St. Paul’s 12-30-2018 – 1stSunday after Christmas
I do not know about you but sometimes, I do not pay attention to the traditional Christmas letters I receive from families I have known for years. It has occasionally been disconcerting to discover that a young man I still remembered as running his tricycle into my car is now in college, or that a cousin that I did not know was either married or pregnant now has children in elementary school. I really need to do a better job of reading those Christmas letters.
I had that same jarring feeling when I read this morning’s Gospel lesson. Wait, Jesus is what, twelve? He’s in 7th grade now? In advanced placement history and philosophy? Going to early college? But, but, wasn’t he born like, just last week, Tuesday in fact?
Sometimes the order of the lectionary readings can be a little confusing. Last Sunday Mary and Elizabeth are pregnant, Monday night Jesus gets born, today he’s twelve and in the temple, and then next Sunday, the Epiphany, he’s a baby again, being visited by the Magi.
It’s like watching one of those movies or television shows that don’t follow a straight time-line. They start at the end, and then have flashbacks and two days earliersections and it’s enough to make a person long for the days of Joe Friday and Dragnet and Just the facts, Ma’am It wasn’t great story-telling but you could follow it.
Today we get Jesus in the temple and it’s a good story, and it’s an important story for today because Luke is trying to tell us who this Jesus who preached, and healed, and suffered, and died, and was raised from the dead, really was. He’s giving us the deep background before he turns to the time when Jesus emerged as a very public teacher and healer.
In chapter one and the first part of chapter two he has told us about the angel, and Mary and Elizabeth being pregnant, and the birth and the dedication at the temple. Now we turn to Jesus and his family and their annual trip to Jerusalem for the week of the Passover festival.
At the end of the week the family headed home. Mary and Joseph thought Jesus was walking with family or friends. At the end of the day, they discovered he was missing. They spent three days looking for him in Jerusalem and then found him in the temple sitting in on a grad student seminar. When his mother fusses at him for being so inconsiderate, pre-teen Jesus returns the favor by carefully explaining to her that it is all the parents’ fault for not knowing where he would be.
Next comes one of my favorite lines in the Bible, a line that got me through years of being a parent to teen-age boys, But they did not understand what he said to them. If Mary and Joseph, the Bible’s model parents, were confused by their perfect and sinless son, then it was okay if I didn’t know what I was doing half the time with my boys. In one of his commentaries, N.T. Wright said that when you try to point something out to a dog, the dog will look at your finger instead of what you are pointing at. In the same way we sometimes look at the signs, the pointers, in a story instead of seeing what the writer is pointing us toward. What is it that Luke is pointing at in this story?
First of all, Luke is trying to show that Jesus was indeed a good little Jewish boy and not some wild-eyed, pagan-influenced radical. Notice all the references to the temple in the first couple of chapters; Cousin Zechariah serving as a priest in the temple, Mary and Joseph having their child dedicated at the temple, Jesus studying Torah at the temple.
Further, Luke shows us that Jesus was, in the old Southern phrase, raised right,by indicating that his family made a habit of attending to all their religious duties and involving their children in them. And, the reference to the group of travelersshows that the family was involved in a larger network of family and friends who also were faithful Jews.
Secondly, Luke is indicating that Jesus has not pulled his religious teachings out of a hat. Jesus in the temple studying the Torah indicates that he is deeply familiar with both the written and oral religious tradition of Israel. It also shows him at an early age engaging with it creatively and seriously. Luke wants to establish Jesus’ authenticity as both a student and a teacher.
Thirdly, there is an indication of Jesus’ own need to wait patiently for things to unfold. He too had to learn to live with the tension of the already, but not yetnature of the Kingdom of God. He obviously knew something about who he was and what he was called to do; be in my Father’s houseor be about my Father’s affairs,but he also knew it wasn’t time to start; he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. In a world in which forty was old and boys became kings and emperors in their teens, Luke wanted to explain Jesus’ late arrival on the scene as his obedience to God’s will.
There is a story I tell when the story of Jesus in the temple enters the lectionary It is particularly appropriate for this year because of the heightened tension in the world that on the surface involve the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We are living with constant news of the warfare and atrocities that are coming from the lands that the ancestors of those faiths called holy. The story I tell is adapted from Sufi story about Jesus in the temple. Sufism is the mystical branch of Islam. (St. Paul’s Chapel–Muslim student)
Rabbi David loved to come to hear the teachings in the temple. Sometimes he entered into the debate and questioning but mostly he smiled and closed his eyes, listening prayerfully. He allowed the teachings to wash over him as he asked the Holy One what should be gleaned from the sacred conversations.
