Return to Sermon Archive
Competing for Christ
December 19, 2004
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."
24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,
25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
“Be My Baby”
The Washington Post was indignant. It proclaimed, “A contest in which another human being is the prize is reprehensible.” That editorial appeared on April 30, and it was heaping scorn on a program to be aired that night by ABC’s news show 20/20. The program was titled “Be My Baby.” The show, featuring Barbara Walters, documented Jessica, a pregnant sixteen-year-old girl from Cleveland, Ohio, as she interviewed five couples, each of whom desperately wanted to adopt her baby. While Jessica agreed to the adoption, she also intended to maintain contact with both the child and the new parents. This is an increasingly popular arrangement known as “open adoption.”
The contempt poured on the show came from adoption professionals and many media sources. Most of it appeared before the program aired, responding to ABC’s advance promos.
Here is one example of the breathless way in which the ABC Web site hyped “Be My Baby”: “20/20 cameras were there ... when the competition for Jessica’s baby began as the finalists arrived at the agency one by one. Each couple would have less than a half-hour to convince Jessica that they should be parents of her unborn son.”
Critics said that masquerading as a news program, 20/20 had taken a critical moment when a child’s future was on the line and turned it into some sort of obscene reality game show. Mike Cassidy, panning the show for The Mercury News, summed up the reaction by saying that there should be a call-in line to vote against the show, and he suggested the number 1-800-HOW-SICK.
So loud was the outcry that before the broadcast, Barbara Walters posted a letter on the ABC Web site blaming the furor on “overly zealous promotion.” The problem words, according to Walters, were “compete” and “finalists,” which were used to describe the five couples. But she defended the program, and of course ABC aired “Be My Baby.” They probably loved the controversy because controversy makes for good ratings.
Once the broadcast was over, the uproar died down, but the protests remain valid. To inject competition and entertainment into an adoption process is “reprehensible,” but adoption in and itself can be a good thing.
Our scripture today is about an adoption. But there was no competition to adopt this child. God chose the parents. We can take this scripture several ways. We could take it in a literal sense, a metaphorical sense and a divine sense.
Taken literally, the gospel says the angel of the Lord told Joseph to adopt the baby in Mary’s womb — “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife ... She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus.” In other words, God said, Name this child, accept him as your own and adopt him into the Davidic line as an authentic ‘son of David. Joseph obeyed, and Jesus became, as far as anybody in Bethlehem knew, Joseph’s son.
We can learn from Joseph. This man of God was truly unselfish; he was willing to rearrange his whole life in obedience to God. To put it another way, God said to Joseph, I will be working in this child Jesus. Joesph said, I want to be part of that. And when we see God working to bring about his purpose even now, we also say, I want to be a part of that.
But Joseph must have soon realized that what God had in mind was an open adoption arrangement, for in significant ways God, the birth parent, stayed in contact with Jesus. We know that because of the one incident recorded from Jesus’ childhood, the family’s visit to Jerusalem. After the twelve-year-old Jesus went missing but was then found in the temple, he defended his being AWOL from the family by saying, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). At that moment, Joseph must have felt that he was “only” the adoptive father.
The off-Broadway musical, Cotton Patch Gospel, which sets the story of Jesus in the American South, captures this moment in dialogue between Joseph, called “Joe” in the play, and the young Jesus. While the family is attending the annual Sunday School Convention in Atlanta, Jesus disappears. Finally Joe finds Jesus holding forth on scripture to some of the convention speakers. Joe tells one of the speakers that the new minister at their home church is a real man of God, but Jesus disagrees. Taking Jesus aside, Joe says, “What do you think you are doing? Embarrassing your daddy like that. What have you got to say for yourself ... son?” Jesus replies, “I got to be about my Father’s business ... Joe” (From the script by Tom Key and Russell Treyz, Cotton Patch Gospel [Woodstock, Ill.: Dramatic Publishing, 1982], 25).
Taken metaphorically, God sent Jesus at Christmas so that we might adopt him. To say it that way sounds strange to our ears, but it expresses a valid point. When we receive Jesus by faith, we adopt Jesus into our lives and adopt his way and his truth and receive his power. This is what the gospel of John means when it speaks of “receiving” Christ. John 1:12 says: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” Receiving Christ, or “accepting Christ,” conveys the sense of making Christ welcome in our lives, and welcoming is something that all adoptive parents should do with their adopted child. But unlike the couples competing for Jessica’s baby, we adopt Jesus not by competing for him, but by our willingness to receive him, by our faith.
