Christmas, Genealogies and Adoption

I have written about the doctrine of adoption before and how in his book, Knowing God, Jim Packer considers adoption the highest privilege of the gospel—higher even than justification—because of the richness of the relationship with God with which it is associated.

In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the Judge [justification] is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father [adoption] is a greater. [1]

At St Mary-le-Tower in Ipswich (where I count it a great privilege to sing evensong fairly regularly) members are reading Paula Gooder’s book, Journey to the Manger. I am a little late getting started and so only today read the first few chapters. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find the doctrine of adoption in the Christmas story, and especially not in the genealogies from the beginning of the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

The point has been made plenty of times that the genealogies in the gospels hold such encouragement for us, that fallen men and fallen women can still be part of God’s plan. Paula Gooder puts it like this:

Whoever we are, however ramshackle and dubious we might be, the God who needed Judah and Tamar, Rahab and Salmon, Boaz and Ruth, David and Bathsheba and Mary and Joseph needs us to be part of his plan [2]

I would quibble at the use of the word “need” (see for example Acts 17:25) and prefer to use the much richer and more biblical thought that God actively chooses us to be part of his plan, and of course that’s what the doctrine of adoption talks about too as Ephesians 1 makes clear.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:3-5, ESV)

Returning to the genealogies, one issue some people may have with the genealogies is that Jesus’ ancestry is traced through Joseph, who, as the gospels make very clear, was NOT Jesus’ biological father.  Paula Gooder explains one way of looking at this, which was a delightful surprise to me, as she talks about the “great cultural clashes that from time to time to time disrupt our ability to understand what is going on in a biblical passage.” [3]

The key here is adoption in the ancient world. Adoption was widespread within both Roman and Jewish society. The difference between Roman and Jewish adoption was that…in Jewish society adoption of babies was more common… For both societies adoption was absolute, and the adoptee was to be treated as though they were the biological child of the new parents. Legally and formally, then, they were treated as part of that new family. [3]

At Christmas Jesus is born for us so we ourselves can be born anew:

Come to be born, to bear us to our new birth [4]

In the same way, perhaps, Jesus is adopted into an earthly family, irrevocably, securely so that we too might receive adoption as sons and daughters.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4–7, ESV)


References:

[1] Packer, J. I. (1975). Knowing God. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

[2] Gooder, P. (2015). Journey to the manger: Exploring the birth of Jesus. Norwich: Canterbury Press, 10-11

[3] Ibid. p.9

[4] Guite, M. (2015). Waiting on the word: A poem a day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. Norwich: Canterbury Press, 87

 

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Musical Advent Calendar – 14.Frohlocket, ihr Völker auf Erden, und preiset Gott!

 

Frohlocket, ihr Völker auf Erden, und preiset Gott!
Der Heiland ist erschienen, den der Herr verheißen.
Er hat seine Gerechtigkeit der Welt offenbaret.
Halleluja!

Rejoice, ye people of the earth, and praise God!
The redeemer is come, whom the Lord has promised.
He has revealed his justice to the world.
Hallelujah!

Musical Advent Calendar – 12.La Peregrinación

La Peregrinación, the Pilgrimage, is a carol by the Argentinian Composer Ariel Ramirez, best known for his Misa Criolla, one of the first masses written in the vernacular, after that was permitted by the Second Vatican Council.

I first got to know it through the wonderful arrangement from the King’s Singers featured below, and only recently discovered that it’s part of a larger six movement work called Navidad Nuestra (Our Nativity) composed in 1964. The texts are by Félix Luna and each movement uses traditional Argentine dances and songs. For La Peregrinación Ramirez uses the popular folk dance huella pampeana and the lyricist locates the story in the north of his native Argentina, adding words from the indigenous guaraní language. La Huella is a narrow path across the pampas formed by the tracks of a horse or mule, but alluding to the folk dance ‘a la huella’ can also means ‘keep dancing’ and this creates the rather appealing image of Joseph and Mary dancing their way across the plains.

THE PILGRIMAGE

A la huella, a la huella
José y María,
por las pampas heladas
cardos y ortigas.

Follow the trail, follow the trail
Joseph and Mary
Across the frozen Pampas (South American plains)
Thistles and nettles.

Follow the trail, follow the trail
Cutting through the fields
There is no shelter, no inn
Keep on walking.

Little flower in the field,
Carnation of the air
If no one puts you up
Where will you be born?

Where will you be born, little flower?
Now that you are growing
Frightened dove
Sleepless cricket

Follow the trail, follow the trail
Joseph and Mary
With a hidden God
Nobody knew

Follow the trail, follow the trail
The pilgrims
Lend me a ruined house
For my child

Follow the trail, follow the trail
Through suns and moons
The little almond eyes
Olive skin.

