels but are lovers of Christ, out of gratitude for what he has done for us.
This is why he needed to live a full life without sin before dying on the cross. He needed to perfectly fulfill the covenant of works. I'm reminded of the carol Away in a Manger, which is written off as extra-biblical nonsense and silly descriptions of Baby Jesus sleeping. Believe it or not, there is doctrine there: "The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes." This is significant. We all know babies are selfish little creatures, and rightly so, because they are completely dependent on their parents. They can't feed themselves, they can't walk, they can't talk. They cry out for what they need. Yet, Christ did not make a sound, because even though it is necessary, selfishness is still sin, and Jesus cannot sin. He knows he will be taken care of. He does not need to cry out for himself to be served. He, from the beginning, came to serve, and to die as a ransom for many.
Let's remember how even the Christ child fulfilled the law for us, so that we could be redeemed and adopted as sons and daughters of God, all for His Glory.