STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH DECEMBER 15, 2019
Rev. Sabrina Ingram Advent 3
SOCKS AND UNDERWEAR: ACCEPTANCE
Galatians 4: 4 – 7; John 1: 12
A college senior took his girlfriend to a football game. The couple sat in the crowded stadium and were watching the action. A substitute was put into the game, and as he was running onto the field to take his position, the young man said to his girlfriend, “Take a good look at that guy. I expect him to be our best man next year.” His girlfriend snuggled closer to him and said, “That’s the strangest proposal I’ve heard but regardless, I accept!”
Apart from a proposal, there are many things we accept in life. We accept compliments and criticism, both of which can be awkward. Challenges. Theories and ideas. Life is a mixture of joy and sadness. We accept there are things we can’t control. Our physical flaws. The fact that, if we continue to live, we will get older Death is unavoidable. There will always be laundry. The weather is what it is. Our team will not always, or maybe ever, win. Windows and i-phones have upgrades that take hours to download. Laws are not optional. We accept invitations. Awards. Admittance into certain schools. Inclusion in social circles. Gifts. We accept the imperfections of others, and we accept their love.
Acceptance cuts both ways. No matter how much we accept, we deeply want acceptance. We want to belong. To know we’re loved. To know that, as flawed as we are, we are still valued by someone. The trouble is, we know how unacceptable we can be.
Of all God’s creatures, human beings, so far as we know, are the only ones who realize we’re not all we were created to be. We’re not all we might be. We’re the only one’s who are capable of self-reflection or who can be dissatisfied with ourselves recognizing ourselves as imperfect and incomplete. We alone are able to look at ourselves and say, “I’m not doing well enough, I’m not meeting my own standards and certainly not measuring up to God’s, I need transformation.” Dogs may run a close second. If we speak harshly to a dog, she may look remorseful or hide under the couch for a half an hour. Still that doesn’t mean she’s reflecting on how to move ahead toward some goal of better dogginess; all she can do is respond to, what are for her, arbitrary punishments about her instinctive behaviour. Unlike people she doesn’t have philosophical angst or ponder life’s meaning. She doesn’t wallow in self-doubt or regret her past. Cats are even less inclined.
The paradox is that for all our self-reflection, we can never quite get to where we’d like to be. We cannot make ourselves be different from what we are now. All our wishing won’t turn us into perfect and polished finished products. We may have some idea of what it is to be an authentic human being, we may discern God’s will for us is, still we fall so terribly short of it all. Somehow the power just does not lie within us to grow ourselves up; it’s not awareness we lack, it’s power. Power to become.
And because we’re powerless, and because God loves us, God was born into our world as Jesus. We run into confusion here if we equate love with acceptance. Love is an intense affection which causes a bond to form with someone. We refer to God’s love with the Greek word agape – this is a love with unconditional partiality. God love each of us – all of us – with the same intensity and steadfastness. God’s love for humanity never changes. Because God is love, his love for us isn’t dependant on our character, but on his own character. Therefore, there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and nothing we can do to make God love us less. However, love doesn’t mean unconditional acceptance. I love my kids deeply and nothing will ever change that but I don’t accept everything they do. I don’t accept when they are lazy, rude, selfish and flippant. I don’t accept when they use me but reject a relationship with me. I don’t accept their dark-side. I won’t accept that they are destined to dwell in darkness. In similar ways, God doesn’t accept us unconditionally. God is saddened by the same traits in us which cause us to be sad with ourselves. God wants the best for those he loves. God wants something better for his creation and his kingdom than selfish and self-righteous people doing hurtful things . God wants each of us to be more than we are. God’s acceptance isn’t resignation. God wants more than to put up with us. God’s wants to receive us – you remember last week we used the word paralambano – the Greek word for taking someone into your heart and becoming one with them. God won’t accept that we are destined to dwell in darkness. And God knows we’re powerless to become anything more than darkness-dwellers. So, God came in Jesus to be light in our darkness. What is light? Light is energy. Light is power.
We read, “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” Power to become.