Oh, little donkey in the field
Oh, reddish-grey ox
My child is coming
Make some space for him

A thatched hut
Is the only shelter I have
Two friendly breaths (the ox and the donkey)
The bright moon

Follow the trail, follow the trail
Joseph and Mary
With a hidden God
Nobody knew

 

LA PEREGRINACIÓN

A la huella, a la huella
José y María,
por las pampas heladas
cardos y ortigas.

A la huella, a la huella
cortando campo,
no hay cobijo ni fondo
sigan andando.

Florecita del campo,
clavel del aire,
si ninguno te aloja
¿dónde naces?

¿Dónde naces, florecita,
que estás creciendo,
palomita asustada,
grillo sin sueño?

A la huella, a la huella
José y María
con un Dios escondido,
nadie sabía.

A la huella, a la huella
los peregrinos,
préstenme una tapera
para mi Niño.

A la huella, a la huella
soles y lunas,
los ojitos de almendra,
piel de aceituna.

¡Ay burrito del campo!
¡Ay buey barcino!
¡Que mi Niño ya viene,
háganle sitio!

Un ranchito de quincha,
sólo me ampara,
dos alientos amigos
la luna clara.

A la huella, a la huella
José y María
con un Dios escondido,
nadie sabía.

 

Musical Advent Calendar – 11.Riu, Riu Chiu

Today’s carol is a Spanish villancico (effectively the Spanish equivalent of a carol) attributed to Mateo Flecha the Elder, who died in 1553, and which has been performed by musical groups as diverse as the choir of King’s College, Cambridge and the Monkees.

The chorus and translation is as follows:

Ríu, ríu, chíu, la guarda ribera,
Dios guardó el lobo de nuestra cordera.

Riu, riu, chiu, the guard [shepherd] by the river: God protected our Ewe from the wolf.

‘Riu, riu chiu’ was a traditional call of Spanish shepherds when guarding their flocks by a riverside fold – in fact the catchy chorus may derive from a shepherd-song.  The chorus refers to God protecting Mary (the ewe) from the bite of the wolf, the lobo rabioso [Satan] , infecting her with original sin – a theme elaborated in verse 1.

As a good Baptist I am not a fan of the doctrine of the immaculate conception (although it’s clear Mary was a young girl of great faith!), but apart from that the carol is a pretty good summary of the Christmas story, as in verse 2:

Aunque era infinito Finito se hiziera – he was who was infinite became finite.

This performance is from the American group Chanticleer.

A Musical Advent Calendar – 10.For Unto Us a Child is Born

For the 10th day of Advent how about a movement from that most famous of all oratorios, Messiah, by George Frideric Handel.

So much has been written about Messiah. Composed as it was in just 24 days, Handel did what many composers of the time routinely did – re-worked music he had written previously.  In this case he adapted a love duet from a secular Italian cantata of his entitled Nò, di voi non vo’fidarmi, which explains the slightly strange word stress.

Never mind… it is a wonderful piece full of joy and excitement, especially in this performance!

A Musical Advent Calendar – 9.This is the Record of John

In style, this piece for Advent is not a carol at all. It’s a verse anthem by the great Elizabethan and early Jacobean composer Orlando Gibbons, alternating tenor or alto soloists and choir. It was written sometime before 1620 for Archbishop Laud and his college, St John’s, Oxford – the college being dedicated to John the Baptist.

Gibbons sets verses from the gospel of John (John 1:19-23) from the Geneva Bible – a translation widely used at the time while the Authorised Version was still in its infancy.

This is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed and denied not, and said plainly, I am not the Christ.

And they asked him, What art thou then? Art thou Elias? And he said, I am not. Art thou the prophet?  And he answered, No.

Then said they unto him, What art thou? that we may give an answer unto them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? And he said, I am the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.

The text is a simple, almost prosaic narrative as the Jewish priests seek to find out and challenge who John the Baptist really is and why he is out in the desert doing what he is doing.  The setting is straightforward although beautiful and very effective, not without the odd moment of near comedy (“and he answered, ‘no’!!”), and it’s not until the climax of John’s declaration that he is “the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness” (taking his cue from the prophet Isaiah) that the the piece really takes flight and Gibbons shows his true genius. That moment really makes the piece for me – making it probably my favourite Advent anthem.

In this version it’s performed with tenor soloist and a consort of Viols rather than just organ.

 

 

 

A Musical Advent Calendar – 8.Ding! Dong! Merrily on High

Time for a jolly carol – an arrangement of the traditional carol Ding! Dong! Merrily on High. 

In fact it’s not that traditional, because although the tune is an old French dance tune, Branle de l’Official, the words are from the  English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848–1934), and the carol was first published in 1924 in his The Cambridge Carol-Book.  It’s a good example of a macaronic carol (and that’s nothing to do with mac’n’cheese).

This version is an arrangement by Mack Wilberg, the current music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Check out the talented organist, Ben-San Lau, organ scholar at King’s back in 2010, particularly when he plays the Gloria on the pedals!