Christmas 1 B Galatians 4:4-7
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” (NRSV)
As of us have those great moments in life, those special moments that we remember with great feeling. There are those few and rare moments in life that are enormously special for us. Usually, they have to do with marriage, birth, death, a special trip, an award. All of us have had those great moments of life that are then retold again and again and again. Those special moments become part of your sacred family history.
I would like to tell you one of those great moments of our lives, both my wife Jan and myself. This story has to do with the family and therefore like all family stories, I have had to get permission to retell this story. I have been granted permission.
This story is entitled, “How Anne Marie came to live at our house and be part of our family.”
A number of years ago, I finished the seminary and was tired of schooling. I had just finished the seminary, the vocational school of preachers, and my wife Jan had just finished teaching for the year. It was time for our annual summer vacation. For vacation that year and for many summers, we decided to go canoeing and camping up in the Boundary Waters between northern Minnesota and southern Canada. I had worked as a canoe guide up in those Boundary Waters for a number of summers. I knew the waters well. We had even taken our honeymoon as a canoe trip up in the Boundary Waters which I can see by the looks on my of your faces that such a honeymoon does not appeal to you in the least.
But school was done for both Jan and myself that early summer and it was time to vacation and time to go canoeing and camping. And so we went to northern Minnesota for a week in the back woods. It was a perfectly miserable time. The mosquitoes were particularly bad that year. You don’t to go canoeing and camping in northern Minnesota in June because the mosquitoes are REALLY bad in June. If you want to go canoeing and camping in northern Minnesota, do it in late August but not early June. The mosquitoes were particularly unbearably bad that June, and I remember that my young wife’s ears were all red and swollen because of the numerous mosquito bites on her ears. She had taken a red scarf and wrapped it around her head to protect her ears and so she wouldn’t itch them anymore. I took a picture of her at that moment, and I can see that picture is vividly as can be and remember all those miserable feelings up there in the Boundary Waters in June of 1968.
Well, after that miserable trip in the Boundary Waters for a week, we thought we had had enough and decided to come off the trail and drive down to Lake Superior. We did. We pulled into a restaurant and it was time for us to make that crucial telephone call. It was three o’clock in the afternoon and no other customers were in the restaurant. Who was to make that important call? Jan or me. We decided I would. Jan was standing next to that pay phone when I called. I talked to the person on the other end of the line. “Jan, we have a girl. Twenty-two pounds. She is fed fourteen times a day.” In other words, in my nervousness, I had all the vital statistics wrong.
We had been excited all week to make that telephone call. We then sat down in the booth, held hands, and started to cry. It was one of those great moments of life. I remember it all so vividly, holding hands, crying and all those things. I remember that the waitress came over to our table and knew that something was wrong and something happened. I blurted out to the waitress: “We just had a baby. Can’t you tell?” The waitress immediately understood because her sister adopted a child the week before. Yes, it was a special moment, a sacred time, a holy occasion.
We both went out and stood by the shores of Lake Superior. The waitress came out and snapped our picture, that sacred picture of Jan and me. When I flip through our old picture albums and come to that picture and the pictures of that moment, all the feelings come flooding back into my mind.
We drove back to Minneapolis that night. It was one of those glorious thunderstorms, with lightning and thunder and the sky perpetually lit up by the grandeur of those crackling flashes of light and thunder.
The next morning, we drove to Lutheran Social Services and there in that room, they brought us our baby in a basket. Our utterly beautiful child, all dressed in pink. We knew that we needed to name her Anne or Anne Marie.
That was one of the greatest moments in our lives. It was a rare, indescribably wonderful moment that will be forever precious to us.
For me and my family, “adoption” is a good word. Adoption is a great word. Why did we adopt a child? Because deep down in us, we had this overwhelming need to love. We wanted to love a child. Since we had been so deeply loved by our mothers and fathers, we wanted to love a child as we had been loved. Yes, adoption is a good word; it is a great word in our family.
I know that many of you have similar feelings and experiences with adoption. That you are an adopted child. That you adopted a child. That your grandchild is adopted. I know for many of you, adoption is a great and positive word and experience.
The epistle text for this First Sunday after Christmas is from Galatians, chapter four, we it is said that through the work of Christ, you and I have become the adopted sons and daughters of God. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” This morning I would like to talk with you about what it means to be an adopted child of God.
In the Bible, as you may know, Jesus is the only Son of God in the flesh. The Greek word is “mono-genesis.” Mono = one. Genesis = begotten or beginning. The rest of us are all the adopted children of God. Only Jesus is of the same nature as God. Only Jesus is the flesh of God. The rest of us are the adopted children of God. Only Jesus is biological and is of the same nature as God. Only Jesus is genetic, having the same genes and chromosomes as God. At Christmas time, we celebrate that God came to us in the flesh of the baby Jesus. We are the adopted children of God here today.
