Saturday, December 30, 2017

Christmas 1, 2017, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:22-40 Adoption, a Goodbye and Hello

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
One of my bishops and his wife served as foster parents for children to be adopted, specifically for infants.  They worked with Lutheran Community Services which at that time did a lot of work with adoptions.
Their role was to care for the child during the period of transition between birth and placement in the adoptive parent’s home.
As they reflected on this ministry of theirs, there were two extremely moving moments.
The first would occur in the hospital.
A mother, the birth mom, one who so deeply loved her child that she chose to carry it till birth as opposed to having an abortion, would for the sake of the child, give that child up and hand her baby over to Mark and Carol.
Often these birth mothers were young, barely old enough to have a child, and hardly old enough to care for the child.
Each one had their own reasons for offering their child for adoption.
But one thing was true of all of them, and that was a love for the child so deep that for the child’s sake they would make that gift.
After a time of visiting there would come the moment when it was time.
Mark related one such experience when at the entry to the hospital, the young mother handed the baby over to them, got in her parent’s car, and as they drove away, with tears in her eyes, she simply waved goodbye.

Mark and Carol would then take the baby home with them, care for the child as though it were their own, until the time came to deliver it to the adoptive parents.
This would occur a few days or weeks later, and for them brought some mixed emotions as well.
Now they had to give up the child.
But they had the great joy of witnessing this gift to the adoptive mom and dad.
Often the adoptive parents had been yearning and praying for a child for years and now was the moment that those prayers were answered.
When you’ve had the privilege of giving birth to a child, it’s hard to imagine a joy greater than that of welcoming your child into the world.
And yet, I believe, that for the adoptive parents the joy may be even more profound than for the birthparents, for  the adoptive parents are often in a position of wondering, even grieving, their own inability to have a child—and then, as a  pure gift, they receive a child.

A giving and receiving.
Letting go, and embracing.
A birthparent’s sacrifice.
An adoptive parents’ great joy.

There’s one other experience we should take note of regarding adoption.  Because adoption so often takes place following birth we often don’t think about it, but we should.
That is the experience of the child.
There is a bonding between a child and their parents, a bonding that begins in the womb, is nurtured at the breast, and only gets greater with each passing day. 
For an older child that is adopted, there can be an incredible grief associated with this process.
And even for an infant, there will come a day when they realize that their birth parents gave them up, and that knowledge will bring with it a quagmire of emotions.
Yet in contrast to that is the awareness that their adoptive parents had opened their hearts to them in a most profound way.

What is the point of all this, and why is adoption one of the images that is used to describe our experience of faith?
Good question.
I have to tell you that when I speak to people about the meaning of baptism, the image of adoption has not been one of my favorite images.
My problem is that I find myself debating who the true birth parent is, and who the adoptive parent is.  When used with respect to baptism, the understanding is that God adopts us as his child.
And yet part of me wants to insist, that because God is our creator, God is our true birthparent as well.
In this way, I’d say that our earthly parents are actually foster parents, entrusted with the care of a child that is not their own.
Well, that’s one bias of mine.

But when the Bible speaks of our adoption as children of God, it bears witness to another reality.
There is a profound change in our identity, our relationships, and our life.
There is a letting go, and a latching on.
There is a grief experienced regarding the old, and a joy experienced regarding the new.
It’s an image of death and resurrection.
We have two natures.
We are both children of this world, and through our baptism into Christ, children of God.
When Paul speaks about our status as children of the world, he uses the image of a slave.
Our lives are defined by our actions, we are what we do, and in that each of us is by nature sinful, we are sinners.  Slaves under the law.  Defined by our own disobedience. 
I participated in a parenting workshop once, put on by Lutheran Community Services, in which the presenters made the point that the primary work of an adolescent child was differentiation. 
What they meant by that was that a child would, by nature, differentiate themselves from their parent, often through their disobedience, and doing things their own way.
And perhaps that is true of our relationship with God, as well.  We sin in part, to differentiate ourselves from God and establish our own identity. 
But then something happens as we live out our baptisms in daily life.
We are no longer defined by our disobedience, but by our relationship with God as our Father and Jesus as our Brother.
We are children, adopted by God through our baptism into Christ Jesus, and defined no longer by our own actions, but by the love of God, and Christ’s own sacrifice.
But this new reality doesn’t just happen.
It comes with a fight.
Our old self must die in order for our new self to be born.
We have a lot invested in our old self, so we generally do not jump at the opportunity for the new life that is ours in Christ Jesus.
Even if we acknowledge that our old self is defined by our sins, we struggle to let go of it, because, quite frankly, we chose those sins.  Sinful yes, but hey, they are my sins and my identity.
In my own life, two things stand out.  I built a personal identity around two things that are both destructive to me, and I would say sinful because of that, but they became part of who I am.
For many years, a significant part of my identity was that I was a Scotch drinker, and a smoker.
I have been set free from one of those, I am still struggling with the other.  Part of the reason breaking free of such addictions is so difficult is that we have to give up part of our own identity. 
There are other aspects of our identity as sinners that are more difficult than physical addictions.  The reason they are so difficult is that we don’t understand or appreciate them as sinful, nor do we realize how powerless we are at overcoming them. 
If one is an alcoholic, or a smoker, you probably realize, at least I did, that this is not a good thing.
But there are other things that masquerade as being good, which in fact are part of our sinful nature.
Freedom, for example. 
What do we value more in this country than freedom?
We have a national identity built around being the leaders of the free world, as opposed to other nations whom we see and understand to be living in bondage.
Freedom.  A good thing, we would say.  One of the things we value more than anything else.
Are we called to be free to live according to our own will?
Or are we called to be obedient to the will of God?
In order to embrace one of those identities we must give up the other.  To claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior is to no longer be free, but rather to be bound to the one who loves us.
Another part of our old self is the notion that we are what we have.  We are a materialistic society.  Our homes, our cars, our furniture, our clothes, and, yes, certainly our vast array of toys, define and shape our very identity.
This is never clearer than when fire or flood destroys everything we have accumulated.
Are material possessions a blessing of God or a curse under which we live?  Do our possessions set us free or bind us? 
There are many more examples we might cite.
But the point is this:  That in order to enjoy the new life that is ours in Christ Jesus, there will be a grieving over the old life that we must let go of. 
Everything comes at a cost, there are no free lunches.
To be a child of God means that we no longer children of this world. 
The old self dies that the new self might arise.
What does being a child of God entail?
Jesus says: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
To love the Lord our God with ALL our heart, soul, and mind, means that we must give up our love for much of what has previously defined us.
Now is when I’m supposed to say: “This new life in Christ will be great.”  That’s true.
But the truth is, it will also be hard.


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