Monday, December 24, 2018

Adoption as God's Children

This coming Sunday could easily be missed. It is the First (and this year only) Sunday after Christmas Day. Most of our liturgical, musical, and homiletic focus is spent on Christmas Eve. Like everyone else, many clergy, musicians, and other worship leaders go on vacation. Even if they don't, they've likely saved sermon prep or organ practice for the other side of Christmas, which means Wednesday, which probably means Thursday or Friday or not at all. I don't blame them. My own daily writing has become, well, less than daily because of the busyness of the pre-Christmas season. I don't blame them (us), but it's still a shame.

On Sunday, those who go to church will hear Paul's message of Christmas hope to the Galatians: "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." The incarnation, to use a word Paul does not use, is the means by which all of humanity becomes God's adopted children. Once our human nature is united to the divine nature, there is no going back. It may not change God, but it changes us forever.

For Paul, however, this new reality takes on an interesting approach: we are heirs. Think about the specificity of that notion. In a family, many people may have claim to relationship. Even close friends may call someone "mom" or "dad" or "aunt" or "uncle." When it is time for the family to be seated at the funeral, the children of the decedent often ask caretakers and other trusted individuals to join them in the place of honor. But, when it's time to read the will, those close associations don't really count for much.

Yet, in Christ, we are heirs. We are direct-line inheritors of the riches that God bestows upon us. We are not third-cousins or distant kin but heirs. The distinction Paul makes between slaves and heirs carries some cultural baggage that deserves unpacking, but the point he seems to be making is the totality with which the incarnation changes our identity. Even the children of Israel, Paul writes, were under a disciplinarian--a pedagogue, a teacher, a trainer--in the covenanted law. That does not necessarily imply a conditional relationship, but it does imply an incomplete one. The law is not wrong, nor is it bad, but its work was unfinished until all of humanity found its heir-ship in the birth of God's Son.

Although we often (and rightly) think of Paul as cross-centered, some of Paul's strongest and richest theology is incarnational. In Christ, there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male or female (Gal. 3:28). For if many died through Adam's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many (Rom. 5:15). This Sunday, as we continue our celebration of the incarnation, we are reminded of an important truth: we are God's children--not a loosely connected extended family but direct-line descendants and heirs. Each of us and all of us belong to God as if we were God's only beloved daughter or son. It is not some abstraction that God has taken upon God's self. It is our nature--your nature, my nature--that is united with the divine in the incarnation.

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