Adoption. Let’s take a few minutes and talk about it. What do you know about adoption from the Old Testament? You may not realize it but the word, “adoption,” does not even occur once in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, there was no need for adoption. Let me explain. In the early parts of the Old Testament, they practiced polygamy. If a man could not get a male heir by means of his first wife, the man would go to his second wife or third wife until he got his male heir. There was no adoption in the Old Testament because there was no need for it. A man would have several wives and he would keep on procreating with his several wives until he got a son for an heir. If there was an unfortunate incident and the father died, the uncles would automatically take over the children. There was no need for adoption in the Old Testament.
So we move to the New Testament and we hear about Jesus. Not once, from the lips of Jesus, do we hear any teachings about adoption. Why? Because Jesus was a Jew and adoption was not part of Jewish society. There was no need for adoption in Jewish society.
So we move to the later part of the New Testament, to the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul mentioned adoption five times in his letters. Why? Because adoption was part of the Roman world. The Apostle Paul was a Roman citizen and adoption was part of the Roman world, Roman culture and Roman custom.
But Roman adoption was not like our adoption in America today. The Roman customs and culture of adoption were not like American customs and culture of adoption. So I would like to take a few minutes and talk with you about adoption in the Roman world.
The only reason Romans adopted anyone was to obtain a male heir for one’s legacy and inheritance. Romans would never bother to adopt a girl. That is, Romans would not adopt girls because girls were considered things or property.
When the Romans adopted, several things happened. Let’s pretend that I am the father, an older father, and I would like to adopt you, Brian (who is sitting in the front row.) I am going to adopt you, Brian, and I would like all of you to imagine what was going to happen. Why would I adopt Brian? Because I needed a male heir to receive the family inheritance and family legacy and I have chosen Brian as my male heir. I didn’t have a biological son and so I adopted one to be the heir of my estate.
We would have an elaborate ceremony. You, Brian, would sign several papers by which you would renounce all you claims to your previous family. You, Brian, would have no claims on your previous family and they would have no claims on you.
The paper that you sign was called “patre potentus.” Which means the potency of the father. When you, Brian, sign the document called “patre potentus,” that means I have absolute and total control of your life. Every dime and dollar that you make in life is mine. Any property that you accumulate is mine. You, Brian, can do nothing to contradict me. I am absolute. I even have the power to execute you if I chose to. I have the power to disown you. I have absolute power over your life.
And that is what it meant to be an adopted father in the Roman world. I, the adopted father, had absolute control over you life, Brian. And then, when I died, all of my inheritance, all of my wealth, all of my legacy would go to you, my adopted child, the male heir to all that I owned.
The Roman customs and culture of adoption were very different from our American culture and customs of adoption.
But let’s go in a new direction. Let us explore the metaphor of adoption to better understand our relationship with God.
In the next portion of the sermon, we are going to address two questions. First, What benefits does God get out of adoption and the adoption process. And secondly, what benefits do we as adopted children get out of adoption. The benefits of adoption for God and the benefits of adoption for us. That is what we are going to talk about today.
Let’s begin. What benefits do we as parents receive when we adopt a child and similarly, what are the benefits that God receives when God adopts us as his children?
As parents, we receive innumerable benefits that cannot begin to be measured nor comprehended.
The first benefit for us as adoptive parents is to share our deepest needs to love. In my wife Jan’s and my situation, we had a deep need to love, to share our love with another child, to increase our love by adopting. By adoption, we were able to express our deepest needs to be loving people by loving our adopted child. We had a need to give away those deepest feelings of love inside us and so we chose to direct these deepest feelings to our adopted child.
We, my wife and I, wanted to love a child who was our very own. Now, I often see and hug your children before and after church, and I love them (and all of that.) But to be honest, they are not my “own” children. I don’t love your children in the ways that I love my own children and grandchildren. There is something about loving your very own.
I believe that is why God adopted us to be his children. God had a desire to express God’s deepest needs to love people, a child, children, his very own children. Something changes when the child is your very own. In adoption, the child becomes your very own, and we adoptive parents share our deepest love with that child who has now become our very own. The benefit for us as adoptive parents is the pleasure of sharing our deepest love with our very own. So it was and is with God. The benefit for God is to share his deepest love with his very own.
A second benefit for us adoptive parents is that we adoptive parents are loved back. One of the greatest blessings of life is when someone loves you back and that is one of the primary reasons that we adopted. When your very own loves you back, that is something else. Your kids may love me but there is nothing like your very own kids or grandkids loving you and that is a primary benefit of the adoptive parents. Your very own child loves you back.
A primary benefit for God in adoption is when we love God back. Nothing gives God greater satisfaction that when you and I, as God’s adopted children, love God back. Nothing compares to that for God. God has enormous pleasure when we God’s children, his very own, love God back.
