Second Sunday after Christmas January 4, 2004.
With subtle differences in emphasis from one reading to another, God as parent serves as a unifying image for this day. The first reading comes from Jeremiah's "Book of Consolation." The joyful character of the reading is expressed in the series of imperatives at the beginning of the reading: sing, shout, proclaim, praise! Such happiness springs from the promise of God to gather and restore the people of Israel. God will show intimate care and concern by leading the people with consolations, by brooks of water, and in a straight path where they shall not stumble. The reason for such wonderful care is to be found in God's declaration: "I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn."
The NRSV enhances the surprising character of God's declaration by translating the Hebrew Qal perfect verb as a present perfect (note the simple present tense in the NIV). While one might argue the translation, it is worth noting that the present perfect, "I have become," fits well with the emphasis in chapter 31 on a "New Covenant." Jeremiah declares that God will now forgive the sins of the people and establish a new covenant with Israel. In a new way, now God has become a parent to Israel. God will be their source of protection and the one who provides for their needs. The nation that came to an end under the power of foreign empire will know a new beginning and a new future. This new future is the reason for the exuberant language that celebrates the goodness of God. Israel's joyful response to such a message of hope is expressed well in LBW Canticle 14, "Listen! You Nations," which is based on verses 10-13.
Following the theme of parenthood, the second reading employs the image of adoption to suggest the surpassing and surprising goodness of the gift we receive from God. We can never construe relationship with our Creator as our right. Rather, it is a gift of God's good pleasure, given through Jesus. Similar in tone to the exuberant joy of the first reading, Ephesians pours out praise for the goodness of God. Purely by grace we have been blessed, chosen, destined for adoption as children, redeemed, and forgiven. According to God's good will, we have received gift upon gift, an inheritance of mercy, finally being marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit as the pledge that we will receive all good things from God.
Since John 1:1-14 was only recently assigned (for Christmas Day), one may wish to focus on the new themes at the end of the reading. "No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known." While the Father remains hidden, Jesus has shown us the Father (14:9-10). In the life and ministry of Jesus, the heart of God is revealed. Because of Jesus, we know God as our heavenly parent whose heart is full of love for the whole creation.
The image of adoption speaks with special warmth and power for me. We have been blessed to grow our family through adoption. But were it not for the birthmothers who chose us to care for their children, and for the social workers and adoption agencies who facilitated the adoption process, I would never have known the joy of becoming a father.
When we adopted our first son, we breezed through the process. It was easy. The match with his birthmother was perfect. It all happened so fast! But when we wanted to adopt again, the process was not so easy. It tested our patience and endurance. It took much longer than we ever dreamed. There were some serious bumps along the way. Twice we thought we would be receiving a child, only to have prospective adoption fall apart. Once this happened in the week before Christmas. It brought a new level of difficulty to preaching about the joy we share at the birth of the Christ child. And yet, when the phone call finally came that told us we were to become parents again, and when we actually held our second son, the joy we felt swept away the waiting, the worry, and the sadness that had colored the previous three and a half years.
As I reflect on the image--on the reality!--of being a child of God by adoption, I smile with joy, both for God and for myself. What a source of joy for God it must be to adopt the whole human family, to claim us in love as precious children. What a test and trial it must have been for God, enduring through waiting and rejection. What a joy it must be--must be!--for us, who through no merit of our own have been received in love and made children of God. And from our loving heavenly parent we receive gift upon gift. Our sins are forgiven, our guilt and shame are wiped away, and we have been drawn into an eternal relationship of love and blessing.
Those who are unfamiliar with today's open adoption process might want to take time to learn more. One of the most helpful resources we found was The Open Adoption Experience by Lois Melina. There are both gifts and losses for all members of the adoption triad--the birthparents, the child, and the adoptive parents. The preacher should consider it likely that there are members of his or her congregation for whom adoption is part of their life's story, and who will need and appreciate nuanced language.
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|Title Annotation:||Preaching Helps|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2003|
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