INTRODUCTION...A FORETASTE 1,000 YEARS IN THE MAKING
How appropriate indeed that today’s first reading as presented by James has come from 1 Samuel. For this reading follows directly from a reading which was spoken and recorded to have been given by Hannah—mother of Samuel from the Old Testament, entitled a Song of Peace, in which she praises God for the miracle of her pregnancy. Hannah, who would become the mother of the prophet Samuel, had been childless for some years.#1 Heartbroken, she went to the temple at Shiloh and prayed to the Lord for a child.#2 This of course is quite familiar to the story of Elizabeth, mother to be of John the Baptist. As stated in the accounts, God heard Hannah’s prayer and answered, and she soon became pregnant and gave birth to a little boy.#3 She had given a vow that if she conceived a child, that child would become apprenticed to the temple upon reaching the proper age. And at that time, Samuel began to learn from Eli the wise temple priest, as an apprentice priest. Hannah sang her song to express her gratitude to the Lord for her son Samuel.
The song represents a foretaste of the prayer which Mary and Elizabeth offer to God with the intended birth of Jesus—Lord of the world--, which then she and Elizabeth celebrated in the Magnificat as reported by Luke.#5 Samuel and John—the miracle child of Elizabeth, were destined to become God’s prophets. And of course Jesus was the Messiah and peacemaker of the world. Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary would become over time the dearly loved women, and praised by Christians. Mary, identified as a sinful woman, bore a sinless son. The miracle of God cannot be ignored, nor forgotten. All of us, in the 21st Century are required to bear in mind how great is his power and care of us. There is great comfort in this reminder, praise God! And these important moments do not stop with the experiences of Mary and the women like her. The tribulations of being parents, however, did not pass by Mary and Joseph. It is thus quite normal to find that this very grateful woman, thrilled with the birth of a son Jesus, is then required to endure the dreadful time of searching for him just as any parent would do, when he became lost at the festival.
“CHILD, WHY HAVE YOU TREATED US LIKE THIS?”#6
With regard to that particular episode recorded in Luke, Jacynthia’s notes from the Rev’s Desk#7 are classic. Given it took Mary and Joseph three days to locate Jesus, WHY, indeed did it take them 3 days to figure it all out? I thoroughly enjoyed her great question...”HAD things been so ordinary since the angels, adoring shepherds, and OT prophesies that the mystery surrounding their son’s birth had begun to fade away?”#8 Let’s think about that a moment...isn’t that a really great thought?
JESUS CHRIST DID NOT BEGIN TO BE WHEN HE WAS BORN#9
To ponder the incarnation (taking on flesh) is understandably a head turner. But an easy way to remember the basics is to recall that Jesus’ birth was a miracle, but he did not begin to be when he was born and laid in the manger! As the second person of the Trinity, he was fully God. At the same time, he became genuinely a man. “Christ was born of the Virgin Mary and is to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person.”#10
How wonderful, therefore, and frankly amazing that these two loving, worried, and yes probably ready to explode parents did see and TREATED this amazing child as a normal, 12 year old son. When you stop to consider that, you begin to understand more fully the nature of God and the truest weight of the miracle produced. Who amongst us is prepared to doubt God’s ability or willingness to be with us and to help us? And of this particular moment in time between Jesus and his parents, he, as Jacynthia states, “disappears back into the fabric of his hometown.” We know that he continues to grow, nurtured by the love of his human parents, and growing in wisdom and experience through God’s love. Is it any wonder that Jesus turned out to be such an amazing Lord. And isn’t it, to be honest, a bit of a shame that this fact tends to get swallowed up in the mindless craziness of Christmas activities? Perhaps we all need to sit still and contemplate what we are doing at this time of year, and the true celebration of the miracle.
CONCLUSION...THE REAL PEOPLE OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
Today’s Gospel reading in Luke records the only incident of Jesus between his birth and the beginning of his public ministry at the age of thirty.#11 It remains a mystery, conjecture, educated guesses, and a great deal of academic research trying to fill in the 18 years between this festival and his adult baptism by John the Baptist. I sometimes have a tendency to forget that so many of the stories in the Bible are about the experiences of human beings like us. The only difference is they lived in a time that was so long ago the number of years can make me quite dizzy. In Jesus’ ministry beyond the age of 30, he was dealing with people like us! The stories were real...and not fairytales. God knew these people, heard their prayers and helped them. At times I think, “oh, I can’t pray for that,” or “God would not understand my talking about that.” And that is quite wrong on my part. Of course he knows, and sees. The Christmas miracle saw to that. And as I get older, see more and more Christmas celebrations, decorate trees, and then all too soon, take the tree back down, I think I understand with greater maturity how the spirit of Christmas and the message of the season is just beginning. We’ve all heard, of course, about the gift that keeps giving. Well, God’s miracle of the season is a real whooper! Because that has no end, praise God. AMEN.
#1James L. Kugel How to Read the Bible A Guide To Scripture, Then and Now (New York, NY: Free Press Publishers, 2017), 437.
#4 Ibid., 438.
#5 John Barton and John Muddiman, The Oxford Bible Commentary (London, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011 and Luke 1:44-56), 200-201.
#6 Luke 2:48.
#7 Rev’d Jacynthia Murphy, From the Rev’s Desk (St Martin @ St Chad’s Pewsheet), 30 Dec, 2018, p1.
#9 Kevin Green, Compiler ALL-IN-ONE BIBLE REFERENCE GUIDE (Grand Rapids, MICH: Zondervan Publishers, 2008), 316.
#10 Ibid., citing doctrinal formulation at the Council Of Chalcedon, A.D. 451, p. 316.
#11 Harold Lindsell, NRSV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MICH: Zondervan Press, 1991), 1509, 2.41ff, in Luke 2:41.