Sunday, 27 December 2015

12 year old Jesus in the temple - A sermon by Kevin Bright

Luke 2.41-52, 1 Samuel 2.18-20 & 26 I preached on the first Sunday of advent as we looked forward to Christmas and in what seems like a flash it’s now the first Sunday of Christmas. Many people have put a great deal of work into everything from advent contemplations to music and hospitality which is probably why so many of them are collapsed in a heap at home right now. I heard of a worker who when asked whether he was looking forward to the Christmas break replied ‘ not really it’s just like another day in the office, I put in endless hours doing all the work and the fat guy in the suit takes all the credit’. Like me I’m sure you feel it was totally worth the effort of so many people and, on a slightly more low keys basis, our Christmas season continues today. One principal of preaching is that the preacher should not just take events and stories from thousands of years ago and lazily adapt them to fit what he or she wants to say in their sermon. There needs to be some regard to the context in which things happened. The way we see things and the language we use changes over time and it can be hard for one generation to see things the way the people in the story did. One young boy when asked by his grandfather where the best place was to buy Christmas presents this year told him to visit Amazon only to receive the reply ‘there’s no way I’m going all the way to south America at my age even if it is a bit cheaper’. Well, unfortunately for you it is also still the season of terrible jokes whether they originate from crackers or pantomimes. Upon hearing that Jesus’ parents noticed that he wasn’t with them what was your first reaction? How could they not have noticed, what sort of parents were they? After all we are told that they travelled for a day without noticing that he was missing. Is there anyone here who has ever lost a child they were responsible for, not necessarily your own. If so you will know the terror and dread that washes over you. Every second seems like an eternity let alone a day. Talking about changing contexts there’s now an app for your mobile device which you can use to send the image of your missing child to other people within a defined geographical area to see if they have spotted said child. Of course that’s if you haven’t already tracked them down via the GPS system on their mobile ‘phone! Evidently there a quite a few apps for what some call ‘paranoid parents’. Such technology would have been unimaginable to Jesus parents but there are parts of this story which are also timeless. The first is that Jesus was 12 years old and there’s a fair prospect that like 12 year olds throughout time as he starts to find his independence, it’s not always cool to hang out with your parents too much, particularly when surrounded by other boys of a similar age. At that age my children weren’t keen to be seen at the local cinema with me by their friends, something which became unimportant over time, as long as I’m paying. We mustn’t forget that Jesus was a 12 year old Jewish boy and at this age their tradition considered him a man. As such he had an obligation to attend the Passover in Jerusalem and as this was his first time the rituals and ceremony would have seemed fascinating, there’s every prospect that he got lost in it, literally and metaphorically. The words ‘Bar Mitzvah’ mean ‘son of the commandment’ and today recognise the coming of age ceremony for Jewish boys. Most people delight in seeing children develop and progress with their interests, but to find a 12 year old, after returning to Jerusalem and searching for another 3 days, sitting in the temple, listening, engaging, debating with religious teachers would be as astounding today as it was then. The fact that Jesus appeared to be an avid student is surprising but his knowledge and perception are what truly amazed the onlookers. Why not put it to the test next time you see a teenager on the X Box and ask them ‘wouldn’t you rather engage in 4 days theological study and debate in the local Cathedral? Today in our culture men and women travel together because were usually hopping on a plane, train or in a car. But it would have been traditional for women in a caravan, a travelling group, to set out earlier than the men who would catch them up in the evening when they had settled a camp and it seems likely this was when Joseph would have said to Mary and Mary to Joseph…’I thought he was with you’! The father and son message builds as when finally found by his parents Jesus replies ‘Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ Perhaps a message to Joseph and Mary as to who he regarded as his true Father, perhaps a landmark moment as Jesus matures and builds his own awareness that he is the Son of God in a truly unique way. A friend of mine told me earlier this year that his sister had managed to track down their father and for the first time, in his fifties he was going to meet him. It’s not the same as Jesus’ experience in the temple but it made me think that most of us have at least one profound event in life which causes us to think deeply about our parental relationship, sometimes the death of a parent but sometimes points in life which cause us to stop and think. In his case, as you can imagine, the meeting was both difficult and emotional. In his father he could see reflections of himself, physical similarities, preferences and traits both good and bad. For him it proved to be an educating and enriching experience which answered some questions and filled some gaps. In God’s case, it worth reminding ourselves that whilst he is always ready for us to repair the relationship when it breaks down, to welcome us back with open arms. Samuel is also part of story about different kinds of sonship. Samuel is not Eli’s son but is growing up to see him as a guiding figure that he respects, ministering under him in the temple, learning from him and accepting him as a father figure. Contrast this with Eli’s actual sons who exploit the temple for their own ends causing their father great sadness in the way they behave. Normally Eli’s sons would succeed him but God has chosen Samuel, a fact which becomes clear from later events in this prophet’s book. So we are challenged to broaden our thinking about parenting. Clearly it has potential to extend way beyond our own blood lines both in our opportunities to lead and nurture those we can help but also to recognise God’s ultimate call as Father of all. Again and again in the bible matters don’t follow predictable time trodden routes. Eli’s sons would have scoffed at the thought of Samuel succeeding their father, as their complacency for their rights of succession made them lazy and sinful. Later others would scoff and mock Jesus as the son of God, what right could a person of such humble heritage possibly have to proclaim such greatness. It becomes clear that we do not need to be the natural mother or father of anyone to show the love that comes to most parents for their offspring. But there’s also no avoiding the fact that Christianity brings a tension to the whole subject. Not in a negative way, it’s likely that most Christians will have a loving relationship with their parents and as parents. The tension comes in taking time to really accept that regardless of the quality of our relationships with our relations our greatest loyalty comes from choosing to be children of God. If we are able to do this then we become part of a worldwide family and move onto thinking who is my brother, mother or sister, a move which has positive implications for all humanity. Amen Kevin Bright 27th December 2015

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