A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, TX.
The Lectionary readings for the second Sunday after Christmas are here.
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR! How are you feeling about the year to come? Excited, anxious, hopeful, fearful, ambiguous? Are you setting expectations or are you just going to roll with it as it comes? Do you have a plan or have you given up on planning anything? Are you just going to charge ahead into the new year or are you stepping in intentionally with your eyes and heart open to seeing where God is at work and listening for God’s call for what is yours to do?
Time moves forward, regardless of anything we do. God created the order and rhythm of the sun and the moon, days and nights, winter, spring, summer, and autumn. The time we inhabit is a sacred gift of God. What we do with and in time is our choice. And regardless of how hard we may work to ensure things “stay the same” it is God’s intention that we move and grow through time, continuously being formed into who we are created and called to be.
Today’s gospel reading is the one and only story we have of Jesus’ childhood. This story paints such a concrete picture of the life of a jewish family and community in first century Palestine, I feel like we can just step into it and imagine ourselves as one of them, inhabiting God’s story along side them.
Mary and Joseph had taken their annual trip to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. But this wasn’t a roadtrip as we’d think of one: a nuclear family traveling independently in their own vehicle from one place to another.
Traveling was treacherous: there weren’t rest areas every 50 miles, there were no restaurants or hotels or gas stations along the way. Today, Google maps says it will take about 30 hours to walk from Nazareth to Jerusalem. The journey is about 90 miles, on foot, taking anywhere from 3-5 days. And it wasn’t just Mary and Joseph. It would have been most everyone from Nazareth making the journey together – 100s of people with some pack animals and carts to carry what they needed for the trip and the festival. There weren’t roadside hotels or rest stops.
And when the festival was over, Mary and Joseph and the entire community began the return trip home. But they didn’t realize Jesus had stayed behind. They assumed he was in the traveling group.
Imagine it: it’s the morning of the departure and Mary and Joseph are packing up. Jesus, being twelve, starts to wander away. Mary probably assumes he’s going to hang out with his friends and tells him to be ready to go at a certain time. “Yes, Mamma,” Jesus says in the absent minded twelve year old way, and Mary resumes her packing and loading.
And as the group starts to pull out of Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph know and trust that their entire community is looking out for each other and assume Jesus is with a group of kids. They check in with those around them and everyone seems to be ready and accounted for.
“Here let me help you with the last of that stuff, we have a little extra room in our cart.”
“Do you have enough water? We have enough to share if you run out, I picked up a couple of extra new jars and filled them.”
“We are getting a late start, how far do you think we’ll make it today?”
“Yes, I saw him, he’s with the other boys over there.”
“This year’s festival was so special but it’s always good to be heading home.”
And as evening approaches, Mary and the other mothers start rounding up their kiddos for supper. As the groups of kids start to disperse, Jesus is no where to be found.
“Boys, is he with you?”
“No, I saw him this morning but he said something about his father’s business so we thought he was staying with you.”
Mary and Joseph panic. Where is he? Those around them do their best to reassure them. “He’s got to be here somewhere? Boys, when did you see him last? Which way was he heading? Pass the word up and down the group: where’s Jesus? He’s not here, he must have stayed behind. But why? He knew we were leaving today.”
And so, Mary and Joseph separate from the group. “Y’all go ahead, we’ll return and look for him. He’s probably hurrying along the road to catch up with us. He knows the way.” Imagine their fear.
But they don’t find him along the road and for three days, they search and search in Jerusalem, until they find him, safe and sound in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening and asking questions, as if everything were as it is supposed to be.
Have you every thought your child was lost, lost sight of them momentarily in a store or at the park? What was your response when you found them? It’s a mix of relief, anger, and love, a flood of emotions so immense, we don’t know what to express first.
Mary responds as most any mother would, “Why have you done this to us? Don’t you know we were worried about you?”
Jesus tries to reassure them that everything is fine: “I must be in my father’s house, I am supposed to be about my father’s business.”
The family returns to Nazareth, to the relief of their community and all we are told of the rest of Jesus’ adolescence is that he “increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”
What’s going on in your heads and hearts as we picture Jesus as a kid with his parents and in his community? What are you thinking when you hear that Jesus grew in wisdom? Does it draw you closer into relationship with him? Does it make you question what you think you know and believe? Does it allow you to see the reality of the humanness of Jesus? Does it strengthen your faith in Jesus as one with God? Does it help you know more concretely, your place in God’s story?
This story is about growing in wisdom and is bookended with the word ‘wisdom’. The verse right before our reading today says, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”
This very human story is given to us, wrapped in the wisdom of knowing Whose and who we are so that we can know the what it is to be wholly, and holy human, beloved children of God, as a model of the way God intends for us to inhabit this time we are in. In the midst of our daily rhythms and annual occurrences, we grow and mature in wisdom as we walk with God.
Wisdom is what enables us to take what we know and live it. Wisdom is what enables us to live into our humanness from the image of God within us.
Whatever your approach to this new year, step into it with the confidence that we are all in God’s Story, participants with God in bringing about God’s Kingdom, the Kingdom made up of all people, bound together in God’s name, with God’s love, illuminated by the image of God in all of us, growing in wisdom.
In last week’s sermon, I made the statement that Jesus is more fully human than anyone because he never tried to live any other way than from the image of God. We are created to live this way. Our anxiety, our stress, our fear, our trepidation all comes from our attempt to live into our humanness without acknowledging the image of God in us, when we disconnect ourselves from the very source of who we are to be. We are most fully human when we live fully as God’s beloved.
God chose us BEFORE the foundations of the world to be holy and blameless before him IN LOVE.
And, so I invite all of us to take the prayer that Paul prays for the church at Ephesus and pray it on behalf of our St. Francis by the Lake community as we intentionally step into what God is doing in and among and through all of us in this year to come. In your bulletin, look at the New Testament lesson and let’s pray together: “I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” Amen.