Date: 27 December 2015
Text: Luke 2:41-52
Site: Bethany United Church – Halifax, NS
41Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you with great anxiety." 49He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, (or in stature), and in divine and human favor."
I remember well a conversation with a neighbour. He was a helicopter mechanic who had served Canada in the former Yugoslavia during the conflict there in the 1990’s. As someone who had served as a civilian Padre in the Canadian Forces I knew a Chaplain or social worker had to interview each and every person poised to serve in an armed conflict to determine their psychological fitness for such a mission. So I asked my neighbour how that interview had gone. He responded, “I told him (the interviewer) that if I died over there I wanted my body flown back home.” My eyebrow went up, “home?” I asked. “Cape Breton!” he declared.
I find it interesting how women and men who wear the uniform of Canada, are understood and expected to be persons of mission, that they would pack up and leave their families and home to be of service to a larger cause in some distant and demanding land. But we who carry the name of Christ are somehow expected to remain home, to somehow live out our faith within the safe and familiar confines of our faith and family. When I help to plan a funeral and families share their understanding of how their mother or father or husband or wife lived out their faith the context is almost always their own family, their own friends, the community where they live.
Whether it is the Confirmation process, the formation of our clergy, the expectations of our lay leaders, the manner with which we talk about our lived faith is one of loyalty to one’s own. In almost every conversation I have had related to me or heard myself when a new Christian has questioned the domestication of our faith (why is our kitchen not available to the hungry in our area, why do we focus so much on the needs of our own community vs. the larger community, people abroad, why do promote local giving but say so little about the Mission and Service Fund) the response is that familiar “charity begins at home”, like somehow those words came from Jesus himself. They did not.
Which leads me to the very unique story we find in today’s Gospel text. Only Luke provides a story of Jesus' boyhood. We find the same story in Apocryphal texts and other Narratives but this is the only story about Jesus we find in the Bible in that rather huge gap between his birth and his three years of ministry at the end of his life. For Luke to include this story there must be much more important matters to consider than the story about a boy. I think the key verses here are, "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"
As true Israelites, responsible parents were to bring up their children in the faith through the customs of home, temple, and synagogue: circumcision, dedication, and presentation. Whatever the case may be it was the business of the house of Mary and Joseph to teach the rituals and laws of Israel to their son. Jesus is found as he "searches the Scriptures with questions and answers," engaging the "elders and teachers of the people."
And here we find that chasm between civil religion and movement, or domesticated faith and mission faith, lived out. For Jesus has learned his lessons too well. Jesus has gleaned the spark of faith from these rituals and said a holy “yes!” Jesus would take his traditions that speak of a mission to love one’s neighbour, neighbours whom are blood kin but also widows, orphans, and refugees, and said yes!
Jesus did not understand “charity begins at home”. If you fast-forward some twenty years you hear Jesus words to his mother, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” In other words “home” and “family” to Jesus were not about geography and DNA but rather about being part of a larger mission, a movement of people committed to a cause.
Of course like all of Jesus’ words how we hear them is determined in large part by where we stand. Who do you identify with in this interaction between Jesus and his family? There are two sets of characters here; the first are the teachers sitting around Jesus in the temple, the second, Mary and Joseph. Before I became a parent myself I almost certainly would have identified with the teachers, disappointed in how my parents were not living as they talked and taught. But now that I am a parent I find myself identifying with Joseph and Mary, annoyed that this 12 year old would wander off, leaving me worried sick, and frankly more than a little ticked off by this self-righteous tone. Imagine, a 12 year old lecturing me! As someone who is daily challenged by a 14 year-old living in my home, challenged by the chasm between my words and deeds, I certainly understand the anxiety and anger in Joseph and Mary’s experience at the Temple.
And yet…the teachers were "amazed at his (Jesus) understanding and his answers." There was real wisdom and insight here. And I like what Fred Danker says, "Stature is of God's making and favor is gifted to those who humble themselves before God". I have a sense that what makes Jesus different from those teenage self-righteous outbursts you and I know so well was his sense of humility. And how could it be otherwise what with Jesus’ mission to serve by the washing of feet, taking up a Cross for others, and apologizing and blessing a woman whom he had branded a “dog”. Jesus may have embraced the title “Son of God” and “Messiah” but his movement would have none of the perks of civil religion, his disciples would be sharply put down when they would ask whom would sit at his right and left.
I share the story of my friend and mentor Nathan Mair. Nathan is nearing 90 years of age. Nathan married Vi later in life and together they parented many children who came from Africa to be educated here in Canada. In retirement one of these adult children returned for a visit and while driving their car fell asleep at the wheel and drove into a concrete median. Vi was killed and Nathan lives with pain everyday. Still 15 years ago, alone and in poor health, Nathan went on a trip to Africa with the World Methodist Congress. There he met Tobias, a bright and engaging lad who had witnessed his entire family die, one by one, to the ravages of disease. Nathan and Tobias formed a friendship, Tobias would call Nathan Papa and Nathan would call Tobias son. Tobias would come to live with Nathan in Charlottetown and study at UPEI. The relationship was reciprocal, each one challenging the other with holy and Temple-like wisdom. And now Tobias lives in Calgary, a social worker, engaging teens at risk, a Christian who sees his calling to be about caring for those in his “Father’s/Mother’s house”.
My friends this Christmas season as we celebrate the one who came to be a light in the darkness please remember that this light is not yours to domesticate, that this light belongs to a much, much larger and messy House. It is our calling to be light keepers, and to share that light with all of humanity, God’s big and spacious Home. Amen.