28th December, 2008
'But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son
… so that we might receive adoption as children' (Gal.4: 4,5)
When I was about eight years old my father told me that I had been adopted. It meant little to me then, after all, he was my dad and mum was - well, mum. I just knew there was something different. Not good or bad, just different. As the years went by I hardly thought about the matter but, when I was in my early 30's, I began to realise being adopted did make a difference. Who were my parents? Where had I come from? Why was I adopted? That began a long process of discovery: in those days children were not allowed to know anything about their birth parents and it took a long time, and a great deal of soul-searching, to discover the identity of my birth-family. However, I have never doubted that my 'real' family was the one which had adopted me and to whom I owed, if not my birth then my life.
ADOPTION AS THE CHILDREN OF GOD
Today we observe as the Feast of the Holy Family. On the face of it quite a small family: just Mary, Joseph and Jesus. The original nuclear family, I guess! But the important message that comes from our readings is that it isn't as small as it seems, for we are all included in this family! God has chosen us, humanity, to share life with Him. That's one of the great messages of Christmas.
In my early days as a Franciscan, when I was coming to terms what it meant to have been adopted I recall my Novice Guardian at that time, Br. Damian, saying to me, "Just remember, John, you didn't just happen - you were chosen!" and I have always remembered and treasured that insight. And that is what St. Paul, in his 'Letter to the Galatians' is saying about our relationship with God - we have been chosen by Him. Just imagine that - you have been chosen by God to be his child!
Now that might not be startling news to some of us, but it's been pointed out that this was to the people who heard the message of God's incarnation in Jesus. Up to that point (and in many religions today) God was remote, all powerful, not to be equated with earthly things. The very idea that God would chose to enter our humanity is impossible, shocking and repugnant.
But that is what we believe and what we proclaim: 'But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman … so that we might receive adoption as children.' (Gal. 4:4) And he came as a weak, helpless, vulnerable baby. Yes, our gospel is that God knows what it's like to be just that - weak, helpless and vulnerable. It's at such times in our lives when God is closest to us so that we might be drawn into His life.
I have always loved one of the Collects used during Christmastide that sums up the purpose of God's adoption of us:
who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
through your Son Jesus Christ:
grant that, as he came to share in our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity.
It's almost as if, in coming down into our midst in the Incarnation God has swept us up into his divinity! He has come to us in the weakness of an infant whose arms are open to embrace us, if we let him.
THE COST OF ADOPTION
Adoption is, of course, a costly business. I can only imagine what my parents went through as they took me into their life, knowing so little about where I came from and wondering how I would grow up. St. Paul makes the point that God sent his Son to redeem us - to buy us back and restore us to what we should be. That is the purpose of God's adoption of us, but we have our part to play. We need to work with Him so that we might be remade in His image and share the life of His divinity. And whilst not all adoptions 'work', this Divine Parent will never give up opening His life to us that we might share in that.
THE TRANSFORMING POWER OF ADOPTION
St. Paul writes of the way God has sent his Spirit into our hearts crying "Abba! Father!" God pours his Spirit into our hearts to give us the experience of being embraced into the family. When my father explained to me that I had been adopted it wasn't that which assured me I belonged to them, but the way in which I knew I had been, and continued to be, loved by them. They had given me a share in their 'spirit', just as God gives us a share in His that we might call Him Daddy - Abba. This is the transforming power of adoption: the one who didn't 'belong' knows that they do belong. We are part of the family.
So we belong to God who gives us a share in his life. We are 'heirs of God, and fellow heirs with Christ', as Paul writes in another of his Letters (Roms. 8:17).
Adoption, of course, means that we share fully in the life of the family - we share in the good times, and the bad. The adopted child isn't spared the suffering that a family might go through and as 'fellow heirs with Christ' we share in his sufferings as we also share in His glory. It wasn't long after Jesus' Presentation in the Temple and Circumcision that the Holy Family were caught up in the reality of life for so many in our world - fleeing from their homes as refugees. Thankfully such events hardly touch us in Romford. The plight of families in Sudan, Zimbabwe and a host of other countries - not to mention present-day Palestine - are a world away for most of us. We read about it in the papers or watch events on the TV. But we need to remember that Christianity is rooted in the glory and suffering of human experience.
This is the reality of God coming among us and sharing his life with us as he draws us into His. Pleasure and suffering are there from the start: God isn't aloof from human experience rather God has become part of the process. Neither God nor we can avoid pain if we are to come to that wholeness of life that is able to hold all things together. Yet, still, people find it hard to accept the concept of a God who enters suffering, not least as a child. It is easier to deal with a God who is, somehow, separate from the hardships of life, whose task is to offer respite and rescue from those hardships, rather than a God who - from the start - cannot but be involved with the 'dark' side of life. Yet this is the God in whom we believe and whom we celebrate this Christmass. The God who has chosen to come among us in our poverty in order to raise us to his divinity by sharing in the depths of human experience and adopting us into His life.
All this is beautifully summed up in those words:
as (Christ) came to share in our humanity
so we may share the life of his divinity …
This is the heart of our Faith - that God entered fully into human life in order that we might enter fully into divine life. Here is the meaning of Christmas, of the Incarnation. As Christians, that is what we need to meditate upon: a God who shares in human life that we might be drawn into divine life.
I was very fortunate to be adopted by loving parents, a gift for which I am eternally grateful. As an adopted child I did not inherit from them but they made me their heir and I was formed by them. I always remember a moment one Christmas some years ago when I had to organise activities for guests at Hilfield Friary my father saying to someone, "He's so much like his mother"! We can inherit through nurture as well as nature!!
To be adopted by God is the glory of the Incarnation. We belong to Him as He belongs to us because we are made in God's image and likeness. May this coming year help us grow more fully into that likeness as we realise ourselves as the sons and daughters of God.