Luke 2:36-52 1st Sunday of Christmas
Elizabeth M. Deibert 27 December 2015
There are few stories of Jesus’ childhood. We have the story of the visitation of the Magi, followed by Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt in Matthew, because they are warned in a dream of King Herod’s evil plan to kill all baby boys.
And we have the three vignettes in Luke, which follow the story of the birth and the visit of the shepherds. The first story tells briefly of Jesus’ circumcision and naming. Next is the story of Jesus and his parents in the temple when he was 40 days old. In this story, Mary and Joseph come for the ritual purification of Mary, and they are blessed by two devout persons in the temple, who recognize that Jesus is not just any child, but is the One who brings salvation to the people, as revelation to Gentiles and as glory for the Jews. Simeon says, “Now I can depart in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation.” Mary and Joseph are amazed by what Simeon says, and then Anna approaches. That’s where we begin our reading today. We begin with Jesus at 40 days and end with Jesus at age 12. Both stories happen in the temple, the place where both Jesus and his earthly parents grow in their understanding of his identity. Hear the Gospel:
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.
46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." 49 He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" 50 But they did not understand what he said to them.
51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. (NRS)
Verse 40 says, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” Verse 52 says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”
Jesus grew stronger and increased in wisdom, in divine favor, and in human favor. All who heard him in the temple were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
When Jesus was young, his parents took him regularly to the temple. What happens is that over time, as he grows in wisdom, he comes to find his home in the temple, in the place of worship, more than with his parents. We want all children to find their home here, to get lost here, so to speak.
It is a natural progression that a child will break away from parents, causing some great anxiety as the child forms his or her own identity. Even though Jesus is growing in wisdom, and in favor with God and humanity, his parents are still worried about him. Even though they have heard from angels, shepherds, wise men, Simeon and Anna, they still find it difficult to entrust their Son to God his Father. They do not fully understand what is going on. If they do not fully understand, with all the messages they have received, it is easy to see why we have trouble remembering that our children belong to God.
Anderson and Mary are bringing their daughters to baptism today. They will entrust their futures to God, acknowledging that the church is their true home, more than in their parents’ home. We never use last names in baptism because of the symbolism of being part of the larger family of God – not just their own family. Just as Jesus’ parents received confirmation of his identity from Anna and Simeon, so we the church confirm the identity of children in the church. We need to remind parents of the truest identity of their children. All parents forget. They get irritated with their children. They lose perspective on their children’s problems. They fail to see the full potential of the child or fail to address the greatest problems of the child, and the church needs to be there to assist and support. We will promise today to help nurture the Christian faith of Marilyn and Blessing. It is no light promise we make. It is not just a sweet sentiment. We will pray for and be part of their growth in wisdom. We will be there for them to ask questions. We want them to find at church a strong sense of being at home, as Jesus did in the temple. This is why we are stretching our budget in 2016 in hope of calling an associate pastor whose focus in ministry will be on nurturing the discipleship of our youngest in the congregation. But a single staff member cannot make all the difference. Parents and congregation members must play their role.
It is Mary and Anderson’s job to bring them here, and once here, it is our role to to build a relationships with them that lead them to a living and active faith in Jesus Christ, their Savior. We can only do this, if we, like Jesus, are growing in wisdom, and in favor with God and humanity.
As we begin a new year, we would do well to examine our lives and consider the epistle lesson for today from Colossians 3.
NRSColossians 3:12 As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 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. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:12 NRS)
How can we all put on the clothes of Christian identity and wear them continuously in 2016? Only by practice, by contemplation and prayer, and by more practice in the company of fellow strugglers. I wonder if we might take these twelve concepts and make them our own this year. We could focus on one per month. First – that we are chosen, beloved and holy. Second that we should wear these five character traits: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Third, that we should forgive, and above all -- love, and let peace rule our hearts. And lastly that our lives be rooted in scripture or the word of Christ, and in wisdom that gently leads others in the right direction, and in gratitude that makes us sing praise to God. These attitudes are built in the Christian who knows who he or she is, and is determined and disciplined to live according to that identity. I’d like to close with a poem by Dorothy Law Neite that has influenced me since I was about fourteen years of age and had my first babysitting job for a whole summer and realized what a challenge it is to love and care for children:
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those around them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
We are all God’s children, called to grow according to the childhood pattern set by Jesus, our brother. May the Spirit of Christ guide us in 2016 to live the faith we profess, that all the children of God, old and young, may see us truly grow in wisdom, and in favor with God and humanity and may find in our lives a compelling reason to seek Christ. This is our calling, to be like the wise men, always seeking Christ, finding in Christ our identity and our purpose.