December 24, 2018
By Rachel Beam.
Rev. Rachel Beam is the pastor of First Congregational Church of Bethel.
“Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming 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. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When 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.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? ‘But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”
A favorite story from the congregational lore of a small church I pastored in Pennsylvania concerned a Sunday morning sermon given by a young pastor on this particular text. The pastor walked into the center of the small chancel, set up a folding chair and plunked himself down in it, eyeballed the congregation, and said, “You know, Jesus was a brat.” Anyone living with a tween or teen could certainly relate.
Didn’t we just celebrate his birth? And now this precocious twelve-year-old has disappeared. Finding him in the Jerusalem temple, his mother questions him, as any parent would. “Why did you do this? Didn’t you know we would be worried?” Cue eyeroll. “Well, duh, where else would I be, except in my Father’s house?” Emphasis on “Father.” Not you two.
Jesus is already separating from his earthly parents, because his “capital F” Father is calling. This incident must serve as a wake-up call to Mary and Joseph, a reminder of why they brought the child into the world, why angels attended his birth, and why they protected him from harm. Our little boy is growing up, and this mini-rebellion is only a presage to what will come next. We might empathize with Mary in that moment as she thinks, “If only I could pull him onto my lap one more time and hum a sweet lullaby, and kiss his soft brow.” But those days are over. Like all children, Jesus must grow up and meet his destiny.
Jesus serves notice that he no longer needs his parents’ protection. He will walk on his own into the world and into his own vulnerability, arms wide open, to embrace sinners and outcasts, and to face the cross. Luke serves notice on the rest of us that this precocious tween is headed straight toward danger, carrying the rest of us with him. Brace yourselves – the worst – and the best – are yet to come.
So Jesus goes home and is obedient to his confused earthly parents, while Mary treasures all of these things in her heart. That poor heart, soon to be broken open wide in agony. And, like Mary, we who read Luke’s Gospel are also asked to let go of the baby and embrace the man. It’s a “tween” time for us, too. Christmas carols still echoing in our heads, we long to keep Jesus a baby, to remember his innocence and the humble circumstances of his birth. After all, the baby asks very little of us, but the man invites us to follow. He is so much safer and a whole lot less complicated to love as a baby! But we have to allow the baby to grow up to become the preacher, prophet, healer and savior he is called to be. We have to loosen our protective grip on the baby in order to follow the man. This can break our hearts wide open, too, and our faith often feels so small, so fragile, just like our hearts. And, yet, still, we treasure all of it. The soon-to-be-adult Jesus reminds us of the real treasure, which is the power and price of love.
Holy One, help us to allow baby Jesus to grow up, so that we may follow him out into the world, arms open wide, to embrace all of our neighbors as kin. Amen.
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congregational Church of East Hampton, UCC
First Congregational Church of East Hartford, UCC
South Congregational Church, UCC
The First Church in Hartland, Congregational
First Congregational Church of East Haven
This Week in History:
Dec. 21-27, 1968, (50 years ago) The Apollo 8 mission becomes the first manned spacecraft to fly to the moon and back. After 3 days of space travel, on Christmas Eve, the craft enters lunar orbit. During 10 orbits of the moon, Frank Borman, James Lovell, Jr., and William Anders become the first people to see the "dark side of the moon" - the side of the moon's surface that never faces Earth. On Dec. 27, the Apollo 8 craft lands safely in the Pacific Ocean.
Starting With Scripture: December 24, 2018 , by Rachel Beam.