Christmas 1C: All That and More

The Readings for the First Sunday of Christmas are

Old Testament      1 Samuel 2:18–20, 26

Psalm                    Psalm 148

New Testament     Colossians 3:12–17

Gospel                   Luke 2:41–52

The Gospel lesson for the first Sunday after Christmas takes us on a giant leap forward in the life of the child, Jesus. We are now in his 12th year, and there is a story that takes us in a far more positive direction in our thoughts of family than many other passages about Jesus’ teaching. Remember, Jesus says his real family consists of those who hear the word of God and do it. He challenges us with the notion that we might well have to leave our homes to follow him. And indeed family members might betray us and we will have to be prepared for hard life choices.

But in Luke’s story the family of Jesus may be bewildered, but they are always faithful and always have a positive role to play.

Still, the message is, we need all that family can give us, but we need much more.

This day after Christmas is prime time for thinking of family. Parents and children, cousins and aunts, have put forward great effort to reconnect. It is good, yet seldom is enough. And now we must say our farewells. Now we must carry with us the memories of yet another good, but imperfect Christmas.

At Christmas time we see Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus there in the stable, and we think of our families. And we love them. But, as much as we love family, they aren’t perfect. They can’t give us all we need.

Did your parents always understand you? I know mine didn’t. My parents loved it when I shared their love of canoeing and camping in the wild Northwoods. We shared hours of excitement over close basketball games on TV. But dad thought I was crazy when I quit my preparations for law school and went off to study to be a pastor. And thought I was getting too political when I put a “Pray for Peace” sticker on my car – so she tore it off one night. They knew me but didn’t understand me.

And did you always feel at peace with your own children? My son got far too wild with his life that latter years of high school, and said his rebellious friend were his true family. And once at breakfast I said “Good morning” to my teenage daughter, and she ran from the table shouting, “You never did understand me.”

And, let’s face it: You can find in any family every one of the disputes our nation and world gets worked up about, including vaccines, face masks, race, and climate change.

And we carry all those bruises and heartaches with us these days after Christmas. We have pushed them down. We have understandably held onto the beauty of family and the love of dear friends, and we have squeezed them this season for all they are worth; but these misunderstandings and quarrels all come with us to church and into our post Christmas prayers.

I’ll bet when Mary and Joseph joined their extended family and a few servants and came to the Jerusalem Temple 2,000 years ago, they felt the same sort of pressures, and more.  

And I am certain that even in the minds of Mary and Joseph—all too human—was the tought, “Why do we do this? Why do we keep coming to the Temple. It’s just habit. It’s so routine. Such a long walk! It’s something we do like clockwork because we are supposed to, but does it mean anything?

And, I’m certain that, as human as they were, when they discovered their son was missing, a part of them thought, “The emptiness of all our routine devotion is showing itself. We can’t even control our son. It’s all coming undone. The chaos and emptiness we feared is now overwhelming us. Where is that boy?”

But when they returned, and found Jesus in the Temple, discussing faith with the wise teachers there, he said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 

It was a turning point for that family. I’m certain Luke was right. They DIDN’T understand. Yet it proved a turning point. Mary treasured these things. She held on.

And so it is with us. There is always that bit we don’t understand when we read the Bible, when we pray, when we go, like clockwork, to the altar, and before the cross. Out of this routine moment of devotion for the Holy Family – there was a breakthrough that they didn’t understand fully – but it was a treasure. And Christmas holidays can be such a turning point for us. Even though it is habit and routine, it is still a Jesus moment. We can’t understand it all at once. But we treasure it and our eyes are gradually opened.  

Luke tells us it takes Jesus’ resurrection to do the trick. When the women came to the tomb on Easter two men in dazzling clothes say something like the boy Jesus said in the Temple. Jesus says,  “why were you looking for me – didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house?” The two men in the tomb say, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen, just as he told you.”

Family is great. Family is wonderful! But the family that Jesus created in his life, death and resurrection gives us all that and more. A new family. A living hope. Jesus is in his Father’s house. The women who come to the tomb, Luke tells us, are Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women; and they go off to gather Jesus other followers with their gospel message. Does this family of women include Jesus’ mother? Who knows. But this is irrelevant, since this is a New Creation Family.

Jesus gives new life to our families. Jesus makes us part of all this and more. So, here we are, in the relative quiet of the far side of Christmas. We savor these recent thoughts of  how sweet it was to be with family in person or on the smart phones. We still feel how sad it is to think of the ones we could not reach out to touch.

But we are here to know Jesus has given us all the good of family, but so much more. We have a New Creation family, and with it a sure and certain hope.

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About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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