December 31 – Christmas 1

1 Sam2:18-20, 26
Psalm 148
Col 3:12-17
Luke 2:41-52

A friend of mine asked me last week—do you think Mary understood? Do you think Mary really knew? At her church, the music being performed in honor of Christmas included the beautiful song, “Mary did you know?” just as our Christmas Eve service here did as well, and that sparked her questions. Could she have known? There’s all these places that say that she pondered or treasured the things that were said about her son. That got me to thinking, Well, did she? Did she really know who her baby boy was?

There are a lot of times that Mary ponders and wonders about things. Gabriel comes to her and she ponders—which means to bring things together to turn over in your mind, to reason out—Gabriel’s words when he calls her favored one and says that he Lord is with her. When shepherds come to visit her new baby boy and tell everyone about the angels who had come to them, she, again, turns all these things over in her mind. And today she again ponders and treasures the events that take place in the temple. She does an awful lot of thinking! And surely, with all the angelic visions and prophecies there is much to think about. Even when it seems too hard to understand, she continues to ponder, to think it over and to treasure it all in her heart.

Today’s gospel lesson is just about the only peek into the childhood of Jesus that we are given in the bible. Mary and Joseph take Jesus on a vacation to the big city of Jerusalem. When it’s time to go, they leave him there. A whole day later, they realize he’s not with the tour group and dash back to Jerusalem to frantically search for their 12 year old boy. Imagine their panic: here God gives us his Son—the one who is to sit on the throne of David—and we go and loose him! Imagine the tears as they search for their beloved child. And then, after three loooooooong days…the mixture of joy—Halleluiah! He is safe at the church! And frustration—Boy! I am going to kill you for worrying us like that!

Of course, that isn’t exactly how it happened when Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover, as they had done every year. To begin with, Mary and Joseph had every reason to believe that Jesus was safely traveling with the group and were not bad or neglectful parents. Additionally Jesus isn’t left there—he stays there. In fact, when his mother scolds him for causing them so much anxiety, he says that he Must be in his father’s house—literally translated, it says that he was compelled to be about his father’s business. But what is most fascinating to me about this story is the fact that Jesus says to his parents, “why did you search for me? Did you not know that it was necessary for me to be here?” and the pretty obvious answer is, well, no, really, we didn’t know. Now, remember, these were not ignorant people—they knew the teachings of their faith—as can be seen by their adherence to worship and the requirements of their faith and by Mary’s recalling of the history of her people’s relationship with God in her song she sang while visiting Elizabeth—and Mary had conversed with GABRIEL after all, who had explained the whole thing to her. Not to mention the Shepherds, who added their testimony to Mary and Joseph of what another group of angels announced to them about Jesus’ significance. And yet, in the end, Mary and Joseph really did not understand.

But honestly, how could they? It is one thing to have the Angel Gabriel say that a miraculous child will be born who will be called Son of God and then to hear that child claim God’s house, God’s business, as HIS father’s house, HIS father’s business. To be told that your child will have the throne of David and another thing altogether to have your child stand amongst and converse with the wisest of teachers in the temple, while all who heard him—this child, your child—are astonished at his understanding and answers to their questions. To be told that nothing is impossible with God and to see, again, what you would never have believed even with your own eyes.

Jesus’ words to his parents remind me of another passage from scripture when he talks with someone else who should have known better. When the disciples were in a boat and Jesus walks out to them—walking on the water—Peter says, “if it is you, Lord, call to me and I will come to you!” Jesus says “come” so out Peter steps—onto the water. But when he sinks, Jesus catches him and says, “oh, you of little faith. Why did you doubt?” Here is a man, like Mary and Joseph, who had born witness to miracles, who lived with Jesus, who knew his face, his smiles, the look of his eyes, the touch of his hand, his joys and his sadness, the sound of his voice—and still, he did not understand either.

We can’t blame them, really. Can we do any better? In all our modern wisdom, do we ever really know how big God is? We can calculate the size of the earth, our galaxy and even estimate the size of the universe, but we can’t get our minds around the fact that God is even bigger than that. How much God loves us? Scientists say that there are over 6.5 billion people on the planet right now—can we really grasp that God knows the heart of every single one of us? Can we really know what it means to be forgiven of ALL our sins—of every mistake we will ever make? To have all the pain hurt and scars we have erased forever?

Now, I can give a pretty decent explanation of the trinity—theologically sound with lots of big words, a few of them even Latin! But does that mean that I have the slightest clue as to what it really means that God IS? We can know a lot about God and still be stunned when we see him in action. We can know the story of Jesus’ birth but do we really know what it means that he was God AND Man?

We can all stand with Mary and Joseph and ponder these things in our hearts, too. What can this mean? First, his miraculous birth in such an unlikely place as a stable, announced by angels and surrounded by shepherds and animals. Prophecies spoken about him. And now, here he is in the temple—the center of faith—with the teachers of faith surrounding him—and he speaks with them not as a child would speak. He listens to them, asks questions and—remarkably—they converse with him, ask him questions in return and—to our amazement, everyone who hears him marvels at his answers. This trip to Jerusalem was not an ordinary trip. It is the beginning of a very significant journey.

Even now—a week after we celebrate the birth of Jesus—we begin this journey, the journey that leads back to Jerusalem and to the cross. Even now—at a mere twelve years old—Jesus stands in the very temple upon which he will later stand as the devil tempts him to throw himself down. The temple from which he will drive out the money changers in order to purify his father’s house. The temple at which he will teach his disciples and others and where people will come to hear his parables, stories and lessons. The temple whose curtain will be torn in two—only a few years from this day—as this little boy, grown to man, hangs on a cross and breathes his last.

Could this be what Jesus means when he says he must be about his father’s business? Could it be that an even greater miracle lies at the end of this journey—the miracle of the empty tomb, of death’s defeat, of resurrection and new life, and of God’s undying love for us? Let us all treasure and ponder these things in our hearts.

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