Christmas 1C - December 27, 2009
We celebrated the Nativity only two days ago, and already we're reading about twelve-year-old Jesus. We'll jump back to infant Jesus at the Epiphany of the Magi next Sunday, but in this in-between space we're pulled away from the picturesque domestic scene in Bethlehem, into the city of Jerusalem -- at the time of the Passover no less, when Jews from all over fill the city.
We're not meant to spend too long cooing over the the nonthreatening infant. We are called to real engagement.
"Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"
My best friend was recently looking up the Greek, and apparently it's more like, "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's things?" so the alternative translation, "Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?" is more accurate than "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"
We read that Jesus' human parents did not understand this response -- which is interesting since Luke has already told us about the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and sending shepherds to adore the infant, and about Simeon and Anna coming out and prophesying about the baby Jesus after the circumcision. One might think that Mary and Joseph would at least understand Jesus' affinity for the temple.
Perhaps it is intended as a reminder to the reader -- that sometimes even when the Divine is speaking directly to us we fail to understand.
Whenever we think we have Jesus safely ensconced in our caravan of familiar friends and family, Jesus slips away from us to wrestle with the Divine. And in so doing, Jesus leads us back to the Divine.
My first thought upon reading today's lectionary was: "Jesus, like Samuel in a way."
Samuel was born to Hannah after years of childlessness, in response to her fervent prayers. Hannah had promised God that if she bore a son she would dedicate that child to God, and so after Samuel was weaned, Hannah brought Samuel to the house of God at Shiloh, "And the child Samuel grew up in the presence of God" (1 Samuel 2:21b). Similarly, Jesus is born to Mary miraculously, and we know that Jesus grows up always intimately connected to the presence of God -- closer to God than any other human being.
Our Hebrew Scripture and Gospel readings close with very parallel verses:
"Now the child Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with God and with the people" (1 Samuel 2:26).
"And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor" (Luke 2:52).
But in looking back in Luke, I read also, after Jesus' family goes home after Jesus' circumcision, "The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon Jesus" (Luke 1:40). So perhaps the real point here is growing up.
In today's Gospel text, Jesus, along with many friends and relations, has come to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. When the Passover is ended, everyone starts to return home. Except for Jesus. Jesus spends three days in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions -- and apparently answering some, too, since it is reported that all who heard were amazed at Jesus' understanding and answers.
After the exchange between Mary (and Joseph) and Jesus, we read, "Then Jesus went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them" (Luke 2:51).
They didn't understand Jesus, but Jesus went back with them -- didn't argue the case further to try to force their understanding, didn't insist on staying longer, just went back with them and was obedient to them.
Maybe Jesus thought, "Okay, I'll come back to Jerusalem later. Perhaps next year my family will let me go off and do my own thing."
Maybe Jesus realized that the temple was not the only place to be to learn about God. For Jesus isn't reported as returning to Jerusalem until a Passover some twenty years later which will end in suffering and death -- and resurrection, but I get ahead of myself.
Just as we are not to linger overlong at the manger, neither are we to linger overlong at the temple.
We are called back to Nazareth, to Galilee -- to our families and friends, to our communities, to the world outside the small group of people who live and breathe these texts. (Which is, of course, not to say that scholarship isn't a valuable vocation.)
We are called to bring the Good News to the world. To be evangelists.
eu - good (like euphoria), angelos - messenger
We are called to be messengers of the good (news). To be angels.
Paul exhorts us: "As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God" (Colossians 3:12-16).
This is admittedly more an attitudinal blueprint than a bullet point plan of action. But given what a bad name evangelism has in progressive circles these days, I think it's worth reflecting on.
The Nativity event was world-altering. The Source and Life of all Being incarnated -- became enfleshed -- to live and dwell among us more fully. To model for us how to walk in the Way of God.
This is the Good News. God loves us and wants to be a part of our lives. God knows intimately the human experience and wants to journey with us.
We are called to share this good news.
Not by arguing with people -- though healthy debate of course has its place -- but by living into the truth that Christ is come. That the kindom of God is near.
We are called to be compassionate, kind, humble, and patient -- bearing with each other and forgiving each other just as God has forgiven us.
Through Christ we are called into one body with many members, so we are called to live together in peace, bound together by the Love which is above all loves.
Teaching and admonishing each other with wisdom. With gratitude, praising God.
This is Paul's blueprint for living out our lives as God's chosen ones.
I know Paul is speaking to a particular church community, but I think this model still holds for how we are to interact with the broader world. We are called to proclaim the kindom of God, and we are to do this in deeds as much as if not more than in words.
The Psalmist exhorts all of Creation to Praise the one God -- for God commanded and they were created. But at the end of the Psalm, we learn that it is not just that -- "God has raised up a horn for God's people, praise for all God's faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to God. Praise God!" (Psalm 148:14). God has created us, and God has also saved us.
Christ is come. And we celebrate this. But we are also called away from the manger, away from the temple, to share this Good News -- to live out the truth of this Good News in community.
We are on the third of the Twelve Days of Christmas. I invite you to extend the Christmas spirit -- the true Christmas spirit, not the spirit of frenetic stress -- throughout the remainder of the season.
We need to be in our Divine Maker's presence. We need to be about God's business.
And so I send you forth, in the name of God our Creator, Jesus our Redeemer, and the Spirit our Sustainer. Amen.