Any parent who has adopted a child knows the joy of bringing a new member into the family. There is joy in the heart of our Heavenly Father when someone is baptized into his family. Baptism is like adoption. There are many children orphaned from the love of a family. Teenage pregnancies, unwanted children, unfit parents who abuse or desert their children, even unexpected death: These tragedies leave many children orphaned from the love of a family. Thank God there are people who want to be parents and for many different reasons are willing to adopt a love-orphaned child into their own family. They will approach the social service and court system to make their appeal. Applications need to be filled out. Numerous interviews and a careful scrutinizing of their lives take place. Expensive costs are paid. There are two, three, maybe more court hearings. A probationary period follows.
Then, there are the questions that cascade over the whole process. Do we have the right credentials? Has everything been done right? Will the request be granted? Will the child be ours to love and raise? Will the child grow to love us? Many anxious moments are filled with doubts and hopes. Finally, the words come from the judge: "Yes! Granted! All the requirements have been fulfilled. The child shall be claimed yours."
There is joy in the family now. The first step has been accomplished. Everyone is so thankful. What an even more beautiful child now! Life begins in a new way all over again in the family. First there is the new name, the family name, that graces the child, proudly to be spoken to the rest of the family and friends. Then, there are the tasks of daily love: washing, feeding, clothing, teaching, disciplining, playing, protecting, watching, listening, sharing -- all the things that make for caring.
In such an adoptive love the child grows, knowing who he or she is as part of the family, loved from moments of helplessness and hopelessness through time with the family to moments of hopefulness and helpfulness. Placed on the parents' insurance policies and in the family will, the child becomes an inheritor of the family treasures by virtue of the adoption. Baptism is like adoption. All children, all people are orphans in a world of sin. Adam and Eve are our first parents. In its pride and self-centered rebellion against God, the human family has become tragically separated. We have all been orphaned outside of the family garden. Our pride and self-centered rebellion against God prove that we are children of darkness, a no-people with no bond of love between us that will let us live together gracefully, no bond of love that will let us live before God rightfully. Orphans in the dark world of sin -- that is who we are and that is who we would still be, if it were not for the infinite love of our Heavenly Father, who desires us to be children of the light, members of his family of love.
The Heavenly Father approaches our human system to make his appeal. He goes through the requirements. In Jesus Christ, the heaven-sent Son, God became like us in every respect. The Son gave up the glory of the Father, so that he might fully identify with the very people he wished to bring into his family. He became like us, so that we might know and understand the very Father who desires us all to be his children.
Like any adoption proceedings, there is a cost to be paid. In our courts, there are human factors to be dealt with and money helps cover the debts. But between the heart of God and the hearts of men, women, and children there are spiritual factors to be dealt with. Here, silver and gold are of no value. "The wages of sin is death," the Law reminds us. Because we are orphaned in sin, the debt must be paid with death.
Here is where the love of the Father is seen at its greatest. In Jesus Christ, the Father accepts the wage, the debt. Jesus Christ loves us to death, literally he loves us to death on a cross. Martin Luther in his Small Catechism puts it this way in explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles' Creed: "At great cost he has [adopted me], a lost and [orphaned child], not with silver and gold but with his holy and precious blood and his innocent suffering and death." Paul writes in Galatians, "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."
The anxious moments of sin, the fear of our own guilt and death are all drowned, as it were. For the claim has been made by God, the Father himself, judge of the universe, that we shall be his, children of his loving heart and family. This is done in baptism. It is our adoption as sons and daughters. Paul writes, "We were buried with him by baptism into death." The wages of sin have been paid. The way has been cleared and the law satisfied. As we are united with Christ through baptism, we are adopted sons and daughters of God, our Father in heaven. Peter expresses it this way: "For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God."
What joy there is in heaven! The first step has been accomplished. To paraphrase Peter's words, "Once we were no people, but now we are God's people; once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy; once we were orphaned in sin, but now we are adopted in love." And life begins in a new way all over again in the family.
First there is the new name: child of God, Christian, the family's name, proudly to be spoken to the rest of the family and friends and world. Then, there are the tasks of daily love: the daily washing as we repent of our sins and return to our baptism, the feeding at the family meal of Holy Communion to nourish us for life's journey, the clothing in the righteousness of Christ to guard us from the evil one, the teaching from the Word, the disciplining for maturing in Christ, the playing of the Spirit on our hope-filled imaginations, the protecting of the Father of mercies, the watching, listening, sharing of the family together in Christ-like caring.
In such an adoptive love the baptized person grows, knowing who he or she is as part of the family, loved right out of being an orphan to share in the inheritance of the family treasures. These treasures are the forgiveness of sin, deliverance from death and the devil, and life everlasting. If a person knows nothing else than this, if a person knows nothing else of God than this -- what is learned in baptism -- it is enough. Here is wisdom that far surpasses human knowledge. Here is a work of God that is far more effective than any human work.
The one who has been baptized can know that "God loves you." The Heavenly Father was willing to go to any extent, even the death of his Son, to have you adopted into his family. This privilege is not yours by right of birth. By birth you are a creature of God, but orphaned by sin and outside the family of God. In baptism you are adopted into the family. The relationship is changed. You are now children of the Heavenly Father with other brothers and sisters to Jesus himself in this family of love.
A seven-year-old boy tugged at the sleeve of his new adopting father as they were leaving the courtroom, where the final papers had just been signed. "I love you," the boy said. "Thank you," the new father said, and added, "but in these past several months during all these proceedings you never once said that. How come now?" The boy responded, "You have signed your name on the judge's paper. You gave me your name. You really did adopt me. Now I know you love me." And they walked into the rest of their family life together hand in hand. That is you, child of God, adopted in your baptism by your loving Heavenly Father. Walk hand in hand with him into the rest of your life. Amen.