December 30, 2018 Holy Wisdom Monastery
1 Samuel 2:18-20,26; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52 Patti La Cross
It is a joy and a privilege to be here with you celebrating “the third story of Christmas” as renowned scripture scholar Raymond Brown referred to this Gospel passage.
Observant children of all ages might wonder how we come to this story of Jesus, aged 12, only a week after he appears in the manger.
It’s tempting to bask in the Silent Night image: a resting new mother, nursing and falling in love with her precious infant; his protective father nearby.
But Wow this birth has been announced! And once this Word was out in the fields and streets, it set in motion a whole new Way of Living!
Ray Brown identified the 3 Christmas stories as “revelations to the world that God’s own Son is now present with us in full humanity.”
The first of these was the Annunciation, in which the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will birth the child of God; the second was the angels telling the shepherds that the Child of God has been born in their midst, and the third is this revelation to those gathered in the Temple of Jerusalem that this child of 12 is intimate with God. Each is an occasion of great joy!
Today’s story is unique to Luke. It is intense with movement, emotion, and modeling of how to live in This New world Jesus’ life rang in.
Jesus and his family have entered Jerusalem in a crowd for the annual Passover ritual feast. Afterward, he is drawn to linger in the Temple and listen, as he has no doubt listened to his parents and elders of his village in Nazareth. On the cusp of adult status, today he might well have been preparing for Bar Mitzvah. So absorbed, he fails to notice – or maybe to care – that his family has left. Jesus, familiarity with the Scriptures is so astute that soon the scholars who have questioned him are listening closely. This small town boy’s wisdom astounds them – in the Temple of Jerusalem. And his being there – at least for his mother- creates a tension that foreshadows his later actions and trial in that space.
After doubling back the whole day’s hike, Joseph and Mary -heart in throat – finally discover Jesus. And she is, well, Mom. Probably trembling with astonishment and fear, she expresses her frustration. Likely Mary did not expect the force of his “Why?”, nor his announcement that it was time to take up the work expected by his real Father – who is God, not Joseph.
The joy of having their son back was now tempered by the realization that these parents no longer understand him. His wisdom and his relationship with God are beyond them. Mary is humbled, and takes this moment into her heart; placed where it could gestate forgiveness and patience.
Then she takes this manchild home to finish maturing – into One so “lovable in the sight of God and (hu)mankind.”* Back home, she and Joseph then had the distinctive joy of “seeing him grow to be physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually- in every way ready for the work that lay ahead of him.” (description of Carroll Stuhlmueller)
From this first public appearance, Jesus already declares the priority of God’s mission for him over his family life.
This is perhaps an uncomfortable reminder to we who would follow him: that discipleship will make unexpected demands on us and those we love.
And that is something to take into our own hearts, to let it work in us and through our prayer,,, but not something to fear. Mary grew from Jesus’ mother into his disciple in this way. The child she once lost was found by patience, and she found the Son she saw crucified raised in faith.
Today’s gospel story is not so unlike the child stories developed to introduce great figures like Moses or today’s reading from Samuel in the Hebrew Scriptures. It presents a Jesus who from a young age began to intuit the work God sent him to do. We have no witnesses to confirm it. But if Jesus was truly human, could his development have been so different from ours as children?
Remember for a moment yourself at about 12 years old. What was your sense of self then? Did you have a sense of right and true? and were you becoming aware that adults sometimes lied, or spoke of or treated others in a racist or otherwise disrespectful manner? Did you ever call them out? Did you ever tear up and ask your parents to please take food to the hungry pictured on the evening news? Feel the burning need to Do Something? And did those early intuitions of injustice not shape you in ways you still try to honor? Do they still shape your faith response?
When we nurture that tender awareness with love, we grow just and caring adults. If we ignore it, young people and the world lose so much for our future.
We would all do well to find ways to listen and learn from the children in our lives – anybody’s children! – while they are not yet inured to the ways in which the world abdicates its power to confront injustice and evil.
We were reminded of this by the students of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas movement, and their galvanizing of other youth. Theirs may well be the power that could pull us back from the brink, and renew communities across the land.
Our hope is renewed as we celebrate again and again that a God’s who is ever creative, liberating and forgiving thought our messy lives worth embracing!!
Paul was compelled to write with such power to early believers, admonishing and encouraging them, because community life demands a ton of patience and persistence!
I appreciate his metaphor in Colossians of Clothing ourselves in the attitudes and practices of living daily in Christ. We were once clothed in Christ at Baptism.
And we all get dressed at the start of each day to step into the world.
(Jim and I joked about ritualizing this image in the morning. “Putting on the humility sox!” “ Wearing my patience shirt Tuesday!” We laughed, because each of us have our prayers, songs and mantras, the spiritual playlist that reminds us how we want to move through, and change the day.
Our son recently began helping to orchestrate the sometimes chaotic flow of people and cars in the parking lot of the River Food Pantry. He shared how injecting the simplest courtesies in each interaction became contagious, lubricating little frictions in the crowd, and lightening not a few hearts. The respect that greetings and thank yous signify create community in however transient a way.
And so we come back to the practice of gratitude, our default. Just look around!
I hope you can easily find faces in this circle of those who have listened to you with compassion and kindness, and feel thankful.
We look at those gathered here, and sense those missing from the circle, and we know a love born of believing and belonging together. And feel thankful!
Also for the Persons who have challenged our beliefs and broadened our understanding, gratitude.
Look harder and you may see people to whom you haven’t yet have extended a hand or word to, Reach out, in this new year be enriched by hearing their story, and you both may be thankful.
For this year I pray that you also have or find someone in this circle with whom to practice forgiving and being forgiven. Let’s not retreat from one another if tension arises. Rather, let this community be a brave space where we venture further together.
Then we might better know what love God has shared with us, and model the new Way to the world outside this circle.
As they say in PE class, if you don’t have a buddy, find one!, and start practicing this skill together.
It takes effort – not just attendance – to create a vibrant community whose members are growing in faith, discipleship, and joy.
Thank you each for bringing your lives to our common Table of Gratitude.
And Merry Christmas 3!
Let us pray for the well-being and peace of Christians around the world, especially those remaining amidst all the war, oppression and fear in the middle east, we pray..
For religious leaders and communities of all faiths and denominations, Let us Live and speak the Truth, Wisdom, healing, courage,forgiveness and Joy that first inspired to us to believe, we pray.
For pregnant women and mothers of infants here and throughout Wisconsin, who struggle with poverty, addiction, violence, homelessness. May we work to secure their survival and support their dignity and independence, let us pray.
For families of every constellation in our communities, nation and world. Let us pray and work for their nurture, prosperity and peace in every way we are able. Let us pray.