The Politics of Babies, Bodies, and Abandonment—John 1:1-18

The Politics of Scripture, Lectionary

John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.”’) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

Children, particularly young children, have been at risk since time immemorial. For example, many ancient cultures, including the Roman Empire into which Jesus was born, practiced exposure—leaving an infant out to die if his father did not accept him immediately after birth. Older children could be traded or sold as slaves.

Sadly, infant and child abandonment continues in various forms across the world today. Often this occurs through methods similar to the ancient practice of exposure—leaving an infant on a doorstep, or worse, a dumpster. This is to say nothing of the parents convicted annually for the murder of their children due to abuse or neglect. What’s more, in America, we have begun to find more “high tech” ways to reject our children. This past Fall, Reuters ran a special series on a growing practice of child abandonment, in which families, often after regretting an international adoption, put their child up for trade on the internet, in a practice that has been termed “private re-homing.”

And the Word became flesh and lived among us…

This Advent, as I consider how vulnerable the flesh, particularly the flesh of a young child—a small infant—really is, I hold my own children a little bit closer. But I also wonder: what if, after finding the 12-year-old Jesus at the Temple, Joseph would have said, “I am totally ashamed to say it but we do truly hate this boy!” Or, what if following Jesus’ birth, his parents had lamented like another adoptive family, “Unfortunately, we are now struggling having been home for 5 days” and left him to be raised by whoever took pity on him?

Those of us who gather together on Sundays to worship and consider these Scripture texts, those of us who spend our week in preparation, praying over and contemplating on the lectionary texts, we consider ourselves the “children of God” (John 1:12). We want to be—and strive to be—the ones who receive Christ, who believe in his name. We may even make it our cause to teach others about Jesus so that they too may believe. And these are, of course, worthy goals.

But in order to be God’s children, in order to accept Christ into our lives and hearts, I believe that John tells us we must first be vulnerable. We must first take on the flesh of actual children—we must live in and consider our world from a child’s point of view. We must not only accept Jesus, but we must consider what it means—what is at stake—when, as a child, one is oneself vulnerable to rejection.

After all, Jesus—the Word, the Son of God—took on flesh and became an infant. Jesus—the Word, the Son of God—came into a world that he knew would ultimately abandon him. And Jesus—the Word, the Son of God—promises to continue to come to us in the flesh of infants and children. As the synoptic gospels report,

Jesus, taking a young child into his midst, said: “Whoever receives one child like this in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:37; cf. Luke 9:48).

A lot has changed since Jesus came into the world enfleshed as an infant. It has become more socially acceptable to “accept Jesus”—and, in fact, in many countries, such as America, to do so carries significant political advantage. It has also become less socially acceptable to expose babies—though, in fact, even in America, the practice of child abandonment continues in all too many forms. But most importantly, what has changed since the Word became flesh is this:

From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.

How, then, will we respond to God’s grace? How will we receive the Christ Child? How will we receive our own children—the grace filled noisy toddlers, impetuous teenagers, and shivering infants who fill our streets, churches, and newspapers with needs and demands?

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

This Advent (and always!) my prayer is that we accept Christ. I pray that we find, through Christ, ways to love even those we might rather hate. I pray that we exercise patience and discernment as we look for Jesus in the face of every child—young and old—who comes to us in need of love, comfort, or care. And in so doing, I pray that we might experience the abundance of God’s grace all the more fully in the community of God’s children into which the Word of God continues to shine his unquenchable light of hope.

The Rev. Amy Lindeman Allen is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and a fellow in theology and practice at Vanderbilt University in the area of New Testament and early Christianity. She and her family reside in Franklin, Tennessee where they attend the Lutheran Church of St. Andrew.

[This post is part of our series on the politics of scripture, which focuses on weekly preaching texts. We also welcome commentary on sacred, classic, and profane literature, film, and artistic expression. Submissions may be sent to 40bicycles@gmail.com.]

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