Stepping into the sanctuary today—for some—may seem a little different?!? For the past four weeks, we have intentionally lived in the season of Advent. A season of anticipation and waiting for the birth of Christ. One by one we have lit advent candles. A new candle for each Sunday while holding back just a bit in lighting the next. Finally, on Christmas Eve, we stood in beauty of a full wreath as we lit the Christ candle—the most beautiful of them all—to acknowledge of the birth of our Lord. Christmas day then came. We gathered with others whom we love around a common meal and many of us shared in the exchanging of gifts. We open them and leave the empty packaging and torn paper on the floor to be collected with week’s recycling.
Suddenly, the BIG celebration is over. For as long as possible, we continue attend smaller gatherings and cherish some leftover celebrations here and there. We leave our holiday décor hanging just a little longer while knowing that it nears time to take down the evergreen and the festive lights. Though we linger in the liturgical Christmas season, the BIG event is all over and everything nears to a close.
It seems like the holiday season comes and goes at warp speed.
Today’s Gospel text meets us in a similar place. The temple is no longer crowded. The large crowd who’ve journeyed to the temple for the Passover holiday have now departed. Everyone is headed home. Back to the usual. Back to the regular daily grind. Once again in this text we hit the holiday fast-forward button. Jesus is no longer a new born and now a twelve-year-old preteen causing his parents a little anxiety.
Along their journey home, Joseph must have shouted out to Mary among the crowd of travelers, “Where’s Jesus?” And…the search began. In that moment, I imagine that the warp speed of the holiday season slowed down. I am no parent, but I imagine that the moments feel like an eternity when searching for your missing child. As Mary and Joseph backtrack their steps, they find Jesus hanging out in the temple after the BIG celebration was all wrapped up.
This Jesus character…we find him in the most unexpected places.
Luke is the only canonized Gospel to tell the boyhood stories Jesus. All the other gospel accounts speed through time and begin the narration again with Jesus as an adult about begin his ministry. However, there is one other gospel account that shares some narrative about Jesus’ childhood. This gospel—the Infancy Gospel of Thomas—contain stories of the boy Jesus bringing to life birds that he’d sculpted from clay. It includes other stories of Jesus performing acts of childhood trickery. You can probably imagine why this didn’t make the cut when compiling the stories of Jesus into our Sacred Scripture.
Luke—instead of skipping ahead like the other Synoptic Gospels—takes a moment to tell a story of Jesus’ childhood. In this story, Jesus is just on the cusp of adolescence.
Adolescence is an interesting and important time. These are the years of searching…trying own new things…trying to settle on our identity. These are the formational years! I can recall some of my own adolescence when I tried on different things. I particularly remember trying on different clothing styles. First it was cowboy boots and button ups. A short time later I moved onto the shopping at the G.A.P. trying out a more preppy style. Then, it was on to baggy pants and boot-fit jeans. I can still hear my mother and father’s voice, “You’re going to wear that?!?” This—in retrospection—was my attempt at trying on different things. A way of finding my place in an adolescent’s world. I can recall during that age—and into my college years—envisioning the many different career possibilities. First, it was architecture—even though I terrible at math. Then, I imagined being band director—and now I don’t know if I would be able to play a solid note. My exploration continued, until finally I found my calling. I imagine all of us can relate some to searching for identity at some point—or even various points—in our lives.
Jesus knew—even at the age of twelve—his identity. Jesus knew his call to exemplify the Kin-dom of God in his ministry here on earth. Luke’s narrative tells of him taking his place among those in the temple after all the regulars had gone home. When Mary and Joseph reach Jesus, he responds in obedience to his earthly parents, but also gives them some purview to his identity and calling. He responds, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” In this statement, Jesus reveals that his life will be guided by his relationship with the Holy Father as dedicates himself to the service of God.
Other parts of this story leave a bit of mystery for our imagination. I can’t help but wonder what the discussion was like among the religious leaders. Was this boy Jesus—who remained temple—beginning to assert his prophetic voice among the religious leaders? Was he already questioning religious legalism, political coercion and the societal norms of this time? And, had he begun to advocate for the widow, the poor, the outcast, and all those marginalized? Whatever the topic at hand, all those who were gathered were “amazed at his understanding”. In temple, Jesus is finding his purpose, and religious leaders are seeing something in him that perhaps his parents—Joseph and Mary—did not see.
In this passage, there is bit left to the imagination of Jesus’ conversation among the religious leaders, but the text indicates that Jesus was “listening” and “asking questions”.
When I think of the church, I imagine a place for those who come deeply listening and asking profound questions. The church is a place for those who are searching. Searching for identity. Searching for something Greater. Searching for purpose. The church is place we find a Greater Way, a way of embodying the love of God to one-another and the sharing of community. This is a place in which we bring our deep heartfelt joys and concerns. It is here where we voice our struggles with the injustices and suffering in our world.
This week, as read through a section the Wall Street Journal, I turned to an article that shared about the Reyes-Mejia family. This was their first Christmas in the United States after being reunited following their separation at the border earlier this year. They celebrated this Christmas in their Houston, Texas apartment that was sparsely decorated with a poincetta, some pine branches and some presents gifted to them by their attorney. These children were some of the 2,667 (two thousand, six hundred and sixty-seven) children separated from their parents at the border earlier this year. 131 (one hundred and thirty-one) children are currently living in separation from their parents. These are the questions and struggles of injustice that we bring into this space. The church is the place that as we listen and question, we turn toward the Holy and seek prophetic action. We take on Christ’s call and mission to speak out upon injustice and embody the Kin-dom of God in the expected—and unexpected—places are in need of God’s love.
As we approach the New Year, this is for many a time of reflection. We reflect upon all the events that have occurred over the past year in our own lives and on the events that have occurred in our world. Listening, we turn inward and bring to question the ways in which we want to change or improve. Some of us even make resolutions—which are more commonly broken within the first few weeks. Despite our previously failed resolutions, this New Year is a time to listen and look ahead. It’s time of examination and looking to reconnect our lives purpose and intentionality. Today’s lectionary epistle speaks to our purpose and calling as individuals of the Church. In Colossians, we are remined that
“as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, [we are to] clothe [ourselves] with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. [We are to] Bear with each other and forgive one another… And over all these virtues [we are to] put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
This epistle is a call that root ourselves is these virtues of love and unity as we pursue our calling as individuals in the church.
With the New Year upon us, we—here are UBC—are continuing in a journey of reflection and discernment. In this interim period, we are listen and question. We are listening to our past…to one-another…to our Sacred Scripture… and to the needs of our neighbor. We are asking the questions of identity: who we’ve been, who are we now, and who do we want to be as a faith community. We are listening to where Christ is calling us to be here on this corner of 22nd and Guadalupe.
As we conclude this holiday season and begin a new year, I invite you listen and search for the unexpected ways in which Christ is calling you and calling us—here at UBC— to respond faithfully in proclaiming the love of God in our world. Amen.