Sunday, Sunday December 27, 2009

First Sunday of Christmas
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
Psalm 148
Colossians 3:12-17
Luke 2:41-52

And he hath lifted up the horn of his people, The praise of all his saints; Even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye Jehovah.

Iím sure many of us are making those annual treks home to visit family and friends. This is particularly true in our society where children do not always stay close to home. No matter how far we roam, however, thereís no place like home for the holidays, so they say. And so, many have packed their suitcases, gathered their gifts and gone by plane, train or automobile to that place where family has gathered for the holiday.

While it might be easier for us to go long distances, after all, we can drive hundreds of miles or fly thousands of miles in just a day, we arenít the first to take regular pilgrimages to visit the ones we love. As a matter of fact, in todayís Old Testament lesson we see Hannah taking an annual pilgrimage to offer her sacrifices and to see her beloved son Samuel, the son that God gave to her when she was thought to be barren. Each year she took Samuel a new robe and Eli blessed the family. Each year Samuel was found to be growing in many ways. How hard it must have been for Hannah to leave her son year after year; even harder for her than for us in these modern times. At least we have telephones and email. She had to wait another year each time she went home.

In the Gospel lesson, we see the story of another boy growing in stature and favor. Jesus was twelve years old and His family traveled to Jerusalem for the annual festival. They traveled in large groups, for safety on the road and because they stayed close to family. Uncles, cousins, grandparents were all together, enjoying the adventure of the journey. Their families we close because they lived close. Everyone cared for everyone. One child could easily be lost in the crowd. Jesus, at twelve, was old enough to be somewhat independent. It is no wonder that Jesus was not with Mary and Joseph during the trip. They thought He was in the crowd.

Eventually they went looking for their son and could not find Him. Can you imagine the panic? Most parents have a moment like that with their kids. For me, Victoria was playing in the clothing racks at a department store and then was suddenly gone. I called and searched; others joined in the search. I was in tears out of fear. It didnít help that there had been a nationally reported kidnapping of another child just weeks before this incident. I couldnít help but think about the worst possibilities. We eventually found her, crying hysterically in a dressing room at the other end of the store. All was well in the end, but for a brief period of time I was inconsolable. I know how Mary felt at that moment when she realized He was gone.

I also know how she felt when she found Jesus. I was so happy that Victoria was found, safe and sound, but angry that she had wandered off. ďHow could you do this to me?Ē I asked. So did Mary. We often place Mary on a pedestal, forgetting that she is a normal woman and mother. And though Jesus was the Son of God, He was also her son and a twelve year old boy. In this story we see this holy family not as something extraordinary, but as ordinary as you and I.

However, Jesus was not quite ordinary. He wandered off, not because He was playing in the racks of clothes at a department store or even to play stick ball in the streets. He was in the Temple, listening to the teachers and asking questions. His questions were not like a normal childís questions, but were thoughtful and intelligent. He amazed the teachers with His understanding. He amazed even His parents. Even so, Mary asked, ďHow could you do this to us?Ē He didnít understand their concern. ďDidnít you know I had to be in my Fatherís house?Ē

Samuel and Jesus were extraordinary young men. They were where they belonged, even if their mothers didnít quite understand. We have to let our children go when they become adults, as they go off to college. Hannah and Mary had to let their boys go at a much earlier age. But they were equipped for the work they had to do. God was with them. Perhaps we would be more patient with our children if we could be so sure that God is with them, too.

There is so much for us to learn. Iím not sure we as adults feel equipped to do the work God calls us to do. Paul writes to the congregation at Colossae, ďPut on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye: and above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness.Ē Iím not sure I can do all this. I canít seem to do it all the time, at least. Perfect? Not in this life.

But we are chosen, not because we are perfect, but because God loves us and because God has spoken His word into our lives. As one of Godís chosen, Godís word dwells within us. With His word in our hearts and His teaching in our minds, we can do everyone in His name with thankfulness and praise. Thatís what He wants from us.

Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph did not understand. I do not think that their doubt was about His identity as the Son of God. They knew. The angels told them. Instead, I think they were surprised that Jesus knew it. He was a young boy, not yet ready for the responsibilities that would be hoisted upon Him. He was still a child, innocent and impressionable. They werenít ready to give up their responsibility for Him. They had more to teach Him, more to do for Him. However, He knew. The day they had been dreading was closer than they thought. It could not have been easy living with the knowledge that Jesus was destined for something great but that greatness would come at a price. Mary treasured every moment she had with Jesus, even when those moments were filled with anxiety. She had an inner peace that is beyond human understanding even while the world around her seemed chaotic and out of control. She had that peace because she trusted in God, and did all she did for His glory.

Peace, true peace, does not necessarily mean that our lives will be without conflict. December 26th is the day we remember St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. On December 28th we remember the Holy Innocents, the children massacred in Bethlehem at the hands. We find ourselves this Sunday between these two horrific moments. Yet, in the midst of it we are called to praise.

Our little troubles are really insignificant when we consider the amazing things God has done. He has created the entire world and everything in it. He has redeemed all of mankind by the blood of Christ. He has brought salvation to our lives, ordained His people to service and promised to do even greater things through His Church. We might suffer for a moment. We might have difficult work to do in this world. But no matter what we face, we believe in the God of the heavens and the earth. If only we would spend some time each day just praising God, singing songs of adoration and admiration, we might realize more quickly how inconsequential our troubles really are.

We are called and gathered by the Holy Spirit to join with the entire creation to sing praises to God our Father. He hears our praise wherever we are, because everything He has made sings along with us. It is humbling to realize our place in this world especially when we consider the heights of the mountains, the depths of the seas. When we look at the magnificence of His creation and wonder at the vastness of the heavens, we realize we are just a tiny part of it all. Yet, He has created us to be the crown of His creation.

Then, when we look at the life of Samuel and the life of Jesus, who even as young men knew their place in the world, should we not at least dwell in presence of our God and sing His praise with one another? He has given us the heavens and the earth. He has given us the sun and the wind and the rain. He has made the animals, birds, plants and trees for us. And He has given the care and love of one another. But most of all, He has given us His Son who brings peace to a world filled with chaos. Jesus is the horn of our salvation, the baby born in Bethlehem, the boy lost in the teachings of the Temple, the man who died on the cross.

The peace we have in Christ does not guarantee a world without suffering. Weíll see horrific moments. Weíll panic in the face of danger. Weíll cry when we are afraid. We will have to let go, let others take their place in the work of God, give up the things we hold most dear. But as we dwell in Christ and sing His praise together, we will continue to grow like Samuel and Jesus, in wisdom and favor until the day we will know the perfection of Godís kingdom in our life today.

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