Luke 2.41-52, 1 Samuel 2.18-20 & 26, Colossians 3.12-17
Families and Christmas go together don’t they. Hopefully most of us will have got together with family and friends over recent days and if not there’s certainly been no shortage of opportunity to join this church family with the wide range of worship and celebration around Christmas.
A gift to me this year was a musical one, not something I can physically hold but an app for my ‘phone which gives access to an apparently infinite library of music via ‘Spotify’. Now I have my own account my children won’t be texting me when listening to their music in the gym only to be interrupted by me using their account to listen to my outdated tunes from Paul Weller or Bryan Ferry!
It almost goes without saying that I had to grudgingly ask for some help setting it up from someone many years younger than me. In many areas of life the recent decades have produced the largest number of situations in living memory where the older generation turn to the more tech savvy younger people for help and advice.. But outside of technology, has this also produced an older generation who think that children and young people should be listened to more, or does it stop there and revert to type in all other matters?
At the time of the 12 year old Jesus we heard of in Luke’s gospel today a patriarchal, hierarchal system would have meant that until this point Jesus would have been raised and looked after by the women of the family and wider group. Children would rarely have any meaningful contact with the men until this age and would suddenly find themselves thrust from their over protective Jewish mothers into the harsh male environment. Yet rather than being overawed by this new experience Jesus is immediately at home in the temple, testing, probing and provoking the teachers with his questions.
I guess anyone who has ever taught anyone else anything has had that moment when there is no real answer to a question, or it’s clear that the student is thinking far wider than you anticipated. When told by her grandmother that women can be any shape or size they want the little girl in the TV series outnumbered asked ‘what even a hexagon’?
Going deeper than the quirky and amusing challenges young people may present it’s clear that if we close our minds to what they have to offer we will be the poorer for it.
Those reading Luke’s words at the time they were written would have recognised how Jesus was being presented as a future leader in accordance with Greek and Roman traditions. Parallels could be drawn with Roman heroes like Emperor Augustus who at the age of 12 confidently gave the main speech at his grandmother’s funeral Julia Caesaris, the sister of Julius Caesar. But the young Jesus is even greater than Augustus as he shows a wisdom way beyond that expected, giving an indication of his future challenge to the established authority.
You may recall a few years ago when parents of a 12 year old girl who died from cancer discovered some of her writings as they were clearing her room. They were published and can still be found in full on the web. They included wise and thought provoking sayings such as “Love is not about who you can see spending your future with it’s about who you can’t see spending your life without’ and ‘If someone loves you then they wouldn’t let you slip away no matter how hard the situation is.
I guess that it’s the reverse of seeing an older person doing something foolish. It’s all about expectation and preconception.
As we’ve been focussing on the wisdom of young people and particularly Jesus in the temple I almost forgot to address the fact that for 3 days his parent have been frantically looking for him. 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.
Today in our Western 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’ followed by a sickening feeling in the pit of their stomachs!
So after 3 days Jesus’ parents find him in the temple with many others. Luke doesn’t say that his mother took him to one side or asked for a quiet word in private, so it seems possible that the Son of God, among temple leaders and many impressed by his wisdom, gets a rollicking from his mum. It is likely that she was both relieved and angry in equal measures and showed her emotions as she said ‘child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ What he was told by his mother to look at we don’t know, maybe a distressed looking pair of parents, exhausted, filthy with tears in their eyes. We are given a glimpse of the more human side of the meek and mild Blessed Virgin Mary we often sing of.
Put in his parents shoes would you be happy with an answer that begins ‘Did you not know’? It implies surely you would have thought to look for me here at an early stage, yet clearly they didn’t know.
Perhaps it was 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. God’s approval had become more important than that of his parents as he started to grow into his mission and Jesus seemed surprised that his parents didn’t get it.
We are told that Mary treasured all these things in her heart. Upon reflection she may have come to understand more about the significance of these events.
It’s a good discipline for us all to draw upon, calm reflection and contemplation about something we may not have fully appreciated or understood at the time or something which we find disturbing. For some a quiet space is needed but for many Christ’s wisdom can be found as we dig the garden, sit on the train or iron the shirts, maybe for Mary it was in times of cooking and weaving.
Jesus went with his parents to Nazareth ‘and was obedient to them’. As I read our Colossians reading we hear the writer telling church members to ‘clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience’ I thought what greater meekness is there than knowing who you are together with so much power and potential and yet the Son of God was obedient to his loving earthly parents.
As we contemplate Jesus as God’s son we consider that our reading from 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.
As we reflect on what the words from the bible mean for us today I would suggest that we can give thanks that our church benefits from a wide range of ages and be open to learning from each other regardless of years accumulated.
The great philosopher and comedian Peter Kaye made a lot of sense to me when he said ‘knowledge is knowing a tomato is (scientifically) a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.’
We need to discern the difference between knowing what the bible has printed in it or the words we hear read and how we might employ our understanding to make God’s love known. What difference would it make if we were to clothe ourselves in Christ as suggested in the letter to the Colossians, above all ‘clothe yourselves with love’ we are told. Maybe we should put a sticker to this effect on the inside of a drawer or our wardrobe, particularly those who are grumpy in the mornings, and arise each day determined to live our lives in Christ the best we can.
29th December 2018