The third aspect of this Christmas adoption is the divine. This describes God’s action. God is in charge here. Jesus came to arrange our adoption. That is the main emphasis of John 1:12. “He gave” us “power to become children of God.”
Q34 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is adoption?” Of course the question is not dealing with ordinary human adoption; rather, it uses the figure of adoption to symbolize the relationship a Christian has with God. The answer to Q34 is: “Adoption is an act of God's free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges of the children of God.” God is our parent. We are counted as children of God, with all the rights and privileges thereof.
The Apostle Paul, too, uses the image of adoption repeatedly in his letters to the churches. To the Ephesians he writes: “[God] chose us in Christ ... He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ ...” (1:4-5). He tells the Romans that adoption makes believers into “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).
Fortunately, adoption into God’s family is not based on our being perfect children. One reason couples were willing to go through the humiliation of competing on national television for Jessica’s baby is because the child was a newborn, healthy and white (I know it is not politically correct to say that, but truth is truth). Children available for adoption fitting that description are in short supply. Most adoption agencies have plenty of kids available, but some are older, some are nonwhite, some have special needs, and there is no competition for them. No one wants them. They are called “unadoptables.”
In God’s family, however, there are no “unadoptables.” “To all who received him ... he gave the power to become children of God.”
Now when we speak of human adoption, we are speaking of second choices. Human adoption only becomes a good thing when, for some reason or another, the family into which the child is born fails. Under those circumstances, adoption by a loving and capable family is the next-best thing. Rev. Richard Gilbert, who was an adopted child, writes that part of his biography is that “Someone didn’t want me ... I was rejected somewhere ....” In a perfect world, Jessica would have no need to figure out what to do with her baby, for all children would be born into loving families, ready to care for and raise little ones who come as gifts from God.
But this is not a perfect world, and sometimes this next-best thing is the best thing. A little girl defined adoption this way: “It’s when you love someone and you ask them to come and live with you.” The “next-best thing” that is adoption provides a place where children are wanted and accepted.
A high-school drama director tells an acceptance story he witnessed. As director, he soon discovered that while school administrators wanted the drama program, their primary commitment was to the sports program. The stage was a “gymatorium,” which was actually a gym with a portable stage. Sports had priority for the space, so no matter how elaborate the drama under rehearsal, participants had to erect and tear down the set every night. The sports teams seemed always to have funds available, whereas the drama troupe had to beg for money.
That is the way it was. It was unfair, but the director decided to make the best of it, stage good performances, and provide an outlet for kids with dramatic interest. The students who took drama were generally not athletes nor cheerleaders. They did not play in the band or make particularly good grades.
Moments before opening night of one of the shows, the director gathered the cast and crew to get everyone focused. After a few words, he asked if anyone wanted to say anything. Some kids mentioned how much fun they had working on the show. Then one girl said, “You know what I like about the drama program? It’s where the kids who don’t fit in fit in. It feels so good to be accepted somewhere.”
That is what it means to be adopted into God’s family. If we do not fit in anywhere else, we fit in there, we are accepted in God’s family.
Now since God is our Creator, all of us are already children of God in a general sense, .but we don’t all act like we want to be identified with God’s family — and so we become estranged. From the place called estrangement, there is no finding our way home — none that is, unless God takes the initiative, which is what God did at Christmas. He sent Christ so that we can — without competition, without striving to become a finalist — adopt him.
God sent Christ to invite us into God’s family, where the Father recognizes us as his kin, where we are always wanted and always accepted and always loved.
And thus we called to love each other. What Christmas means, essentially, is that God has come among us in this humble, vulnerable, human way — to bring us back into the family, to connect us with one another and with him through our Lord Jesus Christ. God has made us all part of God’s family and so it matters how we treat each other. We are brethren in the family of God. It matters how we love each other. Amen.
Bissell, Mary. “Adoption isn’t a game show.” The Washington Post, April 30, 2004, A29.
Cassidy, Mike. “Adoption contest may be new reality-TV low,” The Mercury News, April 29, 2004, keepmedia.com.
“Jewel Among Jewels.” Adoption News,Fall 1996.
O’Matz, Megan. “Walters defends 20/20 show on adoption, decries promotional ads.” South Florida Sun-Sentinel, April 29, 2004. twincities.com.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 01/13/05