Promise fulfilled—Christmas 1, Year C (30 December 2012)

Readings
1 Samuel 2.18–20, 26
Colossians 3.12–17
Luke 2.41–52

Parents, have you ever been out and about and realised that your child is no longer with you? You may have been in a shopping centre looking at what to buy and when you look down little Johnny’s gone.

It’s a rotten feeling, isn’t it? Sudden fear, intense panic and a huge dose of self-blame. You just know that everyone will say what a rotten parent you are.

If you’ve ever been in that situation, you have some idea of how Mary and Joseph felt. They’d gone up with family and friends to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast in the great Temple there. Halfway home, they realise Jesus isn’t with the group. Frantically, they look and look again in every nook and cranny, calling Jesus’ name over and over. Nothing. Finally they trudge back to the city under a cloud of shame, fighting off those insistent thoughts that kept inserting themselves into their minds—thoughts that he may no longer be alive.

Still, they found him. Parents will understand Mary’s mixture of relief, exasperation and anger:

Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.

But Jesus responded,

Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?

Didn’t you know where I’d be?

Well, they didn’t. It’s kind of comforting to see that the Holy Family had its messy moments. It gives some encouragement to the rest of us.

But Luke doesn’t tell the story to show that the Holy Family was human. This is a kind of ‘coming of age’ story, where Jesus is coming to terms with his identity as Son of God. Luke shows us that it’s something he had to learn about himself.

He was with the wise men in the Temple. Don’t run away with the idea that Jewish faith is all bad. Luke says that Jesus was

sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Jesus was asking intelligent questions and giving good answers. In other words, he was learning.

Luke says that

Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.

Luke is deliberately echoing part of the story of Samuel here. Remember Samuel, the prophet who grew up in the Temple, who anointed David as king? In our First Reading today we heard that

the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favour with the Lord and with the people.

The wording is very close, isn’t it? Luke wants us to think of Samuel here. Samuel became a great man, remembered throughout history. He established David as king, and in later years the Jewish people were to imagine a Messiah who would be born of David’s line.

Luke says, That Messiah has come at last! It’s Jesus!

Luke is saying that a greater than David is here, “King David’s greater son”. Greater things will happen through this boy who is sitting at the feet of the elders in the Temple than ever happened through Samuel and David.

God was fulfilling God’s promises here. God was providing the people with their Messiah. The time of God’s kingdom was coming.

Of course, we know the tragic story. The people rejected their Messiah and Jesus, the man of wisdom, was hung upon a Roman cross.

And we know the further story. He was raised, but not as a happy-ever-after ending. He was raised still with his wounds so that he can stand with us as we also learn and grow in wisdom and in grace. Because, as we know, we often only learn wisdom through times of difficulty.

So here we have Jesus coming to terms with himself at the age of twelve. Here we have Jesus, greater than Samuel or even David.

And here we are, the Body of Christ. Together, we are Jesus’ hands and feet. We don’t just gather for worship—we are reconstituted as Christ’s Body. We are Jesus for others here and now. His Spirit is with us, he is teaching us wisdom.

How do we grow in wisdom and grace? We grow through the spiritual practices we are familiar with—gathering week by week as Christ’s Body, prayer, scripture reading, reaching out to others in need. And we grow as we allow these practices to become part of who we are. When we start missing them if we don’t do them.

Bernard of Clairvaux was an abbott of the twelfth century. He said,

Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life.

Growing in wisdom and grace involves growing in knowledge, but is not a purely intellectual thing. That’s why the Apostle Paul says we have to “put on Christ”. We must clothe ourselves with the things that show Jesus to others. Paul lists some of them:

…compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

This is what it means for us to be part of the way Jesus is fulfilling the hopes of Israel, and extending that hope to the entire world.

I used to think that I had to win arguments in order to witness to Jesus Christ. I used to think I needed to have the right words in all circumstances. But I don’t need all that. I need something that comes from the heart, something I learn because the Spirit of Jesus is at work in me changing me into someone who can “put on Christ”.

So I am called to compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. And if that’s not enough, there’s yet more! If I have something anyone against another person, I am called to forgive them. Why? Because I’ve been forgiven by Jesus. I don’t need to win all the arguments. I do need to let my character be shaped by the Spirit of Jesus.

Paul calls us “above all” to “clothe [ourselves] with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony”.

As we leave 2012 behind, as we enter 2013, some of us will make New Year resolutions. If you do, consider that Jesus learnt wisdom, and that we are called to learn the way of compassion and forgiveness and to grow in love. Consider making these things your resolution for 2013. It’s hard to go past them as the way the light of Christ shines through us for the sake of the world.

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