The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Parish Eucharist      30th December 2018
Child Jesus at the Temple
Jan Rushton

Christmas 1  Year C  (2018)  Child Jesus at the Temple
Readings: 1 Samuel 2. 18 – 20, 26; Colossians 3. 12 – 17; Luke 2. 41-42


Welcome to our worship - and I do hope you’ve had a wonderful Christmas, full of the surprises and the delight you were longing for!

Once every three years the first Sunday after Christmas our gospel reading leaps forward to Jesus’ adolescence  before returning next Sunday, to journey once more with the magi to the manger!
So this morning we have story of separation and a lost child! Coupled from the Hebrew Bible with the story of another ‘lost’ child, separated from his parents this time through choice, yet one who also grew  both in stature and in favour before God and with the people! Our readings pressing home the point  that here are exceptional and important children!
 
Perhaps the first thought we can take hold of from these stories, is that life is rarely simple or straightforward. Rather, life is often complicated, and there is work for us to do to find that meaning and purpose so important for our wellbeing, the wellbeing which rests in God’s heart for our lives.

However this is not our gospel-writer’s purpose! Luke is the only evangelist to include this story
of the boy Jesus crossing into manhood,  and in it he is making a very specific claim,  piling the message up over and over again at the outset of his gospel:  this child whose name is Jesus,
the Greek form of Joshua which means Saviour, this child is none other than Son of God.
Having established the miraculous birth of John the Baptist, Luke launches straight into the Annunciation to Mary of her impending pregnancy, child who will be Son of the Most High, the Son of God! And following his birth, Luke concludes the Presentation of the baby at the Temple, forty days old, with the statement: ‘The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.’ In Luke chapter 3 at his baptism, the voice of God from heaven 
will declare to Jesus, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved, and with you I am well pleased.’
Now in our gospel this morning, between these two events,  Jesus will declare his own understanding, that it is God who is his father.

As Jesus crosses that boundary into adulthood at the age of twelve, he is included in the company who will travel to Jerusalem for Passover. His need for understanding of who he is more urgent than ever. Here in the Temple, he must engage with those whose knowledge and wisdom may help him -
however long it takes - days even! His parents set out to return to Nazareth with their extended community.  At the end of the day they discover Jesus is not with them. Returning, three days they search Jerusalem for him. Not hard to imagine their distress and exasperation when finally  they discover him with the teachers at the Temple! But for Jesus himself this is astonishing:  How have they not understood that he would be in his ‘Father’s House’?

Mutual incomprehension!  Perhaps we know the feeling! Indeed, this omission, not telling his parents where he would be,  is no small thing. The command to honour father and mother was central in Jewish culture, and Jesus failure to do so, risks shame on the whole extended family. Luke immediately assures us that Jesus from now on, is obedient to them. Indeed, as the boy Samuel, Jesus also ‘increased in wisdom, and in divine and human favour.

If during the Reformation the deadly argument was over the meaning of the Eucharist,
and where the Christian should look for authority concerning faith, then in the early Church, the argument was over what it meant for Jesus to be both man and God, human and divine:
how was this mingling accomplished - and when?

There is a tension suspending these two realities we will always find difficult to hold, paradoxical as this conception is. A tension the gospels themselves find hard to maintain:Mark portrays a human earthy Christ who teaches through his actions, while John’s Christ is ever the sublime divine Word of God,  one who is neither baptised, nor weeps in the Garden of Gethsemane. Rather, he is the Bread of Life, Living Water, and the very real shame of the Cross, nothing less than Jesus’ glory! Human and divine?  Luke, an educated Greek Christian, writing with eloquence, has it both ways! Jesus is both, ‘sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions - and all who heard him were amazed - at his understanding and his answers! This young man is both learning from them - and teaching them! If Jesus is both human and divine, does it mean that, as God, he was omniscient, understood all things,was cognisant of our kind of scientific knowledge about the physical universe?   Obviously not.  The story of Jesus’ Ascension as told by Luke, presumes
a three-tier universe very different from the one we comprehend today! I like the understanding of long-renowned biblical commentator, William Barclay, who sees this episode as one where Jesus,
sensing he is different, is powerfully driven to find out more of who he is. For how could Jesus be fully human if he was not also constrained by human limitations? If he did not have to struggle with confusion and doubt as we do,  to know who he was.   If he did not also make mistakes.

The Jewish people were indeed awaiting a Messiah! A powerful Saviour figure who would throw off their bondage to Rome. But, here, here in this baby, is something quite different - something utterly new and extraordinary - very God involved in all the messiness of what it means to be human.
Extraordinary - and unthinkable - utterly unthinkable - For God and humanity are incompatible, they cannot touch each other, they do not ‘mix’ -  to suggest the contrary is for the Jew, blasphemy,
and for the Greek stupidity, contrary to all understanding of reason and philosophy. The sacred can have nothing to do with the profane. Divinity cannot inhabit the messy, disturbed, or to quote the seventeenth century philosopher, Thomas Hobbes:  if today, not short, our still nasty and brutish lives.

Yet this unthinkable reality is precisely the revelation of the Christmas story.This is the message to us of those dirty, ragged shepherds, out on the hills through the night,those shepherds too filthy to worship in the Temple,those shepherds who are first to be brought the message of Messiah’s arrival,
first to come and worship the newborn king:God is intimately involved with us, involved in all the turmoil we may get ourselves into, find ourselves in, knows our deepest longings and desires -
understands and meets us in them - wills us forward to reach out into all the challenges of life.
We need not be ashamed, for God is with us  in all our confusions and the things that make us scared, that in trusting God - something utterly new may happen in our lives.

I want to conclude with the words of our beautiful reading from the Letter to the Colossians,
template for achieving all that we long for:

12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, patience.
13 Bear with one another, forgive each other;
14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love ...
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts ...
And be thankful.

Happy New Year !     Amen.

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