The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Let’s join in a word of prayer:
Loving God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; this day around the world, our fellow Christians gather to celebrate the human family of Your son Jesus Christ, and our own families, as we worship You. Guide our time together that we may hear and understand your message for us. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.
Here we are, on the verge of a new year, saying good-buy to the old one. This is often a great feeling. Especially when the old year had been filled with the uncertainty of COVID. When we can look back on all the challenges, mistakes, difficulties, and broken relationships of the past year and just let go. When we can look at the new year ahead with a clean slate, as Isaiah writes in Chapter 43: This is what the LORD says— “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”
Of course the new thing that Our God has done was to enter humanity in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. To make a difference in our future, day by day, and moment by moment. And so, we can trust in Christ Jesus, as we allow the Holy Spirit to bind our will to his. Since, as Paul writes in Colossians, ‘as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.’
As Paul also reminds us, ‘the Lord forgave each of us, so we must forgive others, as we let love bind us together in harmony, and let the peace that comes from Christ rule in our hearts.’ What appropriate words for us as we end the old year, and begin a new year. As Carl Brand was quoted, “Although no one can go into the past and make a new beginning, all of us can start from now to make a new beginning.”
In Luke’s Gospel, chapter 2, Mary and Joseph seem to be honouring the traditions of the past, and looking forward to a new beginning. At eight days old, they brought their baby son, Jesus, to be circumcised, as required by Jewish law. Then forty days later, they took him to Jerusalem from Bethlehem to offer sacrifices, seeking God’s blessings upon the baby Jesus.
In today’s Gospel reading, we find Mary and Joseph once again returning to the Temple for Passover, when Jesus was about 12 years old. I must admit that this is a passage that I often take for granted. To look at this account as just a story of the Lord’s younger years, to round out the Good News of Christ Jesus. But this year it has been different. As I confront the visit of this special family to Jerusalem, I have received some very interesting insights.
The Augsburg Confession tells us in Article 3 ‘Our churches teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God [John 1:14], assumed the human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. So there are two natures—the divine and the human—inseparably joined in one person.’ (McCain, P. T., ed. (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 32). Concordia Publishing House.)
We celebrated yesterday the birth of the divine Son of God, Jesus, accomplished by God our Father at just the right time, at just the right place, to just the right mother, and just the right man to guide him through his early life to fulfil God’s plan for all of us.
And today, we discover the Bible telling us that Mary and Joseph were a devout couple, fulfilling all the requirements of the Law of the Lord. My intuition tells me that they were a loving couple caring for their children with equal compassion and affection.
With the wonder of Christmas, we often see images of even the baby Jesus in art with a halo surrounding his head. And we overlook the absolute humanity of Jesus that joined with his divinity as fundamental to his character. Jesus was truly the child of Mary, and the Son of God. So I see this little story of the family travelling to Jerusalem at Passover, as an affirmation of the humanity of Jesus. Which turns this little story into a thrilling addition Gospel of the Christ.
By the time of today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus would have brothers and sisters travelling with the family. Matthew tells us of the comments of his neighbours in Nazareth, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us?” (The Holy Bible: New International Version (Mt 13:55–56). (1984). Zondervan.)
When our family travelled any distance as a youngster with two brothers and a sister, we were relied upon to keep track of each other. I remember when our family travelled to Washington DC from Ohio, it was a big deal. My mother dressed all us boys and my dad in the same distinctive blue shirts to make it easier for us to keep track of each other. And I can imagine that Mary and Joseph would have depended on their kids to do the same.
Luke tells us that as the family were returning home, they noticed that Jesus was not with the caravan. Luke tells us that after searching diligently for Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem. Can you imagine the anxiety and frustration that Mary and Joseph are now feeling. But they continued their search until ‘After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.’
This is where I struggle with the dialogue between Jesus and his parents. ‘When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Jesus asked “Why were you searching for me?” “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.’
In Jewish families, young men, join the adult world at 13 years old with a ‘Bar mitzvah’. They spend a lot of their twelfth year preparing for this event. Jesus would have been no different. I can imagine that he would have engulfed himself in the writings of the Law, Prophets, History, and Psalms that as the Word, God inspired through the history of life, leading up to his birth.
I can also imagine that Jesus, being the eldest child, might have felt different from the other kids, and somewhat out of place growing up in the family. In most families, there is that one child that seems to be a bit different. After all, Jesus was the Son of God who received a tremendous wisdom by the time he was weaned.
I can read the response of Jesus in two ways. “Why were you searching for me?” “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Responding in a very human teenage way. Or perhaps, “Why were you searching for me?” “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Responding in the compassion of the divine Christ Jesus that we know today. Both ways would be valid, and there is no right or wrong.
As Christians in a world that is more and more anti-Christian, it wouldn’t be unusual to feel a bit different, out of place in this broken world. Especially our children growing up in this 21st Century. The way we respond to the world around us, and especially our family that surrounds us does make a difference. Luke tells us that the parents of Jesus, could not understand the response of Jesus. As parents we all know how that feels, dealing with our teenage children.
Jesus’ parents were immersed in the human world of life in Nazareth, years after the birth in Bethlehem. Raising and caring for their family.
The world we live in may never really understand our approach to life. We have an opportunity to show our quiet determination, wisdom, and humility.
As we begin the new year, we can also, ‘Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in our hearts and make us wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other. And whatever we do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.’
Our Lord Jesus Christ can be the source of our joy of living through this next year. Because we can trust that Christ Jesus has been there with us through all of last year.
Knowing that we are God’s forgiven children, we can make allowance for each other’s faults and show the world that we are disciples of Christ Jesus determined to cherish each other. We can let the peace that comes from Christ rule in our hearts, and always be thankful. In all our attitudes, actions, and words, we can let life be to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What better New Year’s Resolution could there be.
As we prepare to enter a new year, may the grace and peace of our God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.
Rev David Thompson