The amazing part of Christ’s incarnation is that in order to empower us to become children of God, God became powerless. God came in Jesus, to become a fragile infant, one who suffered all of our limitations, who endured all of our frustrations, who knew what it is to hope and to long for something and to struggle against overwhelming odds. As God comes to stand alongside us in our human limitations, he sets aside all the outer wrappings of his power, so that we might have the power to become. In the powerlessness of God there is power for us. We access this power through acceptance – through paralambano – by fully receiving him. That is not something everyone can do. Two women who were having lunch in an elegant hotel were approached by a mutual friend who asked the occasion for the meal. One lady replied, “We are celebrating the birth of my baby boy.” “Oh, where is he?” inquired the friend. “What?!”,” said the mother, “you didn’t think I’d bring him, did you?” That is so much what people do at Christmas – we have a big celebration, a birthday bash, but we don’t include the guest of honour. It’s a picture of the way the world treats Jesus at Christmas. But to those who receive him, who bond with him, who carry him in their hearts everywhere they go, he gives power. He gives us his power, his light, so that we might become someone different. And who do we become, we “become children of God.”
Many people would read this and be confused. They might ask Aren’t we all children of God? Isn’t every person a child of God. In one way we are. All of us are part of God’s creation, making us in that sense, God’s offspring. All of us are loved by God. If we are children of God, what is there to become? Perhaps the best analogy is to say that all people are like willful children who have run away from home. We are estranged from our progenitor. Our Father loves us and wants us back, but we’ve run so far that we’re lost in a dark part of town. We may want to get back home, but we don’t know the way, we have no money or resources, we lack the power to return. So, what does John mean when he says, “children of God”? Well, as a Jew, John would have a Biblical perspective of God’s children. God’s children are the people of Israel with whom God entered into a covenant relationship. John tells us God’s people rejected Jesus, so Jesus gave people outside the covenant the opportunity to receive himself and to be bonded with or in a covenant relationship with God. Through Jesus, we have the power to become part of God’s family. John is also saying that those who are in a relationship with God, through Jesus, are heirs to all God’s treasures and resources. In one sense all people may be children of God, but not all children are heirs. Those who receive Jesus by trusting in his person and yielding our self to him, are given the right, the power, to become heirs of the kingdom and joint heirs with Jesus.
There are two ways to become someone’s child. We are either born into a family or we’re adopted into it. Paul uses the image of adoption. In speaking of Jesus’ incarnation, he writes, “When the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son…You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” …And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance.” (Galatians 4: 4 – 7). For Paul, the coming of Jesus gives us the legal rights as adopted children to everything the Father has. For John, to become a child of God, “you must be born from above” (John 3:3). For John, the coming of Jesus gives us the Spirit’s power to be mystically re-born as the holy children of God. When we, in the fullest sense of the word, accept Jesus, God gives us the “power” or “right” or “authority” to become the children of God. And as his children God fully accepts us. As C.S. Lewis put it, “The son of God became man to enable men to become sons of God”. That is God’s gift of grace, given for us to receive.
We are like a brier growing in a ditch when along a gardener with his spade. As he dug around it and lifted it up, the brier said to itself, “What’s he doing? Doesn’t he know I am a worthless brier?” But the gardener took it into his garden and planted it amid his flowers. The brier said, “What a mistake he’s made, planting me among these beautiful roses.” After a week the gardener made a slit in the brier with a sharp knife. He grafted it with a rose. When summer came lovely roses were blooming on that old brier. Then the gardener said, “Your beauty is not due to what came out but to what I put in.”
The key to becoming a full child and heir of God is not only to follow the adult Jesus; but to accept the vulnerability of the baby of Bethlehem, trusting the God who became helpless and human like and for us. In that baby we discover that in the apparent powerlessness of God there is an awesome power for me to change. Just as Jesus brought shepherds to adore him and diverted wise men so they might bring offerings to him, so he brings to each of us who will enter into Christ’s coming, the power to turn aside from all the things about ourselves that bring us sorrow and grief to become like him, children born of God himself.
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