Monday, December 28, 2015

Taking down the lights: 1st Sunday after Christmas

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
Colossians 3:12-17
Luke 2:41-52

Twelve years after the birth of Messiah, life goes on.  Pretty much like we go about our business after the gifts have been unwrapped, the holiday dishes have been put away for another year, and the extended family has gone back to their own lives, their own business.  The celebration is over, and the “event” has drawn to a close almost as if it never happened.  With the exception of some new memories, children and grandchildren and great-grands who have grown a foot taller, life pretty much returns to normal.

Except this is our own 21st century narrative.  In the 1st century at the dawn of the messianic age, there is nothing to be continued as usual.  Life cannot go on “as is” because while the rest of the world may be going about its own business, Messiah is coming of age.  If this were the same ol’ narrative, then it would be as though Messiah never came, a Promise had not been fulfilled, and the New Testament writers got it wrong.  Life will pretty much go on as before.

An interesting twist on the narrative of Jesus having been found in the Temple itself, we might consider that within the Temple grounds were many outer courtyards.  Within the main structure it would have been very unlikely Mary would have been allowed in.  So while the Temple is the central feature of Jerusalem not only as a physical structure but as the very heart of a people, we might miss an important component of this particular narrative without a closer look.

The original Greek, according to some, may not be specific in terms of Jesus being in His Father’s “house”, though it is so written in NRSV.  Rather it has been suggested that the Greek translation may be more accurate not as “house” but as “business” as it is written in NKJV.  This is to say Jesus would likely be about His Father’s “business” more than He would be found only in a structure which would be somewhat limiting to the narrative.

This is an important consideration for us because of the very nature of Messiah in the Incarnation – “immortal God in mortal flesh”.  While worship is certainly a central feature of Christianity and Judaism, a means of grace we dare not neglect, the “business” of The Father in the Incarnation is much more involved than a single “event”, certainly more enveloping than simply being present in a “structure”.

Luke’s narrative is unique among the canonical Gospels in that its introduction tells us the nature of the writing.  It was not intended to be nor written as “Scripture”.  It is a report written to an unknown “Theophilus”, and it is written as “an orderly account of events that have been fulfilled” (1:1). 

A narrative is being created; a narrative written to a particular individual (we think), yet also a narrative we are being invited into, a narrative that must become our own if we are to be “disciples”, students, Jesus-followers – much more than simply “Christian” which is fast becoming more of a political label than a statement of allegiance to Christ.  And the narrative must become our own, of course, if we are to make disciples who are equipped to make disciples.

This particular story is perplexing, to say the least.  The Holy Family went with many others to Jerusalem for the Passover and after the festival was completed, they all went home.  That is, except for Jesus, the 12-year-old boy.  Venturing about a day’s journey, Mary and Joseph finally realized Jesus was not in the crowd.  The narrative tells us they had only “assumed” Jesus was in the group.

Given the social reality we live in, we cannot begin to wrap our minds around this whole thing.  I strongly doubt any among this congregation would have even thought about leaving church, the mall, a restaurant, without making sure the little ones are accounted for!  This was a very different time, of course, and a culture that is entirely alien to our own.  It would not have been so unusual.

Jesus being left behind, however, is not the point of the narrative.  Rather, that which is to be “fulfilled” is beginning to take shape.  It is rather strange that Luke’s Gospel is the only one of the four that has any narrative about the boy Jesus, though there are other extrabiblical accounts with great detail about Jesus’ boyhood.  Yet this seems to be the one point Luke found necessary to include in his account to “Theophilus”. 

It is an account that speaks more directly to the fullness of the Incarnation rather than the somewhat limited “Christmas” narrative which is specific to the Birth of Messiah and “baby Jesus”.  That limited narrative only invites us to the stable, but then it allows us to go on about our business almost as if nothing happened.  We acknowledge a strange phenomenon especially for the shepherds, but it is still little more than an “event” with a limited time span and, consequently, limited meaning.

This is why it is so easy to “take down the lights”.  Physically it is a pain in the neck to put away all the lights and the decorations.  Some even vow “never again”!  Too much trouble, too much time that can be spent doing other things.  It’s fun for some to put the stuff up, but not so much fun putting it all away – because it signifies the “event” is over.  The “feel good” season is ended.  It’s done.  The “festival” is complete.  I wonder if this may have been on the minds of the many who were venturing back to Nazareth after the Passover.  The “event” was over, the thing was done, and it was time to go back to the daily grind.

It is sort of like the “event” of worship.  If we do not come with an open mind and an open heart with great expectations, if we come unprepared but for an agenda of our own making, if the Scripture nor the Spirit penetrate our hearts, we walk out when it is “over” as if nothing happened.  It was just a “thing” we sometimes do, but there was no encounter with the Holy.  There is no transformation of heart and soul.  We walk out as angry or as bitter or as ambivalent as when we walked in.

But just as the spirit of the Passover cannot be contained in a single “event”, neither can the Incarnation be so strictly limited.  If not for the actual Passover, the people of Israel would not be YHWH’s people; they would still belong to Pharaoh.  So in the Incarnation, if not for the “Light” which came into a very dark world, and if King Herod had had his own way, we would still be slaves to our past with no way out.  There would be no “business” to be about except for our own.  “Emmanuel” has changed all that – IF He is still “with us” and has not been “taken down and put away” as just another holiday decoration commemorating a single “event”.

It is written in Ecclesiastes, “Because sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the human heart is fully set to do evil.  Though sinners do evil a hundred times and prolong their lives, yet I know it will be well with those who fear God, because they stand in fear before Him” (8:11-12).  Not “stood” as if only a single “event” – but “stand” as if He is always present.

Let us not become so involved in “Christmas” as a single “season” that we allow ourselves to “take down the lights” as if it is over.  Rather let us learn to embrace the fullness of the Incarnation and allow “Emmanuel” to stay.  For if it is truly “over”, we cannot say it ever was. 

Let us say, instead, Eternal Glory to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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