Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. Galatians 3:23–4:7 (NRSV)
With Christmas Eve on the doorstep it's hard to stay in Advent until the sun goes down and we can finally say it is Christmas Eve and not just "Christmas Eve Day" or, more correctly, the last day of Advent. It's too easy to think ahead to the cute little cherub choirs singing or the bells, smells and full-out organ accompaniment to hymns and carols everybody has sung for years and which officially ring in not only the day of Christmas, Christ's nativity celebration, but the entire twelve-day season of Christmas. Stores don't recognize the season of Christmas; Christmas stuff is almost all down and Valentine's Day stuff is going up starting about 8:01PM on Christmas Eve.
I admit I think ahead as well; it's hard not to, most of the time. But when I read the section of Paul's epistle, something pops out at me and gives me pause: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children (4:4-5). God sent Jesus to be born as a human being, subject to the rules and regulations human beings were supposed to observe and still redeem (buy back, recover ownership, pay off) the world for God. That's a big order to lay on someone who was born as naked and helpless as any other newborn baby.
The part that especially struck me was "that we might receive adoption as children." Adoption is like grafting, taking something or someone from one place and placing it somewhere else where else. Adoption in Paul's time and our own is a slightly different thing. In the Mediterranean world of Paul's time, not only children but adults could be adopted. The usual reason now for adoption is to provide for the welfare and nurturing of the child while ancient adoption was generally to provide heirs for an estate and/or care for the parents in their old age. Still and all, the result was basically the same: the person which once belonged to one family suddenly had no allegiance to the family of origin but became one who was totally and legally a part of a new family with all the rights (and responsibilities) that membership in that family might entail.
Joseph knew about adoption. He knew that Mary's boy was not his own child, yet he accepted Jesus as his own son and acted as his father in all the ways that counted. We hear some of that in readings that have this particular Joseph in them, but here is Paul speaking to the community at Galatia, assuring them that through this same baby who was born to human parents and was also the Son of God, all of them were considered not just add-ons to the family but full members with the rights and, more importantly, the responsibilities of that heritage.
Like Joseph, I know about adoption, only from the other side. Being adopted sometimes marks one as "different," like when the child has blond hair and all the others in the family have dark. Very probably Jesus didn't look much different than any other child of that time and place, which might have been a plus. Yet in the great family of God, the family Jesus brings together regardless of their families or tribes of origin, it isn't the outward appearance or cultural status that marks a person as one who belongs or the one who is grafted, it is the desire and the sincere attempt to live as one of God's true children.
It's funny -- Christmas cherubs are being replaced by Valentine cherubs, yet they are still cherubs. Both have chubby-baby bodies and fluffy wings and they both celebrate love. I wonder which are the adopted ones?
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, December 24, 2011, Christmas Eve.