All in the family way

A sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas Day, 2021. Our services remain online at this time.

What does it mean to you to have been adopted as the child of God? As a child, and as an adopted child myself, I heard Paul’s words quite literally: that God had chosen, contracted, covenanted to make me a part of God’s family, a child with God’s name; a child welcome in God’s home. (Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7)

But John talks about this relationship, too. What does it mean to you to have been reborn, not of flesh but of the will of God – not as children adopted only but as children recreated and remade in God’s image? (John 1:1-18)

And then there is the vision of Isaiah. What does it mean to you for God to clothe you as a bridegroom, to adorn you as a bride, to prepare you for such intimacy and joy that we cannot imagine beginning to imagine with the almighty God? (Isaiah 61:10-62:3)

It seems as though the depth and strength and sheer closeness of God’s love for us defies any single image of relationship that we can dredge up and dress in poetic language. God is our father and our mother and our lover. 

And then, and then, God became flesh, and dwelt among us. If we cannot imagine ourselves as God’s bridegroom, as God’s bride, as God’s born and bloody infant, how much more impossible to understand that God chose to become a child of human conception and birth, to live as one of us, so that through his humanity and his glory we have received grace upon grace?

Whatever we make of Christmas, of the Feast of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ; when we dare to look directly at what God has done, it is staggering. It is more outlandish than angels and guiding stars and virgin births. It is something only God could have imagined to do. It is not something we would have dared to claim, but it is what God, through Jesus Christ, has invited us into.

To be adopted, reborn, married into, to take the family name of Christ, to become a Christian, as we talked about a few short days ago, means something. Christian, little Christ, child and sibling and friend of Jesus; to share in his name is a responsibility, and a gift, and a charge.

It is a charge to live as those who are free to live with grace and truth, not pride, not greed for power or profit, but grace to love those whom God has placed before us, and truth to recognize the image of God within them.

Not one thing came into being without the Word of God; not one child, not one person. To live into the family name of Christian means to live with them all.

The refugee and the reprobate, the sinner and the sullen, the arrogant and the ignorant: God grant us patience; the needful and the lonely, all are ours to love as Christ has loved us, not as a disciplinarian, but as lover, a parent, a companion in the way.

To be born among us, to become as one of us: how better could Christ exemplify the lengths to which love is called to go for God and for our neighbours, even for our enemies? Peace on earth, goodwill to all whom God has made …

And yes, there are sometimes family feuds and rifts and family members who need some boundaries and not everything can be solved with a kind word. There are times when we do not recognize what on earth is going on with one particular image of God or another. God knows, having dealt with enough of us who fail to live up to the family name on the regular.

Yet as a mother’s heart is burdened by the love of her child and a bridegroom’s heart aches for reconciliation with his bride (or a bride for her bride), and a father longs to reach into his infant’s mind and plant in it the knowledge that you, child, are beloved; that you, child, are my own; so God does not turn away from us, even at the cross, nor even at the manger.

And yes, sometimes it seems too much even to contemplate, busy as we are with the cooking and the cleaning and the cat litter boxes, the simple act of making ends meet, the not-always-simple act of putting one foot before the other; and yet to be born as one of us, to become flesh and live among us, sharing our burdens and our joy: how better could God exemplify to us the lengths that love will go to?

There is more to be said, but a new year is coming and God willing, we have time. In the meantime, in this mean time, we can do little more than wonder at the ludicrous love of God, who is beyond and above all that is created, coming to be with us after all.

Who would have thought it; who could believe it? And yet this is our testimony: that “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and …from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

“Grant [therefore] that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ,” born anew among us and growing within us. Amen.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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