December 26, 2021
I Samuel 2:18-20,26; Colossians 3: 12-17; Luke 2: 41-52
Blessings to all on this First Sunday After Christmas! Today we leap from the beloved birth story of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel to the young man Jesus, age 12, teaching in the temple. What happened between Jesus’ infancy and his adolescence? We don’t have any canonical biblical stories about Jesus’ childhood. But there are apocryphal books which contain some really unbelievable stories about the young boy Jesus.
For instance in the ‘Infancy Gospel of Thomas’ one of the stories has five year old Jesus playing on the roof of a house when one of the children playing with him fell off the roof and died. Other children saw what had happened, and they fled, leaving Jesus standing all by himself. The parents of the dead child came and accused Jesus: “You troublemaker you, you’re the one who threw him down.” Jesus responded, “I didn’t throw him down – he threw himself down. He just wasn’t being careful and fell from the roof and died.” Then Jesus himself climbed down from the roof and stood by the body of the child and shouted in a loud voice: “Zeno!” – that was the child’s name – “Get up and tell me: Did I push you?” Zeno got up immediately and said, “No, Lord, you didn’t push me, you raised me up.” When Jesus was six, Joseph received an order from a rich man to make a bed for him. When one board of what is called the crossbeam turned out to be shorter than the other, and Joseph didn’t know what to do. The child Jesus who was watching and learning the craft of carpentry said, “Put the two boards down and line them up at one end.” Joseph did as the child told him. Jesus stood at the other end and grabbed hold of the shorter board, and, by stretching it, made it the same length as the other. (With Jesus around, no need to measure twice and cut once!) Joseph looked on and marveled, and he hugged and kissed the child, saying, “How fortunate I am that God has given this child to me.”
Interestingly enough, this Infancy Gospel of Thomas concludes with this morning’s story of 12 year old Jesus in the temple, almost word for word as what is in Luke’s Gospel. For Luke, there are no questionable or distracting stories about the child Jesus but only a remarkable account of the young man Jesus in the temple.
This scripture account inspired German artist Heinrich Hoffman to portray the incident in a painting. It’s simply entitled ‘Christ in the Temple at Twelve.’ It portrays Jesus, robed in white, eyes wide with wisdom, and arm out-stretched to make a point, surrounded by the elders of the temple. One of the teachers, in a gilt-embedded robe holding a scroll at his side, had his other hand on his whiskered chin and a look of awe on his lined face as he contemplated Jesus’ questions and answers. Luke writes: ‘all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.’ All who heard him on that day in the temple maybe knew what the shepherds knew, what the sages from the East knew, what Mary treasured in her heart, and what the prophet Isaiah had foretold about one sent from God who comes to bring hope to the hopeless, sight to the blind, release to the captive, freedom to the prisoner, food to the hungry. No, maybe Jesus didn’t know but as our Gospel concludes, echoing the words spoken about the boy Samuel which concluded our first reading: ‘Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.’
What they knew and what we know is Jesus is the incarnation, the word made flesh, God with us. That makes all the difference. Christ with us. David Brooks, in his December 12th New York Times editorial entitled ‘What do you say to the sufferer?’ focuses on the pain of isolation which we all feel at times in our lives, and maybe especially now. In that editorial he included a story related to him by Rabbi Elliot Kukla. Rabbi Kukla told of a woman with a brain injury who would sometimes fall to the floor. People around her would rush to immediately get her back on her feet, before she was quite ready. She told Kukla, “I think people rush to me because they are so uncomfortable with seeing an adult lying on the floor. But what I really need is for someone to get down on the ground with me.” Like that woman, what we really need is for someone to get down on the ground with us: Jesus, the Christ, God with us down on the ground. That’s what we celebrate in this season of Christmas.
‘God with us’ opens life for all things to be possible. God with us: the limitless possibilities. And we will work together for the good of all to diminish climate change, defeat Covid, care for the immigrants, the prisoners, the homeless, the hungry, the hopeless! All things are possible…Christ is with us.
I’ll end with a parable:
‘A person named Olive owned two shopping bags full of words. One bag was plain brown, very old, and filled with the kind of words that could reach out and connect her with other people. Words like share and care, grow and touch, and listen, and love, and yes.
Olive’s other shopping bag was white with a big shoe printed on the sides of it. This bag carried words to keep people away. Words like no, and ignore, and don’t, and mine, and who cares.
Olive carried both shopping bags everywhere with her. But she only used the connecting words on very special occasions like Christmas, or somebody’s birthday. The separating words, on the other hand, were used every single day. Olive used them well. She flung them about like darts whenever someone got too close. After a while people moved away without a word.
One day as she was walking to the store Olive’s plain brown shopping bag broke and spilled out all its words … kindness, compassion, care, touch, honor, respect, love. Suddenly Olive was connected to everyone around. And it was Christmas!
Jesus born among us, God with us, Christ in us, means the Word made flesh fills our lives to link us with all creation…all creatures, all people, all things. In Christ, on the ground with us, we are connected to all as we together face the challenges and live in the hope of God’s eternal love and care. In these days of Christmas and all our days Christ is with us. Thanks be to God! Amen.