A third benefit for us as adoptive parents is to share life and watch our adopted child grow. Our child grows up and goes through all those stages of life of being a baby, youth, teenagers, young adults, married, children, middle age. We as older parents, share life with our children and watch our adopted children grow and it is so much fun to watch our adopted children grow.
So it is with God. God has adopted us into his family by our baptism and we are God’s very own and God takes immeasurable pleasure in sharing life and watching us grow through all the life stages. Nothing gives God more pleasure than to watch us mature and grow through life. We wanted to share our life with another human being and life becomes so much more full when you share it with other human beings such as your own children.
And the fourth benefit for us as adoptive parents is that we want someone to give our inheritance to. We want to leave something for our children when we die. We call that an inheritance. Sometimes the inheritance is material. Sometimes it is spiritual. We have made out our will and made an inheritance for our children for their future.
Similarly, God gives us our inheritance. When we die, we receive the gift of eternal life and we live for an infinity with God. God wants to give us eternal life. .
Let me give you an illustration. Do you remember the story of Pinnochio and Jeppetio? Do you remember how the old carpenter created a wooden doll by the name of Pinnochio? Pinnochio was a wooden doll with a long nose. Old man played with his wooden doll Pinnochio for a long time but his play with the wooden doll was empty. How Jepettio wished that the doll would be a live human being. Gradually, a miracle happened. Gradually Pinnochio become a live, living and breathing, little boy. And Jepetto was so happy. He could love a little human being and the little human being could love him back. They could talk, interact, share life.
And that is the way God is. I mean, how could a wooden child truly love God back? I am convinced that God got a good deal out of it when God adopted us to be His children. Because life had become boring for God. Life was empty. God created little children and adopted us to be his own and we could love God back. And that is the best benefit God gets from you and me is when we love God back. That is what pleases God immensely. There is nothing else in creation that loves God back as much as we human beings can. There are real benefits to God when God adopts us to be his children, to be his very own.
The second basic question of the sermon is this: What are the benefits for the child who is adopted. If we have been talking about the benefits to parents or to God when children are adopted, we then ask a second question: “What are the benefits for the child who is adopted by parents or by God?”
I think of our own adopted daughter, now an adult, and I think, “What are the benefits for her by being adopted?”
The first and best benefit that our daughter received was to receive a mother and father who loved her immensely. There is nobody in the whole wide world who will love our daughter more than we do, except for her own husband and children. There are no friends, no cousins, no brothers, no sisters, no anybody. In the future, when and if she marries a husband, who truly loves her, maybe that person over time will come to love her as much as we do today. Right now, in this moment, we love our daughter more than any other human being on earth alive. And that is the real benefit of adoption.
Similarly, there is nobody in the whole wide world that loves us more than God. Nobody. Not your brothers. Not your sisters. Not your cousins. Not your friends. Not your parents. There is no one in the world who loves you more than God loves you. And that is the real benefit we receive in adoption. We are loved by God like no other love in the world.
The second real benefit that our daughter received by being adopted is that she knew she belonged. I mean, Anne is a Markquart, whether she likes it or not. She is stuck with that name. She is a Markquart. She belongs to our family. That is the way it is. What an invisible blessing that is to know that you belong, that you know for sure that you belong.
Similarly, in our Christian faith, We know that we belong to God and God’s family. Without a doubt, we know we belong to God. I have a family. My last name is Christian. My name is Edward Markquart Christian. I belong to the Christian family. I have Christian brothers and sisters who love me, support me, take care of me. I belong and that is part of the immense, immeasurable blessings of being adopted into the family of God.
The third benefit that Anne received from us her family is that she gets an inheritance. Yes, she will receive a material inheritance. But the really big inheritance that Anne will receive is one that she has already received. She gets the inheritance of love and forgiveness. She knows that she is loved no matter what. No matter what. Now, that is an inheritance.
I have already collected my inheritance from my mother and father. I had nothing to do with money. I have already collected. I have been loved by my mother and father. I have been caressed. I have been given all. I received their love. I received my mother’s zest for life and living. I have collected my inheritance again and again and again. Anne, our daughter, has already collected her inheritance from us as well.
And likewise with us from God. I mean, we have already collected all those material things that God has given to us, but these are not nearly as important as the real inheritance which is eternal life and eternal love with God.
There are so many benefits in being an adopted child by God, our heavenly Father.
You see, the word, “adoption,” is a very good word. The word, “adoption,” did not occur one time in the Old Testament. The word, “adoption,” did not occur one time from the lips of Jesus. But the Apostle Paul, being part of the Roman world, knew that Jesus was the only Son of God, the biological Son of the Father, and that we were adopted into God’s family by means of baptism. You and I have become the adopted sons and daughters of God. Amen.
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