December 30, 2018

Christmas 2   December 30, 2018   Psalm 85, Isaiah 49:1-6, Colossians 1:15-18, Luke 2:41-52          In our Father’s house

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Even Jesus goes through a bit of a difficult growing-up phase. (Thankfully, for his parents, it only lasts three days.) But – here, today, we see Jesus – twelve years old – going on thirty…

Jesus and his family have gone to Jerusalem to celebrate the annual week-long festival of Passover – as was his family’s practice every year. But this year, on the way home, his parents notice they haven’t seen Jesus all day. They search for him among family and friends. People typically traveled together as extended family-and- friendship-groups in those days (as some still do). It wouldn’t be unusual for older children to travel together a bit apart from grown-ups and younger children for much of the day. (That still happens.) But when Jesus still hasn’t shown up at the end of the day at the campsite, now there’s cause for alarm… So his parents anxiously return to Jerusalem to search for him in the morning… (The full day’s journey they’ve gone towards Nazareth, and the full day’s journey back to Jerusalem probably count as part of the three days in which Jesus is missing. Though the gospel doesn’t seem interested in explaining chronology for us…)

On the third day they find Jesus, finally, in the temple with the teachers of the Law and Prophets of Israel. Listening to them and asking questions. In the next breath we’re told – all who heard Jesus were amazed by his understanding and his answers – suggesting that already, as it will be later, his questions and his answers are essentially inseparable…

Doubtless Mary and Joseph are also astonished. Though not exactly overjoyed, I expect, to find Jesus here like this – having disappeared, it seems, without having said good bye. I can’t imagine his explanation, “Didn’t you know I must be in my Father’s house?” could have been much comfort for his parents.

And when St Luke tells us “his mother treasured all these things in her heart” – it catches my attention – thinking, for me, as a parent, this would be a bit like treasuring a memory of surviving a car crash. But I’m not Mary – I can’t know all that was in her heart… Though I do remember…

Luke’s gospel has mentioned Mary pondering several times previously. Pondering when Angel Gabriel tells her she’ll become the mother, though still a virgin, of a holy child who will be called Son of God. Pondering again, and this time treasuring also the words she hears when shepherds show up on the night of nativity, testifying of a host of angels appearing to them, proclaiming her son’s birth. (This latter pondering and treasuring is our Thought for the Week).

I have no trouble envisioning Mary pondering, again, this Jesus coming-of-age episode – though this time St Luke’s word treasuring – seems like a stretch.

But pondering – treasuring, whatever we call it – here’s our heads-up sign of what lies ahead… As Jesus lets his parents – and us along with them – know – he’s already got the vision of his life’s work – as he tells us he must be in his Father’s house – doing his Father’s line of work.

(What Jesus says here can be translated as either “Didn’t you know I must be in my Father’s house?” Or – “Didn’t you know I must be doing my Father’s business?” Perhaps the either-or possibility is intentional, to help us hear it both ways.) Either way – this may not be breaking news for us.

But like his mother, we may still need more time for pondering… and (yes) treasuring… all the take-aways in all we’ve been learning and reviewing about who Jesus is in the seasons of Advent and Christmas – and why he is already so sure he must be in his Father’s house… Doing his Father’s work…

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Of course, on a very basic level… as a parent I’d be way more anxious and a whole lot less patient then (sounds like) Mary was. (And I can’t even imagine his step-father Joseph thoughts when he hears Jesus say… he must be in his Father’s house…a long ways from Nazareth…)

On the other hand, when I hear this story, not as a parent, but as a pastor – what’s not to love? A bright young person in love with God, hanging out in the house of God, not wanting to leave… even when the festival’s over… Delighting to be in the house of the Lord – listening to the word of God, asking questions – sharing thoughts and feelings. How very cool – how excellent and awesome! And –  hopefully-probably most parents would be very supportive. (If, that is, we remember to tell them where we’re going… when we decide to camp out over night in the church…)

And of course it’s not just young people who we hope are hungry to be keeping company with God and the people of God. These are universal needs we hope everyone feels…. and –

We do feel the presence of God, I hope, every week as we worship together here, in our Father’s house… And we hope our time together in worship helps equip us to know the presence of God throughout all the week… We hope every aspect of being church together helps us to clarify the worth and the meaning of our lives… Whatever our specific callings may be.

