A Conspicuous Family 12-24-14

Dec. 24, 2014

A Conspicuous Family 

Ella and Benjamin wanted to adopt a baby. They are a white couple, not very young to be having a child.  When they went to an adoption agency for advice, the social worker told them that if they wanted to adopt sooner than later, they might want to consider adopting a baby of mixed race heritage or a baby of another race.
Ben and Ella said they would be happy to adopt a baby of any race. As it turned out, a couple of months later, they were matched with a young Black woman who thought they would make good parents for her baby. At this point, the social worker kind of shifted her tone.
She warned Ella and Ben that if they adopted this baby they would become what is called a “conspicuous family.” They would stand out. The kids’ friends would ask if that was “really” their mother. When they go out in public, they would be an object of attention and curiosity.
Ella and Ben weren’t sure whether the term ‘conspicuous family’ was a good thing or not. They weren’t sure if the social worker was trying to discourage them from adopting a Black child, or just letting them know what it was going to be like. They decided to go for it. And over the next few years, they found out that the social worker had had a point. They have become a ‘conspicuous family,’ and though they are very happy being who they are, it has been both more challenging than they ever imagined. It has also been more rewarding than they could ever dream.

We often hear the story of Mary giving birth to her beloved child as the story of an inconspicuous, poor family following the crowds to their obscure hometown to obey the census. Nobody much pays attention to them. Indeed the innkeeper seems to actively treat them as nobodies for whom there is no room.
When we hear the story of the perspective of Mary or Joseph, however, you can imagine them quickly beginning to feel pretty conspicuous. Joseph, as the generous adoptive father, may indeed have wanted to keep the details of this strange arrangement quiet.
So when, before dawn even peeks over the horizon, shepherds in their grimy work clothes started to show up to worship the child, when angels started to sing all around them, when a star shown right above them and some magi wise people show up with their retinue of followers, you can imagine Mary and Joseph feeling very conspicuous, standing out to the world around them in ways they would rather not.
Although the angel Gabriel had informed Mary that her child would be the Son of God, it is doubtful that any social worker had primed her and Joseph for the unprecedented attention they received on the night Jesus was born and since that holy night. we can only imagine what it was like for them.
Ever since that first night, the holy family was a conspicuous family. Neighbors talked, and strangers pointed. Folks told stories about them and some wanted to get to know them because they seemed special and some didn’t want to get to know them because they seemed different.

Some people like that feeling of standing out a bit, for whatever reason. For many of us, that kind of attention would make us go home and pull the covers up over our heads and not come out of the house for three weeks! Some of us would rather stay in the car listening to the radio than stand up in church and say our name.
Whether we stay quiet or call attention to ourselves, however, the truth is that because of this Child born in an obscure town in Palestine, none of us are inconspicuous to the God of Life. God in Christ loves and pays attention to every one of us, all of us children of God. And our church these days is becoming more and more of a conspicuous family in itself.
People are going to begin to talk – how do those folks all fit together? Black, Asian and white, gay and straight, old and young, single, couples, and families or all kinds, with different accents and heritage. I’m not bragging about our church. Most all of God’s churches are more and more mixtures of all kinds of people, these days. The angels must be singing “Gloria” and the mountains in reply, “Gloria.” “Gloria, gloria, gloria.”
Thank God for the gift of all of our families. Thank God for loving us all in all our variety and our fears and our oddness. Thank God for loving each one, no matter how much we’d like to hide. Thank God that we – from all our different places – from California, Liberia, Philadelphia, King of Prussia, and everywhere in between can be together this night to celebrate, the birth of the Child.
This is God’s good news.

Responsive Hymn    238  Angels We Have Heard on High