One day Rabbi David came to the temple just before Passover and sat down in his familiar place. To his great surprise there was a young boy barely old enough for bar mitzvah questioning the other rabbis. He could recite the Torah with ease and elegance. As the other rabbis questioned him in return, he gave answers full of simple and profound wisdom as if the Holy One was whispering them into his ear. Everyone was astounded and mesmerized. As Rabbi David watched he saw that two other boys, just his age, accompanied the lad. Wait!thought Rabbi David. How could this be? There was just one a moment ago! Ahh…now I see…the other two are angels. Because Rabbi David was steeped in prayer and contemplation of the Holy, he sometimes saw angels in the temple. But they had never spoken to him.
This time the two young angels looked him straight in the eye, came bounding over and sat down beside him. Want to play hide and seek? they whispered in his ear. We know that you can see us and nobody else can. My name is Mosessaid the first angel so sit. I am the guardian angel of Moses. And I am Aaron,said the second, the guardian angel of Aaron. We are here with our friend, Yeshua, from Nazareth. And he pointed to the boy conversing with the rabbis. Now let’s play! I’ll go first!And with that the angel Aaron disappeared.
Rabbi David knew enough about angels to know that he could not find Aaron by running about the temple. He would have to use his wits as when he studied scripture. He thought for a moment. Aha! Aaron is a priest…so Angel Aaron must be hiding in the Holy of Holies!Yes, well done! cried Aaron as he appeared. My turn, said Moses. And he disappeared. Rabbi David thought a bit longer this time, Oh yes! Moses gave us the Torah. He is hiding in the Sacred Scrolls.And with a laugh and a shout the Angel Moses reappeared.
Rabbi David had not been sure about all this hide and seek game at first. He was not sure about the disappearing act. But now as the two rambunctious angels by his sides chortled and poked one another, he said, My turn! No, shouted the angels in unison. It’s his turn!At that moment Yeshua looked up from his conversation with the rabbis and his eyes met Rabbi David’s. It seemed time stood still. Yeshua disappeared!
Rabbi David had heard enough of what Yeshua said to the rabbis to know that he had a special gift of understanding, of knowledge and compassion from God. Now where would he hide? thought Rabbi David. Rabbi David began to search all through the temple in his mind. Yeshua was not there. He reached out farther and began to search with his mind through all of Jerusalem. Yeshua was not there. Farther still he searched through all of creation. But Yeshua was not there. Out into the cosmos and into the great reaches of the universe, the realm of the angels even, the rabbi searched with his great mind and his knowing thoughts. Still he could not find Yeshua. He began to grow very sad and anxious. Finally, he opened his eyes and looked for the two angels. I do not know where he is!,said Rabbi David. Moses and Aaron looked at him with great and loving eyes. Both boys smiled at bit and touched their chests over their hearts. Look here,they said.
Rabbi David puzzled a moment. Then he closed his eyes and he did look there. He looked within his heart. And there was Yeshua, smiling and laughing and loving. Rabbi David sat with him for what seemed a very long time. When he finally opened his eyes the angels were gone and so were all the rabbis. It was early evening and the temple was almost empty. Except for two people – a man and a woman – standing with Yeshua and embracing him. The woman was crying softly. And the man was saying, We are so glad to find you, son. Your mother and I have been so worried….
Colossians 3:16 says, 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. During Christmastide may we allow children to teach us something about living from our hearts and receiving Jesus, the One sent from God, into our hearts.
And what does all this have to do with us? It calls us to think and pray deeply about what it means for us to be followers of this Jesus whom we call Lord. We have celebrated his birth as a sign that God’s kingdom has come and is still coming into the world in us. We must not simply put Christmas back in the box with the decorations and the wrapping paper and casually turn our attention to the Super Bowl and college hoops.
Instead, we are called to be about our Abba’s business; reaching out in love to those in need, binding up the broken-hearted, feeding the hungry, making the lame to walk and the blind to see.
And when we do, we, like Jesus, will increase in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. And who knows, in the next Christmas letter, there may be those who will be surprised to see how much we’ve grown.
Opening Prayer Wrap us in the shawl of compassion,
God of holiness,
so that this season of goodness and giving
might last longer than
the after-Christmas sales.
Slip our hands into the gloves of humility,
Brother of the overlooked,
so we might join in your work of
feeding the hungry,
embracing the outsiders.
Teach us your patient ways,
Wisdom from on high,
so we would learn to notice
what we have in common with others,
rather than what divides us;
so we might offer kindness
in the face of bitterness and hurt.
May all we do with our worship, our hands, our hearts,
our minds, our feet, our lives be done
in the name of the One who taught us to pray
Offering God, you call us to give as we have received. On this Sunday following Christmas, when our blessings are great, when you have shared your Child with us, help us to share our blessing with those in need.
Benediction May the God who comes through the child Jesus bless the child in each of you and receive the blessings that we return. And the blessing of God Almighty…..