It hasn’t been anything like a Hollywood movie but…. these last two months for me could be called Six Funerals and a Wedding – having had one of each this past week, another the week before. Not to make excuses but if my thoughts and words run together more than usual this week this may be part of it…

Thankfully, each service has been a real blessing. Yesterday we had a very beautiful wedding… (And God’s presence is surely with us, differently, but equally in funerals and weddings.) And after both funerals and weddings I often hear people say “this was a beautiful service” (or words to that effect)… and it’s not unusual to hear someone also say “it’s been awhile since I’ve been in church… and… I should be here more often…” Words to that effect…

As people made in the image and likeness of God we’re all drawn to God, by God’s design. Even though all manner of things in life frequently conspire to try to get us forget this… God is always trying to draw us closer to God… and God’s house… and God’s people…

It was probably rare even in Jesus’ day – and for all I know it may not be more any more rare today (though it feels like it probably is) – for us, any of us today, to know, while we’re still young –  the purpose of our life – and what our vocation and life’s work is meant to be…

Even when we have our next step or two figured out – school, work, getting married, a move, any major change – few of us seem to know our whole life’s meaning, purpose and plan… with anything close to the certainty Jesus has… about who… and where… he must be… and what he must be doing…

Of course we know more now than even his parents knew at the time – about Jesus being Son of God. Mary remembers and ponders, we’re told, the words of angels and shepherds, who have called her child Son of God… Messiah, Lord, and Son of The Most High. But all these titles, though widely used, were not clearly defined. Even pagan emperors like Augustus Caesar claimed to be “divine son of god…” and “savior”… The Messiah of Israel was widely expected to be a son of God. But the job description wasn’t spelled-out anywhere in any precise agreed-upon detail.

Thanks to the gospel of John and the letters to the Hebrews and Colossians (where we’ve read today) we do know – Jesus is actually Co-Creator of the universe with God the Father. And even though he is also truly human, born of Mary (fully human, fully God at the same time) Jesus is far beyond everyone else on earth as to knowing who he is, and what his life is about, even at a very early age. So… Its hard for me (and probably most of us) to identify with Jesus in his absolute certainty as to his life’s purpose…

Except – hopefully – for the part about feeling the pull to God’s house… The pull to Godly vocation…

To be sure, this pull has never been nearly as strong or clear a call for me (or for most people I know) as it is for Jesus. But we can all identify (I hope) with Jesus feeling the strong need to be with God, doing God’s work, hanging out with other people who want to walk and talk with God… Even when we resist God’s call we feel it….

I was almost four times the age Jesus was in today’s narrative – 46 years old – when I finally said my Yes to God’s call to the house of God and the work of God. Forty seven when I started seminary. It was quite a struggle at first to handle all the reading and learning to think in new ways…

But I loved classroom discussion from the start – just being with teachers who’d spent many years studying, learning, thinking about their subjects…and being with other students from all kinds of backgrounds was a joy… So even though I’ll never be anywhere near the same league as Jesus… I can identify with Jesus being very glad to be in his Father’s house.

It’s maybe a mixed-up metaphor but, even watching basketball with family and friends last week – was a reminder – all the best players in the world grow up watching and learning from players of previous generations, and playing with and against the best players of their own generation. Watching the pros run through their pre-game warm-up exercises, reminded me also – we always, all of us, always still need plenty of daily practice… and…

Life is definitely not a game but – like basketball, the world we live in is fast-paced – full of turbulence – the whole world constantly jumping, tipping, turning, tilting, upside down, backwards, going all directions…

So to stretch the metaphor just a little more – here’s Jesus – twelve going on thirty – warming up already for seasons yet-to-come. Testing all he knows about God and the word of God already with the best teachers and coaches in the land… And – now already we see –

The child is father to the man. As we see Jesus – born unto us just a few days ago – almost a teenager now already… Tomorrow all grown up… Heading to Jerusalem again…

Inviting us to come with him now… as friends and members of his family.

Let’s be ready… as our life-long journey with Jesus continues.

Thanks be to God. Amen.