Sunday, January 4, 2015

Second Sunday after Christmas
1 Kings 3:4-15
Psalm 119:97-104
Ephesians 1:3-14
Luke 2:40-52

And it came to pass, after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them, and asking them questions: and all that heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Over the past day I have been acutely aware of all those people who are saying "Don't make resolutions" which is funny after my devotion yesterday reminding us how important it is to see the reality that we aren't perfect. We may fail to live up to our resolutions, but that's no reason to keep from making them. Resolutions help us to see the things about ourselves that need to change. It is a humbling experience, but also transforming. Even if we fail to change, we have seen ourselves clearly, the first step to true transformation.

See, New Year's resolutions tend to be overwhelming. We set our goals too high to attain, and we rarely look at the deeper roots of the things that need to be changed about our lives. We resolve to lose weight, but we don't look for the reasons we over eat. We resolve to be better about money, but we don't consider the bad habits that have put us into financial straits. Our resolutions sound transformative, but they usually just touch the surface problems or change the appearance of our lives rather than truly change us in a lasting way. That's why we fail.

Losing weight and setting our finances right are good things, but what we really need to do is to face the emotional and spiritual reasons we over eat and over spend. We have to look more deeply at ourselves, and in that search for the truth about ourselves we will recognize our need for God. We try to make these New Year transformations on our own. Sometimes we look to the help of our friends. We rarely put God in the mix, but it is with His help that we'll truly succeed.

The Prayer of the Day for our church this coming Sunday (taken from Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy 1894) reads, "Almighty and everlasting God, direct our actions according to your good pleasure, that in the same of your beloved Son, we might be made to abound in good works." The transformation that comes from God will not only help us become better people, it will help us become the people that God has chosen to do His work in the world. Our resolutions are so often self-centered, seeking change so that we'll look better or feel better, but God calls us to lives that are better for the sake of others. When we follow the ways of God, transformed by His grace and Wisdom, we will more willingly serve the world in His name.

Wisdom. That's what this Sunday is all about, and perhaps that is what the New Year should be all about. Isn't it funny how January 1st is really just another day, but it is special because of how we have divided the years. There are other calendars around the world that are based on different factors. They follow the moon phases or the seasons more closely. We have defined January 1st as a day of new beginnings, yet the date itself is not at a time of newness. The winter weather means everything is dark and most of the plants have died for the season. It doesn't even line up to the first day of winter. Perhaps April 1st would make more sense, when the new grass is sprouting and the flowers are blossoming. Or perhaps our New Year should begin on March 20th, the first day of spring.

But we have made January 1st a day when we commit to a new year, a new body, a new life. We put so much pressure to make and keep those commitments, and that's why we so often fail. Wisdom calls us to think about this differently. Solomon understood the importance of seeing things from the right perspective. He could have asked for anything, and God would have provided it for him. Yet, Solomon didn't ask for health or wealth. He asked for wisdom. God was pleased and granted him not only wisdom, but the rest.

Solomon was humble; he knew that he was not qualified to lead the people of Israel. The nation had grown so great, fulfilling the promise given to Abraham so many generations earlier, that God's people would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. How could a boy, barely twenty years old, lead a people so great? We might think that health and wealth are exactly what we need to accomplish our purpose, but Solomon knew that he needed something much different. He needed wisdom, and with wisdom came the rest.

The psalmist seeks wisdom, too. Psalm 119 is a devotional on the Word of God. It is divided into twenty-two stanzas, each focusing on a specific letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Each line of each stanza begins, in Hebrew, with the letter of that stanza. Throughout the psalm, the writer repeatedly uses eight different Hebrew terms, which can be translated as "law," "statutes," "precepts," "commands," "laws," "decrees," "word," and "promise." Though these may seem redundant, there are subtle but distinct differences. The psalmist recognizes the importance of knowing the Word of God and living it obediently.

I often joke about my gray hair being a sign of wisdom. It is a signal that I've lived a long life, and that I've experienced many things which gives me knowledge about how the world works. It might be somewhat true, but the psalmist writes, "I understand more than the aged, because I have kept thy precepts." Wisdom is not necessarily something for the old; the young, like Solomon, can be wise. Wisdom comes to those who seek God, who humble themselves before Him and who live according to God's Word.

It is that kind of wisdom we see in today's Gospel store. Jesus, only twelve years old, sits with the elders in the Temple to discuss the things of God. It is hard for us to imagine a twelve year old theologian, but that's exactly what Jesus was in this story. He was sharing with the learned men His thoughts and understanding about God. As the Son of the Living God, Jesus had more knowledge than the others. In this story, though, we see Him also being humble before the elders, asking them questions. They were amazed, not only that He was interested, but that He knew the right questions to ask and that He had an understanding far beyond His years. Jesus had the wisdom that is more than knowledge and experience.

