Children of God – Adopted and Redeemed
(Num 6:22-27; Ps 67; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21)
A young Jewish girl told her teacher one day that her cat had kittens, and they were all Fascist kittens. The teacher was impressed by this story and called one of Hitler’s generals to come and hear the little girl tell her story. Some days after the birth of the kittens, the general arrived at the school, and the girl was called in to amuse the general with her story of Fascist cats. The girl obediently told the story of the birth of the kittens, but this time she said that the kittens were all Social Democrats. Surprised and shocked, the teacher tried to correct her, saying that the first time she had said they were Fascist kittens. The girl, however, insisted that they were Social Democrats because now their eyes were open.
The readings today for this feast of Mary the Mother of God take us from the enigmatic to the sublime. In the course of this journey, we are asked to live in freedom, with open eyes, as the adopted and redeemed children of God.
We begin with the enigmatic passage from Numbers in the first reading. We know from the book of Genesis that when Moses wanted to see the face of God on the mountain, he was told that was impossible; that he would actually die if he saw God’s face. So, God went before him and Moses was able to get a glimpse of God from behind.
That scenario renders this passage from Numbers very puzzling. It is as if God forgot everything he told Moses. Here God speaks to Moses, which is not new. That has happened numerous times before. What is radically new is that God gives Moses instructions for Aaron and his sons, as the Levitical priesthood, to bless the Israelites with a very special blessing.
Within that blessing the Lord would “let his face shine on them, be gracious to them, lift his countenance upon them, and give them peace.” Not once, but twice, this blessing involves the Israelites seeing the face of God, as he would “let his face shine on them and his countenance to be lifted upon them.”
It is obvious at this point of the history between God and the Israelites that they were not just the Chosen people – they also had a special relationship with God. The footnotes to the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible states that two plaques with that blessing on them from 7-6 BCE were found just outside of Jerusalem, so there is a tradition of their public usage. Surely the Israelites took special solace and consolation in this special relationship with God.
Although all of this is found in the Book of Numbers, and not from one of the prophetic books, we can deduce all of this is prophetic, and fulfilled with the birth of Jesus through Mary, Mother of God. It is Jesus who is that special blessing to not just the Israelites, but to the world. It is Jesus through whom God truly and most clearly lets his face shine upon us and lifts his countenance to us. It is through Jesus that God is most gracious to us, and wills to give the world peace.
It is Luke who most clearly gives us the details of the beginning of the fulfillment of that special blessing from God in Christ. He tells us that Joseph was a descendant of the house and family of David, and that he was engaged to Mary who was with child.
There are some commentators who remind us that when the scriptures were written on parchment, every word was important – nothing was left to chance. The next words in Luke’s recounting of this event can thus be seen as not only important, but also prophetic. Jesus was the first-born son of Mary. It was the first-born son of Abraham that Abraham was called to sacrifice. Mary wrapped the child Jesus in bands of cloth. Lazarus was wrapped in bands of cloth when Jesus raised him from the dead. And Jesus himself was wrapped in bands of cloth after he was taken down from the cross, cloth that remained in the grave after he rose from the dead. And as Jesus was laid in the wood of a manger, so he would be placed on the wood of the cross at his crucifixion. Luke here is broadly hinting at what was to come to this chosen Son of God.
It is St Paul in his letter to the Galatians, however, who reveals to us the deeper meaning of the birth of this Christ child. He mentions first of all that the fullness of time had come. That means that from the beginning of time to this very moment of the birth of Christ, all of creation and all of time was moving very deliberately and purposefully towards this single moment when God would send his Son, born of a woman, under the Law.
Paul continues that Jesus was sent to redeem those under the Law, as the Law was powerless to redeem anyone. In fact, reliance on the Law for one’s salvation actually became an obstacle to salvation, as the Chosen people began to manipulate and deviate from the Law, all the while keeping up the pretense of obeying the Law. They had become slaves to a system of Laws that had actually become a burden rather than a help to them.
We, on the other hand, because of our faith in the birth of Jesus into this world as our Lord, Savior and Messiah, are adopted as children of God. More, the Spirit of God has been sent into our hearts so we could cry Abba, Father. There can’t be a more intimate and special relationship with God the Father than that. Because of Jesus and our faith in him, we are no longer slaves to the Law, but free from the constraints of the law, as “children of God through God.” All we need do now is to live out our freedom as adopted and redeemed children of God.
The Eucharist is a family meal for the children of God, gathering around the Eucharistic table with Mary our Mother. Through this meal, we are nourished by God’s Word, and strengthened by the Body and Blood of Jesus.
Then, empowered by this blessing, we are sent out to live in freedom as adopted and redeemed children of God and to share this message to all we meet.