His Birth, Our Adoption

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But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (Galatians 4:4-7 NRSV)

Jesus was born, so that ultimately we might receive adoption as God’s children. There are few things we can note:

  1. We cannot think of ourselves as automatically being God’s children just because we happen to exist. The Bible does not affirm that all people are God’s children, if we were, there would be no need for adoption. It does affirm that we are separated from God by sin. God therefore has no “fatherly” obligation toward us. Thankfully, it also affirms that we can become His children: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” (John 1:12 NRSV)
  2. Adoption is a result of God’s will, God’s desire. A parent who goes to an adoption agency has no prior obligation to adopt a particular child. God has no obligation to adopt us, or do anything for us. But He chooses to do so. It is His will to do something good for us, He sent His Son, that we might be adopted.
  3. Our background is not an issue for adoption. When God has chosen to adopt you, there is no “but Lord, you know that I am . . . or I have done . . .” He already knows and has gone ahead with the adoption anyway. There is repentance from those things in the past that separate us from God, but our past does not keep God from adopting.
  4. We are adopted by One who will be present to us and intimate with us: “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6) Though we can point to the Lamb’s Book of life, an adoption certificate is not our proof now that we are His children. His fatherly presence through His Holy Spirit is. And through His Spirit we are to call him by what is really the more familiar “Dad” rather than the formal “Father.”
  5. We are no longer enslaved. We have been enslaved to sin this side of Eden. A particular people were called through whom God would bless all, they were enslaved to the law. Through adoption we are no longer slaves to sin or the law, but we are free children of God. Being freed, our desire will be to honour the One who has freed us from slavery, and adopted us as His own.
  6. As God’s children we look forward to an inheritance. While I appreciate translations that look to being appropriately inclusive in language, these are verses where it helps to know that the word “son” is used throughout. In fact it is even found in the very word for ‘adoption’. This is important because it was written at a time when sons enjoyed the inheritance, the daughters not-so-much. So the ladies among us also look forward to a full and equal inheritance in Jesus.
  7. A familiar expression is true: “God has no grandchildren.” Perhaps some prefer to think of God as a grandfather type of figure, close enough to enjoy a relationship, but far enough to enjoy freedom from a father’s discipline. When we are adopted, we are adopted as children, not grandchildren. We can expect His wonderful presence, we can expect a wonderful inheritance, and we can also expect His discipline. This too is wonderful!

At the right time Jesus was born so that someday you might be adopted as God’s child. Have you experienced that?

photo credit: Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland via photopin cc

Finding Love: Puppet Remix

Continuing my habit of posting the puppet skits that go along with the sermon. Many thanks to the young lads of the church who have helped with this.

Characters: Sherlock the detective, Watson the Angel, Voice from “The Bachelor”, Another Angel.

Enter Sherlock and Watson

Sherlock: Well hello my dear Watson.

Watson: Hello Sherlock. Why are you not looking through your magnifying glass as usual?

Sherlock: So that I can see you coming so you don’t scare the wits out of me again. In my line of work I need all the wits I can get. That, and it is hard to watch television through a magnifying glass.

Watson: What are you watching?

Sherlock: A television program. Elementary dear Watson!

Watson: I can see that, but which program.

Sherlock: The program that will help us find that one last thing we need.

Watson: So far you have been looking for hope, peace, and joy, which leaves us with finding love. I can definitely help you with this one.

Sherlock: No need, dear Watson. This program will help me find love. In fact this program has been helping people find love for years. Watch it with me and you will see.

Voice: I came on this show to find love. Several times in the past I thought I had found love, but hadn’t. But now I think I’ve found it.

Sherlock: See, it is the place to go to find love.

Watson: What show is this anyway?

Sherlock: The Bachelor.

Watson: Isn’t that the show where there is one man dating a whole group of ladies at the same time and every week he sends some home until he proposes to just one?

Sherlock: That’s the one.

Watson: Ah, that’s a favourite for at least two ladies from our congregation, not mentioning any names. And you think watching this show will help you find love?

Sherlock: It’s elementary dear Watson. of course watching will not help, but being on the show will. I am scheduled to be the next bachelor.

Watson: You are going to be on the Bachelor?

Sherlock. Yes indeed. As I’ve said, its the place to find love. I do hope there are not too many blondes. I don’t get along well with blondes for some reason.

Watson: I don’t think a tv show is the place to find love Sherlock.

Sherlock. I somehow knew you were going to say that. I suppose you are going to take me back in time to find it then?

Watson: Yes.

Sherlock: To the first episode of the Bachelor?

Watson: A lot further than that.

Sherlock: The Dating Game?

Watson: Before television was thought of. We are going to the first Christmas.

Sherlock: Will there be an engagement?

Watson: Well there is an engagement, between Joseph and Mary. But while they have great love for one another, that is really not what its about.

Sherlock: Then what is it about?

