Peace on earth?
First Sunday after Christmas
Love came down….Love produces growth
- I Samuel 2:18-20, 26 Samuel blessed as child & presented in the temple
- Luke 2:41-52 Jesus as a boy in the temple
Jesus grows up – and grows in wisdom, years, and favor
Jesus grew in wisdom and in favor with God and humanity even as he grew up! We know so little about Jesus’ childhood. The story jumps so quickly from the birth of Jesus to a blessing in the temple as a baby and now an encounter in the temple as a young boy.
Turning 12 years old Jesus had reached the age to accept adult responsibility. So his mother and father took him to Jerusalem to observe the Passover, foreshadowing a very different Passover celebration a couple of decades later at the end of Jesus’ life. In this scene we hear the first words from the mouth of Jesus. The 12 year old Jesus is found by his mom and dad who are worried sick, having searched for him for three days. They finally find him in the temple debating with religious scholars. His worried mother scolds, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been searching for you with great anxiety.” The boy Jesus replies with two impertinent questions that wouldn’t satisfy any parent. Yet these first words of Jesus reveal a glimpse of what his future is to be: “Why are you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?”
This is the same Mary who earlier asked God to, “Let it be to me according to your word.” It did happen to her according to God’s word. Now this mother of a missing12 year old son finds him in the temple arguing with temple leaders. And this Mary, along with everyone else, did not understand what Jesus meant. The summary of this Mother son encounter is, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” This is the same summary to describe the boy Samuel in the temple years before.
It is noteworthy that the one story about Jesus for the first 30 years of life and his first words come at age 12. The biblical story is often revealed in the number 12:
- Ishmael’s 12 sons become princes;
- Jacob’s 12 sons become namesakes for the 12 tribes of Israel;
- Jesus is in the temple at 12 and later calls 12 disciples;
- A woman Jesus heals has been hemorrhaging for 12 years;
- There are 12 baskets of bread and fish left over from feeding the 5000;
- There are 12 symbols of Revelation, including women robed with the sun and adorned with a crown of 12 stars;
- This is the seventh of the 12 days of Christmas from birth to Epiphany for Jesus. The Bible doesn’t report 12 days of Christmas, but 12 is biblical.
The Christmas question for us is will we find 12 ways to see Jesus and love God, self, neighbor, and enemy this Christmas? I want to turn our attention to seeing Jesus.
A joy full of dust and dung …
by Abbot John Klassen, OSB, Abbey Banner , Winter 2006
Some would say it never happened. But Mary remembered. She knew it with her whole being. She remembered how she and Joseph wandered in the damp cold to find some shelter; the rich odor of the cave; the warm, wet breath of the animals. They looked on with lazy interest at this couple who joined them…..
Her body recalled the sharp straw and the way it poked her back and feet. Her body remembered the scream ing pain of giving birth….Joseph’s look of terror; the spit she used to clean the child’s eyes. The donkey chewed hay the whole time, oblivious to the miracle. It was so frightening.
But then the shepherds came, seemingly out of nowhere. Scruffy and ragged, these men and women were angels of mercy. Out of their meager supplies they helped make it a little more comfortable. They were no strangers to birth under rough conditions.
With uncontained excitement they told of the angels celebrating the glory of the birth of this child. She was overwhelmed with joy as she recalled the words of her cousin Elizabeth: “Blest is she who believed that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.” She broke into tears, thinking how impossible all of this was. What kind of a God would do this?
Only a God who was not afraid. Only a God who would risk everything because of love. Only a God who loved the creation, who loved human beings in spite of everything, because of everything. Only a God who want ed human beings to once again breathe divinity, to know their status as sons and daughters. It was a joy full of dust and dung but it was a joy never to be forgotten.
She held the child close, overwhelmed by a fierce and tender love. The song of the angels came to her. “Glory to God in high heaven and peace to all people on earth.”
Seeing Jesus in the Word and World
I have seen, heard or seen signs of God’s incarnate coming into the world in Jesus in various ways and places over this Advent-Christmas season. Advent began with a poem by Dan Berrigan called “Advent” that we printed in the December newsletter. Berrigan begins, “It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss – This is true: For God so loved the world that he gave [Jesus]…et us.” And he ends with a Christmas challenge to us: “Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ – the Life of the world.”
