Treasure This LIfe

Luke 2:13-20 & 41-52
1st Sunday of Christmas
Elizabeth M. Deibert

A sleeping child in his mother’s arms is beautiful to behold. Ask any parent of young children. Sleeping children are the best. That’s when we treasure them most – when they are sound asleep. We go into their bedrooms and say, “Oh, aren’t they so precious.” We see sleeping babies in strollers and in their parents arms and we say, “Ah, sleeping like a baby.” And in their first months they sleep a good part of the day and the night.

We have this notion, propagated by the Christmas carols that Jesus always slept in heavenly peace, yet perhaps those words from Silent Night are as much about us as they are about the infant, Jesus. “Sleep in heavenly peace” We speak of sleeping like a baby, but isn’t that strange, because babies wake up in the night, sometimes multiple times. Yet somehow sleeping like a baby carries with the it the connotation that we have no worries to keep us awake or fearful. We have someone on whom to utterly depend. And that is what this infant of Christmas teaches us – we have someone on whom we can depend. We can sleep in heavenly peace knowing we have this treasure, this gift of the incarnation. Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels – in clay jars.” John’s Gospel opens with “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

The treasure is this life – that God became flesh, became one of us. The treasure is that God and humanity are now united in a way that they were not before this happened.

The two scriptures we are reading today – one a lectionary passage for Christmas Day and the other, the text for this first Sunday of Christmas, end with Mary treasuring these things in her heart. In the first text she treasures and ponders the visit and the story of the shepherds and in the second, she and Joseph are upset at having temporarily lost their son, but then after finding Jesus in the temple, where he says they should have known he would be, Mary then treasures these things in her heart.

Hear now the word of the Lord from two passages in chapter 2 of Luke’s Gospel.

Treasures of Christmas. Perhaps your greatest treasure at Christmas is not something under the Christmas tree, but some thoughts, some feelings, some collection of emories that you treasure. Maybe it is a faith that you treasure, despite the pain of your memories. The older, the more mature we become the more we know that it is not particular gifts that give us joy, but seeing other people happy on Christmas, bringing joy to others. Then we begin to glimpse the miracle of Christmas – God’s gift of a son, God’s very own presence with us in the person of Jesus.

Christ, lamb of God. Christ, visited by lowly shepherds, the first to arrive at the manger. They tell Mary and Joseph about their visit from the angels, and Mary is thinking, “Wow, that’s three visitations – an angel came to me, one came to Joseph, and now a multitude heavenly host to these unsuspecting shepherds.” Mary ponders what child is this? She treasures this gift of life, having no idea where his life is going, unless she truly comprehends the riches of all these messages from angels. Mary doesn’t yet know the end of the story of Jesus’ life, but we know.

Then there’s story about Jesus being brought to the temple as a baby for the rite of purification, and Simeon sings an amazing song, essentially saying that he can die now because he has seen the salvation of God for all the people. And Mary and Joseph are amazed. Then Anna comes and speaks about the child being the redeemer. And we learn that Jesus grows in strength, wisdom, and grace. That’s all we know of his childhood, until he is a tweenager, at the age of bar-mitzvah, at the age of self-differentiation.

Hear now the story of Jesus getting left behind in the temple.

In this lesson we experience Jesus as a burgeoning adolescent, growing in his understanding of whom he is. When his parents question him, he fires back, “Why were you searching. You should have known I would be in the temple, handling my father’s business.” There he establishes that he is Son of God, more than Son of Joseph.

Let's look a little closer. They, the family of Jesus, including other relatives were in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. It seemed to be a family custom. It is also what very pious people did in that day, if they lived close enough to attend he Passover. The family came, celebrated the feast and then they headed home.

The first question that comes to mind is why would Mary and Joseph leave home without knowing that Jesus was with them? It seems like a strange situation for us. But for them in their day and time, it wasn't. Women traveled more slowly than the men, so the women left Jerusalem first. The men followed later. They would catch up with each other at the place where they spent the night. So Joseph assumed Jesus was with Mary. Mary assumed Jesus was with Joseph. Neither suspected any problem until Joseph arrived and found out that Jesus was not with Mary.

I can only imagine how they must have felt when they realized that Jesus missing. Most parents’ anxiety would be high. They rushed back to Jerusalem to search for Jesus. They found Jesus after three days of searching, an allusion to his coming crucifixion and disappearance for three days. Joseph and Mary found Jesus in the temple learning and asking questions from the teachers. Evidently, Jesus was pretty good; Luke recorded that the teachers (the Rabbis) were amazed at his understanding and answers.

But the heart of this story comes during the dialogue that Jesus had with his mother, Mary. Mary and Joseph found Jesus and she said, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress." Mary clearly felt what any parent would feel: first, great anxiety and fear, relief -when Jesus was found, then some anger - for what he had put them through.

Jesus answered, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's House (…I must be about my Father's business)?

These words are significant words that Jesus spoke. First of all, these are the first ords that Jesus spoke in Luke's Gospel. He is already beginning to feel his mission to obey God. Jesus experienced a growing and compelling sense of call to go and do the will of God, the Father. Also, Jesus had a sense that he was the Son of God even before his baptism.

Perhaps this seems to be no big deal, but understand that in the other Gospels, there is absolutely nothing to indicate that Jesus had a sense of being the Messiah before he was baptized by John the Baptist. Our passage today is the only passage that gives us that idea. (Gratitude to The Rev. Daniel E. Hale, D. Min., 2nd Presbyterian, Petersburg, VA, for many of the ideas in the last several paragraphs.)

Finally, note how Jesus does this by discretely and carefully reframes what his mother said to him. Mary said, "your father and I," and she meant Joseph. Jesus' reply puts "father" into a divine context. "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's House?" Jesus was at home.

And the story ends with Mary treasuring these things in her heart. We would do well to be like Mary and treasure these things in our hearts. As we move toward a new year, treasure the gifts of God, especially this gift of the incarnation, which changed the world.