First Reading: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
18Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy wearing a linen ephod. 19His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. 20Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord repay you with children by this woman for the gift that she made to the Lord”; and then they would return to their home.
26Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.
Psalm: Psalm 148
1Hallelujah! Praise the Lord| from the heavens;
praise God in the heights.
2Praise the Lord, all you angels;
sing praise, all you hosts of heaven.
3Praise the Lord, sun and moon;
sing praise, all you shining stars.
4Praise the Lord, heaven of heavens,
and you waters above the heavens.
5Let them praise the name of the Lord,
who commanded, and they were created,
6who made them stand fast forever and ever,
giving them a law that shall not pass away.
7Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps;
8fire and hail, snow and fog,
tempestuous wind, doing God’s will;
9mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars;
10wild beasts and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds;
11sovereigns of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the world;
12young men and maidens,
old and young together.
13Let them praise the name of the Lord,
whose name only is exalted, whose splendor is over earth and heaven.
14The Lord has raised up strength for the people and praise for all faithful servants,
the children of Israel, a people who are near the Lord. Hallelujah!
Second Reading: Colossians 3:12-17
12As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Gospel: Luke 2:41-52
41Now every year [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
CHILDREN’S SERMON: Turn to your neighbor and share where you were at age 12. Does anything stand out in your memory?
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, My Rock and My Redeemer.
Where were you at age 12? For most of us that puts us somewhere around grade 6 or 7. When I was growing up, at age 12 my family and I made an important life decision. My father and mother were masonic. We were attending a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, and it was time for us to decide if I would follow my parents foot steps or would I go to confirmation classes. The confirmation classes met three times a week after school for two or three years. I could not do both. We had to choose. That choice impacted the direction of my life.
Today is the first Sunday in the Christmas season. We sit in the afterglow of the Christmas meal, presents, phone calls and all that yesterday included. For many it included the grief of death of loved ones and fear of the virus. The Christmas season will be two Sundays this year and will carry us into the new calendar year and through Epiphany on January 6 when we celebrate the wise men. Traditionally these two Sundays are dedicated to looking at the childhood of Jesus. Luke’s Gospel. from which we draw the texts for Sunday worship this church year, includes Jesus being circumcised, Anna and Simeon praising , the return to Nazareth and then it jumps to our text today, Jesus in the temple at age 12. He is not quite an adult, no longer a child, what we call a youth.
Luke does not include the wise men, the slaughter of the innocents, the flight to Egypt. We will have to wait until next year and the Gospel of Matthew to delve into those stories. So why does doctor Luke include this story of Jesus in the Temple? What is God trying to tell us today? I would like to propose to you that this scene is a fore-shadow of what was to become formalized as a rite of passage, the bar mitzvah of Jewish boys. Even as I at age 12 was making decisions about the direction of my life, we see in our reading today an important moment in the life of Christ and actually an important moment in our lives. Likewise we stand at the end of one calendar year and face into our futures and are making decisions. The world will celebrate January 1 and the ball will drop in New York city.
Rites of passage are ceremonies that involve mentoring, that officially recognize a status change in culture and signal a change in responsibilities. Usually they are public and testify to the community. Baptism is probably our earliest experience. In Kenya a baby was called “a little monkey” until about a year when a goat was killed and the child officially named and welcomed into community. At baptism we welcome our children into Christian community and we ask sponsors to stand with the parents and we as a congregation pledge to pray and care for the child. Pastors meet with the families before and explain the responsibilities associated. Lutherans confirm their youth. Kenyans circumcise boys at age 14. Marriage, divorce, age 21, retirement and death are other ceremonies when we gather and walk with friends as they change status, life titles, and identities.
I looked up “bar mitzvah” on line and learned that from about the Middle Ages, Jewish boys age 13 and Jewish girls age 12 go through this ceremony. The child becomes a full-fledged member of the Jewish community, morally responsible for his or her actions, and the father is no longer held accountable. Boys are counted as an adult for a prayer quorum and allowed to read from the Torah, own property and marry. Luke tells us that Jesus is age 12 and this unique event in his childhood occurred. Let’s look at what is going on.
46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions
Joseph and Mary take Jesus to Jerusalem yearly for Passover. This is no small deal. They traveled from the Galilee area in northern Israel to Jerusalem in southern Israel. Jesus’ parents were spiritually responsible, exposing Jesus to the training of his faith, even though he had been circumcised and was “part of the Jewish flock,” and a special child. There is no hint that Jesus is suffering from being “an illegitimate” child conceived out of wedlock. It would appear that he has been incorporated into community and that his parents were not necessarily handling him with kid gloves because he was the son of God. Joseph and Mary left Jerusalem traveling for a day, assuming Jesus was with his friends. So our scene is one day of travel, one day of return, and three days of searching. That is a total of five days of growing anxiety. It took days to retrace their steps with family and friends, racking their brains for where Jesus might have gone missing. As a parent, I can feel the growing knot in their stomachs.
“After three days they found him in the temple.” Jesus has started the rite of passage. He has secluded himself with the elders and teachers. He was asking them questions and they were listening to him. He is no longer a child being oooh-ed over, eliciting praises as with Simeon and Anna. Jesus has now become someone with whom the teachers are interacting. He is entering a new phase we know little about.
So? I hear you asking, or I hope you’re asking. How does that apply to me? Can we let this text today speak to us and challenge us about how we identify with our church membership? Are we like the child Jesus going to Jerusalem, going to church every Sunday for us, expecting the pastor to feed us an interesting sermon and the choir to thrill us with their songs, and offering our financial gifts or are we interactional in our faith? I certainly understand the limitations of age and the restraints of family life and children but this passage confronts me as Jesus chooses not to travel home with the gang but starts to differentiate himself and define himself. We are coming to the end of 2021 and possibly setting new year goals and so pondering where we are going to choose to sit this next year and who we would like to learn from and what our questions are. Will we go with “the gang” or will we search out those opportunities to grow our faith?