In the next few days we will be asking one another, "What is your New Year's resolution?" but perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Perhaps we are seeking the wrong transformation. Solomon knew that he needed more than health and wealth. He needed wisdom. We also need wisdom as we go into the New Year, as we look at the reality of our imperfection and think about ways that we need to be transformed. What changes are needed in our hearts and spirits to become the people we know God wants us to be?

We are made citizens of the kingdom of heaven, children of the King, through our baptism into Christ. Yet, we still must live in this world, foreigners living in the midst of the sin and darkness that surrounds those who have not yet heard God's Word. It would be very easy for us to say that it is not our problem, why take the risks necessary to share the Gospel? After all, it is dangerous business being witnesses for the Christ who is hated by the world. However, our Lord has given us all we need to take those risks to share His Word so that they too might hear and believe. Jesus Christ was born to die so that we could live forever, and now He calls us to die to self so that we can live for others.

That's why on this last day of 2014, with the scriptures for the first Sunday in 2015, we are asking ourselves the better questions. Rather than resolving to change, let us resolve to seek Wisdom and listen as God leads us in the ways that we really need to be transformed. We might be able to fix the surface things, making changes on the outside, but God will help us change from the inside out. As we seek God and ask Him for wisdom, we'll receive that and everything else will come with it.

In the beginning, God spoke the world into being. He named the sun, moon and stars and put them into motion. He called out to the water and it separated, creating the oceans and mountains. From that day on, God has constantly expanded His sphere of influence over the world. He began with one man named Adam. They He gave Adam a wife. Later He called Abraham into a relationship, followed by Isaac and Jacob. Jacob became Israel and God established a bond with His chosen people. Then when they failed to live according to His Word, God sent His Son to bring redemption and reconciliation. This grace was given not only for His chosen people, but for the entire world.

Paul reminds us that we have everything we need to live according to God's Word. Sometimes we think we know what we want, or need, but we would do well to see Solomon and Jesus in light of our own spiritual journeys. They were young, but they had the mind of God. They were humble and willing to learn, to seek wisdom. They understood what was truly needed to do what God was calling them to do.

We often think of Jesus as some extraordinary child. Though Jesus was God incarnate, He was also fully man. We should not think of Him as the perfect child, never crying or getting dirty. He needed his diapers changed like every other baby. He fell when He was learning to walk, skinned His knees when He played. Iím sure He dragged mud into the house after jumping in puddles, just like the other kids. He went through the terrible twos and every other stage of life, learning and growing every step along the way.

Jesus was different, though. He was the Word in flesh, the physical manifestation of the Lord God Almighty. His Father was the Creator of all things. When Jesus' mother taught Him the scriptures, as was practiced in Jewish homes, the words had a deeper, fuller meaning for Him. He understood what they said. His mother and father loved the Lord and they knew His word, but He needed more. During a visit to Jerusalem, Jesus sought the learned men of the Temple to test His knowledge. He sought the teachers who studied scriptures to learn from them and to share His own understanding.

Jesus overstepped the bounds of His parents' trust by staying in Jerusalem without their knowledge. They did not fully understand their son Jesus and His purpose on earth. To them, He was a twelve year old who still needed their guidance and direction. When they questioned Him, He explained that He needed to be in His Father's house. Despite all that had happened to Jesus from conception to that moment, they still did not fully understand.

Though Jesus was in many ways an ordinary child, He was also extraordinary. He was the child of Mary and Joseph, but He was the Son of God. The stories of His life are filled with unusual circumstances - visits from shepherds and magi, a journey to a foreign land and then home again, prophets who sing for joy at His presence, and a lesson in the temple. Mary, His mother, watched Him grow through the normal phases of life, but she also witnessed all these things. She treasured and pondered them in her heart, and encouraged her son as He grew into His mission and ministry.

We aren't Jesus. However, as children of the Father, we can be like Jesus. We can seek His wisdom and He will give it to us. We can ask the right questions that will not only see change on the surface of our lives, but will be transformative to the very depths of our souls. Then as we live according to God's Word, we will see the changes that will not only make us healthier and more responsible, but even more so, more faithful to God's intent for our lives. It will take a lifetime and we will fail time and again, but God will continue to work in us and through us into the people He created and redeemed us to be. Until that day, let us be humble and faithful, recognizing our need for God's grace and constantly seeking the word and will of God for our lives.

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