Year C — The First Sunday after Christmas Day

Commentary for December 30, 2012
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
The RCL gives us a snippet from the story of Samuel, perhaps as a “precursor” for the story of the young Jesus (see today’s gospel lesson, below.)

There are similarities, certainly, in the two figures:

  • Both are rather miraculously conceived under extraordinary circumstances
  • Both are intimately encircled with the meditations and prayers of their mothers
  • Both have fathers that are somewhat peripheral to the story (as we have it, anyway)
  • Both are called to serve a higher purpose in the plan of God
  • Samuel becomes a pivotal figure in the life of Israel, serving as both prophet and priest — perhaps he could have been a king, but instead accepts the role of “king maker” under God’s direction
  • It is Jesus who will bring the three roles together — prophet, priest, and king — as the Christ of God
Most interestingly to me, both young men display an unusual capacity for submission — to their parents, to their proscribed roles, and — ultimately — to the will of God. Probably never a bad “lesson” to learn!


Psalm 148
The closing verse of the Psalter, only two psalms hence, says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!”

Here, in Psalm 148, we have a pretty extensive naming of things that have breath (and quite a few that do not) — and they are all joining in the “creation praise” of the LORD.

Colossians 3:12-17
Awesome passage from Colossians to close out 2012 — I have treated the epistle readings as something of a “series” during the season of Advent and Christmas. I have grouped them and called them “Letters from the Heart,” because of the warm, intimate tone set by the Apostle as he writes to these young churches.

In this closing portion, then, Paul sets some of most vivid (and tangible) images of the way Christ dwells in the hearts and everyday lives of his people.

We have “new clothes” to put on –okay, I’ll admit that I am going with the title, “New Clothes for Christmas” here! Pretty nice image — especially for a typically “down” Sunday after all the holiday pageantry leading up to Christmas. 

When you go to the closet of your Christianly attire, just what is it that you will select to clothe yourself with? Vv. 12-13 give us some nice options to work with.

The peace of Christ mentioned here pairs nicely with the Philippians passage we read on the Third Sunday of Advent — the peace that surpasses understanding.

As a former (?) church musician and quasi-hymnologist, v.16 is one of my favorite passages. How does the living word of Christ dwell in our hearts richly, if not in our teaching and our singing. Personally, I know I have worshiped when I have both sung with God’s people and heard from God’s word as it is preached and taught. 

And talk about homiletical convenience! How can you ask for a better “closer” to end the old year and get ready for the new than v.17?

Luke 2:41-52
Famously, we have our only glimpse of Jesus as an adolescent in today’s readings. 

It is somewhat curious to our ears to hear about young Jesus wandering off from his parents, “doing his own thing” without much regard for their feelings, talking back just a bit to his momma, and speaking in a language that they feel they just can’t understand.

Oh, wait…maybe it’s not that curious after all. Jesus is a teenager!

Again, what a great closing line, though; Jesus (who always does the right thing, remember?) is obedient to his parents, and grows on up as he “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.” (I’ll admit to the occasional predilection for the KJV and its resonance. So sue me, okay?)

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

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 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 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 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.
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 forty was old and boys became kings and emperors in their teens, Luke wanted to explain Jesus’ late arrival on the scene 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.

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