The scene also points to a Jesus who was listening. I do not think he entered the temple like a cocky youth, setting his elders straight, but there is a sense of humbleness even at this early age. Jesus was listening and interacting. I find great comfort that the God of the universe is listening and speaking into my human condition even if I have trouble grasping what he is saying. Jesus is building a relationship with the teachers. It says he listened and they were amazed at his understanding of them! What do you think that exchange was about over those days? I wonder what it would have been like to be a fly on that wall!
This is not a picture of an angry judge growing in his intolerance of sin but of the development of a Good Shepherd, who sat and learned from the elders. Jesus is beginning to go through the rite of passage of becoming an adult. He allows himself to be mentored and to learn. This tells us something about our God. I pray we may follow his example in the coming year, actively listening and actively seeking to go deeper in our faith.
Change of Status
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
The parents don’t get it. Their nerves are frazzled and they are exhausted with anxiety. They are focused on the moment and not the big picture. At times like that our mouths open and words come out, even in-front of the teachers of the temple, and often we sound a bit self centered. Mary pulls the parent card that implied Jesus was being inconsiderate of his parents. Jesus responds with a rite of passage declaration. “I must be in my Father’s house.” This is a huge statement recorded by Luke.
Jesus is stepping from childhood to adulthood. Jesus is now acknowledging Joseph as his adopted father but God as his real father. He is differentiating from birth family and owning responsibility for his actions. It is the essence of bar mitzvah, of confirmation, of adult baptism, of marriage, of ordination. In a rite of passage we change status. We do not necessarily deny our previous status but we add a new layer to our identity. In marriage I do not deny being the daughter or son of my parents but I publicly declare my new identity and allegiance to my spouse. Jesus is not denying Joseph but is publically announcing and owning the truth of his identity.
The passage is clear that Jesus did go home with Joseph and Mary and did obey them as a dutiful son. But for those who would like to think that somehow the baptism of Jesus years later as an adult when the Holy Spirit descended on him was when he really took over the role as Christ, the text today would say that even as a child Jesus knew who he was and lived in the tension of being true God and true man.
In our world today it is sometimes hard to figure out how to be transparent about our faith. The United States has a veneer of Christian history and claims to be a Christian nation but mostly we are materialistic. Tolerance is a value that is touted and we would certainly not want to be taken as judgmental and confused with some person yelling from street corners about “end times.” How does our faith differentiate us from the secular world around us? As we look into 2022, how will we go about our Father’s business and be in his house? Are we living into our baptismal and confirmation identity?
Some of us may spend three days … or three months… looking for Jesus this year but Jesus looks at us and says, “Do you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” If we are looking, we will find Jesus in the Word, in worship, in sacrament, in prayer, in hymns, in places where God reaches out obviously and then perhaps in untypical places like nature, friendship and even the hard places of life – the nurse who is kind to us, the checker who is patient as we fumble for our credit card, and the AAA mechanic who rescues us when our car battery is dead. Jesus, in this passage is claiming his status as Son of God. We are challenged daily to claim our status as Christian, follower of Jesus.
52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
Jesus has gone to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover with his family. He has sat with the teachers of his faith, asked questions and learned. He is no longer a child but becoming an adult. Jesus has declared this transition, this change of status, when he openly calls God his father. The rite of passage he is going through does not release him from former responsibilities as he returns with his parents in obedience but something has changed. I think we no longer hear about the role of Joseph in his life but the gospels continue to insert scenarios involving Mary. Even on the cross Jesus is aware of his responsibilities to his mother. But our text today ends with Mary pondering in her heart and Jesus increasing in wisdom and favor.
For those of us who feel like God is distant and functions more like a judge or rule book, this last sentence is amazingly interactional and compassionate. It challenges us to wonder how Jesus might “increase.” What responsibilities is he adding? The Bible does not explain but when put in the context of a rite of passage, it might imply how a marriage relationship grows (we hope) after the initial ceremony, or how we grow in getting to know and understand our children after Baptism, or the youth who is confirmed and joins the ushering team or reads Scripture on Sunday. We are increasing not from ignorance but through a broadening of opportunities of service. I learned this week that my first granddaughter got her drivers license. For sure her father had been teaching her as well as driver’s ed and she studied the manual but in the first four days, she drove independently three times. We as parents may have sweaty palms but she has “increased” her responsibilities.
In the same way “wisdom” is the ability to apply what we know to real life situations and as Jesus grows he will meet more and more adult challenges and problems to which he will be given the opportunity to interact with as an adult. His involvement with God and people begins to grow in new ways. He is not in public ministry yet but he is becoming, growing, experiencing and developing skills.
It is hard for us to think of God as increasing. We like to think of God as answering our prayers, a source of power and insight, more stable than growing but relationships don’t work that way. Relationships grow and deepen and go through phases with our life challenges. Even so Jesus, no longer a child, but living in obedience to his parents and to God, “increases in wisdom and favor before God and man.” A rite of passage is just that, a passage from one phase of life to another. We learn new skills from those who have gone before as we answer to new voices and step into new responsibilities. Jesus grew.
Are we growing as we step into 2022? This is our last Sunday together for this calendar year. I would challenge us as we reflect on our journey of faith this last year and now in the New Year, to ponder who we are learning from, who do we claim as our Father, and what business is he calling us to be involved with this year. We at Bethany have been greatly blessed. We grieve those who have passed this year but we also rejoice at the many challenges God has helped us face. As we step into 2022 may we, like Jesus, “increase in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”
The people of God said “AMEN!”