Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, January 2, 2022

YEAR C 2022 christmas 2

Christmas 2, 2022
Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84:1-8
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Luke 2:41-52 

Also preached at the monthly Solemn Sung Eucharist at Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland OH

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, here we are on the 9th Day of Christmas.  I hope you’re enjoying the 9 ladies dancing.  (It’s getting a little crowded in our house at this point.)  The Christmas season is almost over, we’ve just entered a new calendar year, and Epiphany starts on Thursday.  Things are changing . . . and quickly, whether we’re ready or not.

Accepting change is very hard.  The most recent example for you and me right now is probably the appearance of the number 2, since I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had to cross out 2021 and write 2022 on something already.  We say that change is good, and that we embrace change, and change is for the better and all that; but when it comes right down to it, change is hard.  Especially hard when we don’t want things to change.  Still, the change keeps coming.

But first things first, to change the subject . . . The question we’re all honestly asking ourselves right now:  Three days?  They were searching for Jesus for three days?  I have often lost track of my kids for three minutes, and in some settings three hours, but THREE DAYS???  And when they find Jesus, Mary says to him, “Your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  Well there’s an understatement, huh?  “Great anxiety” doesn’t begin to describe it I’m sure.  On the other hand, part of me expects Jesus to say, “Well you’re the ones who left me.”  And, of course, that’s why he’s Jesus, and I’m not.

And the next question is, how did that happen, anyway?  How do you just leave your eldest child behind and not even notice for a whole day?  In fact, I think that question is so distracting that we risk missing the rest of the story.  It’s especially strange because this is the only story we have from Jesus’ childhood.  Only Luke has anything about the early years and this is it.  We get one childhood memory between his birth and the start of his ministry, and it’s: Remember that time we left Jesus in the Temple and didn’t notice? 

Two things to point out here:  First, Mary and Joseph are traveling with a large group of people.  It’s not like they’re climbing into their hatchback with an empty carseat in the back, not noticing that someone’s missing.  As the text says, “they assumed he was within the group of travelers among the relatives and friends.”  I am only dwelling on this to try to get us past what is probably a glaring obstacle in our modern minds.  And, Mary’s reaction on finally seeing her boy sets the right tone.  She has been worried sick about him.  Searching “in great anxiety.”  Great anxiety is something we can all relate to right now, isn’t it?  Every morning, I wake up vaguely worried that everything is about to get much worse.  We have all been living in great anxiety for nearly two years now.  We can relate.

And the second thing going on here has to do with the gospel of Luke.  When you read Luke’s Gospel, you’ll notice that everything points to the Temple.  Jesus is always heading for the Temple.  The Temple is the scene of all the big confrontations.  For Luke, Jesus’ destiny is always in the Temple.  It’s the most natural place for him to go; it’s sort of his default destination.  If you’re looking for Jesus in Luke’s gospel, you should probably start in the Temple.  Which is also something we can relate to.  How we all long to just pack into our beautiful church buildings and sing loudly together, like we used to.  To pray with each other and share meals together.  To just be in God’s house together, like we are used to doing.

Mary asks, “Why have you treated us like this?”  She’s not ready for this kind of change.  And so she makes it a story about Mary.  But, really, who wouldn’t?  At this point, she doesn’t really know the full truth about Jesus.  And, personally, I’m willing to consider that Jesus doesn’t know the full truth about Jesus, either.  To Jesus, it seems only natural that he would be in the Temple.  Just like when I was 12 years old, it seemed only natural that I would be at the candy store.  Jesus responds to his mother (and it’s worth noting, this is the first time Jesus ever speaks in the gospels), he asks “Why were you searching for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  It’s almost as if Jesus hasn’t noticed the change of focus either.

Then Luke adds, “But they did not understand what he said to them.”  Well of course they didn’t!  They don’t know that when Jesus says “My Father’s house,” he’s not talking about Joseph’s place.  To Jesus (and Luke), it’s only natural for Jesus to be in the Temple. 

So Jesus disappeared, his parents found him, he seems surprised that it took them so long, and then the gospel reading today closes with this:  “And Jesus increased in wisdom and years, and in divine and human favor.”  That seems like an odd phrase, doesn’t it?  It kind of sounds to me like, “And Jesus, Mary, and Joseph lived happily ever after.” And Jesus increased in wisdom and years, and in divine and human favor.  It actually sounds more like it’s the beginning of a story, rather than the end of one.  Maybe even like the end of an introduction to a story.

Just before that, we see Mary doing what Mary does in Luke’s gospel:  Pondering these things in her heart.  Well, our translation today uses “treasured these things.”  Mary treasures these things in her heart, because she does not understand, but she also ponders them, and turns them over to try to understand.  Pondering is a good word for this, since it implies an activity, an action on her part.  These are not precious little memories of Jesus’ childhood to store away in a scrapbook and bring out to show friends at holiday parties.  She ponders, trying to understand.

Mary ponders these changes in the boy Jesus, just as we ponder these changes we continue to go through.  We want our great anxiety to end.  We want to gather safely in this temple to worship God.  We want the baby that we just had nine days ago.  Safely tucked in his crib, no crying he makes in the silent holy night.  A baby, we know how to handle.  Change the diapers; feed the stomach; wrap the baby in warm clothes.  Babies we understand.

I think that’s one of the reasons Christmas is so comfortable for us, and for everyone, really.  We embrace the “little 8lb 6 ounce newborn baby Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, infant cuddly, but still omnipotent.”  Because that’s how we like Jesus to be.  We don’t want him to change into an adult.  And it’s tempting to think that the Christmas story is the biggest part of the life of Jesus—given how our society treats Christmas—like it’s all just details after December 25th.  But, honestly?  It’s not.  Christmas is just the way to start the story.

And the fact that we moved from his birth last week, to his circumcision yesterday, to his first words in the temple at the age of twelve today kind of drives home the point.  Christmas is important because it is the start of our redemption story.  And for that reason, on some level the whole Christmas story is like the phrase, “Once Upon A Time.”  It starts the story, but it sure isn’t the point.  I mean, it’s a big deal that God walks among us, don’t get me wrong.  But the point of the story is yet to come.

Things have changed quickly these past 9 days.  Jesus is out of the crib and taking on the world.  Suddenly he’s twelve years old and giving us clues as to where this story is going.  And, like Mary, we’re already confused.  We’re already wishing he’d just stay put, surrounded by animals and shepherds and wise men.  Stay right there and don’t ever change, little Christmas Jesus.

But that Christmas Jesus has moved on.  The manger is empty.  And now we follow him on this journey that takes him to the cross and leads us to the empty tomb.  It’s one, long, wondrous story that begins with his birth, and takes us to our rebirth.  From the empty crib to the empty tomb, a lot is going to change for us in the next few months.

Like Mary and Joseph, we are living in great anxiety.  Like the child Jesus, we naturally want to be in God’s house.  But for now, this two steps forward one step back, this stopping and starting and stopping again, is how things have to be . . . because we care about other people and their health.  We don’t know how long we will have to wait until we can fully and safely gather like we want to, but we know Jesus will be waiting for us when we do.

And here’s the thing:  Jesus is not confined to a manger scene.  And Jesus is not confined to this building.  As we heard, Jesus is out in the world now too, busy doing the work that the Father sent him to do: bringing restoration to the world, and restoration to our relationships.  Jesus has come, and now God walks among us.  And you and I will continue to ponder all these things in our hearts, knowing that one day we will gather safely together again.  May God continue to remind us that Jesus is out in the world with us, among us, wherever we may be.  Yes, we have great anxiety, and yes we are all really, really tired, but Jesus is with us.  Emmanuel: God is with us.


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