Sunday, January 2, 2022

Using lectionary:  First Sunday after Christmas, Year C

Prayer of the Day

Shine into our hearts the light of your wisdom, O God, and open our minds to the knowledge of your word, that in all things we may think and act according to your good will and may live continually in the light of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings and Psalm

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 The boy Samuel grew in favor with the Lord and the people
Psalm 148
Colossians 3:12-17 Clothe yourselves in love; let the peace of Christ rule your hearts
Luke 2:41-52 The boy Jesus increased in wisdom, and in divine and human favor


Title:  What Child is This?

What stories did your family tell over and over from your childhood?  Stories that, perhaps, did not show you in the best of light.  Stories you wished would have been cleansed from collective memory, rather than told ad nasium.  And if they were super embarrassing ones, whenever they were repeated, they most likely caused you to squirm with discomfort, flash red-faced with humiliation, and/or go silent with shame?  Maybe they are still being told. One of the less embarrassing ones from my family (you know I am certainly not going to tell you any of the humiliating ones) was of that legendary Christmas when my sister and I got up at around 4 o’clock in the morning on Christmas Day, unable to sleep for the impending excitement of gift opening.  We sat on the steps and scanned the living room with a flashlight seeing the gifts that had been set out after we went to bed. Super excited by the ones too big to wrap, like the new bike for me. Uncle Vale, asleep on the sofa, would later add to the story that he was awakened by a flashing light in his eyes.  By the time it was a civilized hour, the family was gathered around the tree.  I had already spent my excitement for the bike, I wanted to see what else was there for me under wraps.  All the while my dad was trying to encourage a bigger response from me for the bicycle that was now passe after the 4 AM reveal. 

If you have been able to think of any stories told from your childhood, the next question would be, what do they say about you, then or now? Mine certainly points to my inability to delay gratification and always looking to the next big thing.  But we’ll leave that for my therapist and I to explore.

We only get one story from Jesus’ childhood included in the four gospels. Oh, there are other stories out there.  Stories told in books that were not included in the canon of scripture that the church has revered from early on.  Yes, these boyhood stories are found in what some call the lost books of the Bible, not included for good reason.  One story tells of five-year-old Jesus, while playing with his friends, making 12 sparrows out of clay, and when an adult chastises him for doing this work on the Sabbath, the boy shows his critic what for and brings the clay birds to life and commands them to fly away.  But that’s a gentle story by comparison.  The narrative goes on to tell of a time when a vindictive Jesus caused another boy to wither like a tree.  Oh, don’t worry, he healed the kid when the parents complained to Joseph.  But then there’s the time another boy bumps into Jesus, who responds with a of shout, “You will go no further” and the boy drops dead.  And when his parents complain, Jesus strikes them blind.  Sounding more like the son of Satan than the son of God.

But back to the story we do have.  From Luke.  The only gospel writer to include a full birth story.  Mark and John introduce Jesus as an adult.  Matthew has a brief birth story that primarily focuses on the visit of the magi that we commemorate this Thursday with the feast of the Epiphany.  But here is Luke, ending two chapters of awe and wonder that we have been reading during these days of  Advent and Christmas.  After all those amazing angel visitations and extraordinary events around the births of both John the Baptist and Jesus the Son of God, here is such a very human story.  Parents looking for a lost child.  An adolescent boy seeking to understand his heritage and traditions as well as his own place in the world.

Perhaps one takeaway from the story, from the adolescent boy’s point of view at least, is yet another reminder that Jesus, though divine, was human; word of God, yet taking on our flesh; heart of God, yet living a very earthly life. Once again we are asking ourselves:  What child is this?  What does this incarnation mean? How does it work? And again, all we can say is that it is a mystery.  Beyond our understanding or explanation.  And yet, the stories told by his followers, recorded in the gospels, confirm again and again that he lived a life very like that of any of us. 