Advent touched an essence with a reminder that Gandhi remarked one Christmas that Christmas has social, economic and political implications because the wood of the manger as the mark of Jesus’ poverty connects with the wood of the cross at the other end of Jesus’ life as the mark of Jesus’ nonviolent resistance to evil. The Berrigan and Gandhi citations are from John Dear declaring that “‘Peace on Earth’ Means ‘No More War'” (NCR columns 11/28/06 & 12/18/06).
Another early Advent reminder was the drama of “The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever” powerfully performed at the Bathhouse Theater on Greenlake. Joanne and Marg and I saw this hilarious beautiful Christmas story in early December.
Last Sunday reached a Christmas climax for me with the Fourth Sunday of Advent worship in the morning and our community meal with homeless neighbors and the Christmas Eve service followed by the party at Bergs in the evening.
On this Sunday after Christmas I want to ask you what Christmas means to you this year.
- What gave you joy this Christmas? Or during Advent?
- What brought sorrow? This is a season where sorrow is real for many people.
- Where have you “seen” Jesus in the world this Christmas?
A couple of days ago I came across inspiring words of Thomas Keating, the Cistercian monk who revived the ancient practice of Centering Prayer. Keating is pointing to Jesus in reminding us that, “There are about two billion Christians on the planet. If a significant portion of them were to embrace the contemplative dimension of the Gospel, the emerging global society would experience a powerful surge toward enduring peace.”
Another sign I saw of Jesus was of all places in the newspaper, yesterday’s Seattle PI.
Robert Jamieson in his column, “I didn’t find ‘them’ in Muslim world.” Sometime ago a reader complained about something Jamieson wrote on Iraq and dared Jamieson to get out from behind a desk and “go see how they live over there.” By “they” he meant Muslims and by “over there” he meant anywhere outside the US. So Jamieson went to The Philippines and Malaysia. He visited neighborhoods where Muslims and Christians and people of other faiths worked together to make their community better for everyone. In Kuala Lumpur he visited The Pure Life Society which runs an orphanage and fosters interfaith dialogue. Someone who works for The Pure Life Society made a list of all faiths espousing some form of the Golden Rule.
In Judaism it is: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.”
In Islam it is: “No one of you is a believer until you desire for your neighbor that which you desire for yourself.”
And, as we know, Jesus says for Christians, “Whatever you would that others do to you, do so to them.”
Jamieson sums up the obvious and obviously ignored, “Reasonable people of all faiths recognize the common humane values that thread beliefs.”
On the morning of the shortest day of the year, a light shone in the morning darkness when I heard Franciscan Richard Rohr share “What I believe” on NPR’s Morning Edition (12/21/06). Richard said in part: “People who have really met the Holy are always humble. It’s the people who don’t know who usually pretend that they do. People who’ve had any genuine spiritual experience always know they don’t know. They are utterly humbled before mystery. They are in awe before the abyss of it all, in wonder at eternity and depth, and a Love that is incomprehensible to the mind. It is a litmus test for authentic God experience, and is – quite sadly – absent from much of our religious conversation today.”
Garrison Keillor, in a Christmas Prairie Home Companion, speaking of the Christmas pageants ordinary people enjoy even when some of them seem silly. He asks for all of us, why people with little acting ability or musical talent, be so invested in Christmas pageantry? Garrison Keillor answers for us as well, “Because it’s a great story and we just want to be part of it.” (Willimon, Pulpit Resource , Oct-Dec 06, p. 60)
Once again we remember that Jesus has entered the world as God’s incarnation. We are reminded in the Biblical word and in song and prayer of this Incarnate Truth and receive it for our lives, for the life of the Church and for the life of the world.
God of all life and love, on that silent holy night you sent your song of life and love into the world in Jesus. On a long dark night, angels and shepherds sang of God’s glory and the peace of Christ come into the world. May your Incarnate song echo in our hearts and ring from our lips for a deafened world. We pray in the name of this Jesus who has come into the world. Amen