Lectionary blog for Dec. 30, 2012
First Sunday of Christmas
Texts: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26;
Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52
I have been trekking to the foothills of southern Virginia all my life for a family reunion. Because it was often held on Sundays and I lived far way, I sometimes had trouble getting there for several years in a row. 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 Gospel lesson. Wait, Jesus is what, 12? He’s in seventh 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 12 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 earlier” sections 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 storytelling, 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 graduate 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 OK if I didn’t know what I was doing half the time.
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 travelers” shows 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 yet” nature 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 house” or “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 40 was old and boys became kings and emperors in their teens, Luke wanted to explain Jesus’ late arrival on the scene and his obedience to God’s will.
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, at the next “family reunion” there may be those who will be surprised to see how much we’ve grown.
Amen and amen.
- What does it mean to you to be a follower of Jesus?
- Can you name some ways that you go about God’s business in your daily life?
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C., Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.