Watson: It’s about God’s love for us. Before Joseph and Mary were married, Mary became pregnant. Joseph was about to call off the engagement thinking she was unfaithful to him. But he was going to do it quietly because he still loved her.

Sherlock: So what happened?

Watson: One of my friends appeared to Joseph in a dream. Let’s listen in to what he said:

Angel: Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

Sherlock: So let me think this through. Having gone through the Old Testament I have deduced that sin separates humans from God, not to mention each other. So this baby born on the first Christmas will somehow deal with that separation. And this is an expression of God’s love. That while we cannot do anything about the separation we experience from God through sin, God deals with it for us.

Watson: Precisely dear Sherlock. As John recorded: “”For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” And “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Sherlock: And so finding love is not necessarily about finding a wife.

Watson: Love should be part of marriage, but it is much bigger than that. Jesus showed us how to love when he went to the cross for us. It is about caring for others, even when they might not even care for you. It is about serving others, even when they may not be able to serve you. It is about commitment to others, even when they are not committed to you. It is about generosity, about grace, about forgiveness. Through this baby born at Christmas God loved us, and showed us how to love. In fact, as the Bible says, “God is love.”

Sherlock: I am beginning to see I am more likely to find love by reading the Bible than watching the television.

Watson: So are you still going to be the next bachelor?

Sherlock: I might be the next repentant sinner instead!


Finding Love

small__471634239Where do people turn to find love? You will often hear the expression “I am here to find love.” on the show “The Bachelor.” If you are not familiar with the show, there is one man and many women who are then “weeded out” week by week until by the end there is a proposal for marriage. While many will say “I am here to find love,” you can’t help but see how some get caught up in the competitive nature of it and end up being there to win. And as in reality tv, so also in reality; sometimes what we think of as love is really nothing more than feeding our ego. You love me, therefore I must be special! I am a winner!

You are maybe expecting me to tell you that the birth of Jesus will feed your ego and help you see how special you are, but unfortunately I have bad news. The Bible really does not do much to help you feed your ego. Some may think, “well, wait a minute, doesn’t the fact that God came to us in Jesus who then died on the cross for me affirm my worth? Jesus thinks I am worth dying for.” Actually, no.

The Bible does teach three things relating to our self-worth. First, all humans are created in the image of God and therefore we must respect each other’s dignity. Racism and sexism should be killed dead in us before we even get past the first chapter of the Bible. Second, humanity is in a mess. Consider:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way (Isaiah 53:6a NRSV)
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth (Isaiah 64:6a NRSV)
There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one. (Romans 3:10-12 NRSV)
. . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23 NRSV)

Third, when God came to us in Jesus, and when Jesus died on the cross, it was not because he found us worthy. His thought process was not “I can never get along without you.” He could and has done so for quite some time just fine. You and I are completely unnecessary to God. Sorry for that bit of bad news.

Now for the good news. Though there is nothing about us that would inspire God to come to us and go to the cross for us, He did so anyway. Why? Because He loves us. His love is not an affirmation of our worth, for we are in a sinful muddle, it is rather an expression of His character.

Christmas teaches us about God’s love, God’s character:

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. (Philippians 2:5-7a NRSV)

Jesus emptied Himself. What a contrast that is to Herod who sought to preserve and promote himself through the killing of many infants. What a contrast to our filling ourselves up by feeding our egos. Rather than hold onto or exploit His divinity, Jesus emptied Himself coming to us, a fact which we celebrate at Christmas. Easter comes next in our Bible reading:

And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8 NRSV)

This expression of God’s love is based on His character, not on how adorable we are. The adoration belongs to Him, not us:

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 NRSV)

In this love story, love is about the character of the lover. It is also expressed best, not by adjectives and nouns like “warm fuzzy feelings,” but by verbs, like “emptied,” “humbled,” “gave,” “sent”, and “died.” For example:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16 NRSV)
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10 NRSV)

God’s love is an active love. Christian love replaces grudges with forgiveness. God could have held a grudge. We can not say “we will do better,” because we wouldn’t. But instead of holding a grudge, He sent His Son. Christian love replaces dysfunction with redemption. God could have left us in a mess. We can not say to Him “you ought to fix us” because there is no ought we can use with God. But instead of leaving us in dysfunction He sent His Son. Christian love replaces loneliness with friendship and fellowship. God could have left us alone in the universe. We can not say to Him, “look how attractive we must be to you” because we really are not. But instead of leaving us alone He sent His Son to restore friendship and fellowship with Him.

Christmas is a time during which we stuff ourselves silly. Will love in your life be defined by how you feed your ego this Christmas, or will it be defined through verbs like receiving Jesus, accepting His offer of salvation, forgiving the hurtful, giving to the hurting, drawing close to the lonely, making welcome the stranger, feeding the hungry, and advocating for the powerless? And on and on we could go. Jesus may not feed your ego, but He will save your soul . . . and teach you how to love.

photo credit: Chocolate Geek via photopin cc