Curious to see how others view this story, I did a little Google search and a couple of short videos came up on YouTube.  One from the Mormon church that depicts the parents dragging the other siblings running through the streets of Jerusalem searching.  When they finally enter the Temple, there are hundreds of people gathered in awe.  Young Jesus is sitting on the steps teaching.  It plays like a prelude to the Sermon on the Mount.  Seeing his parents arrive and worried, Jesus stops preaching and walks over to Mary.  They speak a short exchange in Shakespearean style prose and then Jesus leads them out.  All the while the crowd is in silent awe. 

But that is not what the story Luke is telling.  We read that Jesus is sitting among some teachers “listening to them and asking them questions” as Luke writes it. No crowd, no wunderkind teaching them.  But more than the misrepresentation in the video, it is the comments by viewers that frustrate me.  One after another people treat what they have viewed as if it was filmed by a news crew on the scene in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.  They express their wishes they could have been there to see this superhuman child.  They miss the opportunity to see the miracle of the incarnation, that, as we heard last week, “the word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  The Word of God was with us in a new way at the same time it was one of us.  We’ll see this time and time again as Jesus gets angry, gets frustrated, feels misunderstood.  We see him sad and as he weeps, as he doubts and hesitates, feels the loneliness of rejection and abandonment.  He experiences a full range of human emotions.  I find great comfort knowing that the savior that I follow, serve, and pray to has such first-hand understanding of my very human struggles.  Jesus gets me, gets us, gets life.

Just a note:  There was another video, part of the Lumo Project that did a much better job capturing the spirit of Luke’s narrative.  (I’ll post the link on Facebook.)

The other entry point into this story is through those poor parents.  Can you imagine how worried they must have been?  Small town folks in the big city – a city made even more chaotic with the Passover pilgrims swelling the population.  They traveled with family; there was strength and safety in numbers.  And yet, at that first night’s stop as they headed home, having survived the throngs, there is no Jesus.  A whole day of worry as they retraced their steps back.  And then, where do they even start?  At this point he could have been taken by some slaver.  Imprisoned by the Romans.  Conscripted by the Roman soldiers.  One possibility was more terrifying than the next.  You can hear that all these and more were running through the heads of Mary and Joseph when his mother finally gets to ask her question: “Child, why have you treated us like this?”

How often we ask this question when we are not finding Jesus in the midst of the chaos of our lives.  (O, how that has been more than highlighted these past two years.)  We search and we search, we worry, we think the worst, and we are confused by what appears to be abandonment by the one who says that he loves us.  We seek the one who tells us that he is seeking us like a shepherd seeks lost sheep.

As Jesus says to Mary and Joseph, so he says to us.  “What’s with the search?  I am where God is.”  For his parents and the Jews of his time, the symbol of God’s presence was the temple. 

For us, witnesses of the incarnation, of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us,
of divinity and humanity joined in a holy bond, of salvation coming to all of creation;

for us, God is and Jesus is found everywhere we search. 

For us, God is, and the love-filled presence of Jesus is found in the waters and promises of baptism. A refreshing, renewing, resurrecting gift that will be part of our focus next week when we celebrate the baptism of our Lord. 

        For us God is, and so Jesus is found, in the words of forgiveness that we hear when we
confess our sin and admit our need for God. 

        God is and Jesus is found in the word proclaimed, in the meal shared. 

        God is, and so Jesus is found, in all creation that teams with life, in all its beauty
and its on-going cycles, its diversity and its resiliency. 

        God is, and so Jesus is found, in the mutual conversation and consolation that we
share with one another as fellow disciples and believers, the support and care we give to one another.     

        God is, and Jesus is found, in our darkness and in the light. 

        God is, and Jesus is found, in this place, in this community of faith that welcomes and affirms and seeks to share the love of Jesus with all creation.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, that joins us together even when circumstances prevent physical gathering, we know that God is, and we are called to see the presence of Jesus in one another and in ourselves.  And so, as we begin this new year, we are wise to hold fast to the words from the letter to the Colossians we heard: 

12As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another …, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, … 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

 16Let 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. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The Rev. Mark Erson,

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