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By Pastor Steven Molin
Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Christmas is a time to gather with families. Parents and children and in-laws and outlaws; we gather with these ones we love, and exchange hugs and gifts and joy. I did it Wednesday night and Thursday with my family, and I hope you did, too. Next to the birth of the Savior, it is, I think, the greatest thing that happens at Christmas, sharing our time with family and friends.
These days, of course, the kids come to our house, but I recall a time long ago, when the gathering place was my parent’s basement. My brothers still lived with them, Cheryl and I were married and starting our own families, so we loaded our cars and headed home on Christmas Eve. It was always a joyful time, and the schedule never seemed to change. Hors d’oeuvres were served in the living room. We called them hors d’oeuvres, but they were actually just wieners on tooth picks and some Ritz crackers. (We weren’t very fancy at our house!) Those who were old enough would be offered a glass of wine, and then we would each grab a plate and fill it with food, and then find somewhere to sit and eat; not an easy thing to do with almost two dozen people in my parent’s small home.
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Next, of course, was the opening of gifts. It was chaos, with wrapping paper and ribbon everywhere, as my much younger brothers and Cheryl’s kids and our own tore into their presents. One Christmas Eve, about two hours into our celebration, Cheryl asked where Sarah was; little Sarah, her youngest, who was two years old at the time. We looked in the bedrooms, we looked in the kitchen, we even looked under the piles of wrapping paper and ribbon; Sarah was not to be found! Finally, Cheryl asked Greg “Did you bring her in from the van?” “No” Greg said, “I carried Emily and Tina in, I thought you brought Sarah!” My sister dashed out to the driveway, opened the van door and found her daughter asleep in the backseat!
I told you that story because, last evening in our sanctuary, Sarah got married to TJ. When did she grow up? When did she become a beautiful, bright and polite 27-year-old woman? It seems like just yesterday that she was romping around in feetie pajamas, and now she is a bride. If you are a parent, you know this is true; that children are cuddled in our arms one day, and seemingly overnight, they are grown. This is the very nature of parenthood. Yesterday, Stefan and Kari Thilke had their third baby girl – Linsie Kate – and before her parents know it, Linsie will be the bride. No wonder the cliché is so often spoken: “Enjoy the time when they are small because they grow up so quickly.”
On that first Christmas, when the census had been completed in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph packed up their infant son and returned the 80 miles to Nazareth. Day by day, the child grew. He probably went to school. He likely went with Joseph to the synagogue on the Sabbath. When he was old enough, he learned the carpentry trade from his father. And on festival days, as required by Jewish tradition, Joseph and Jesus would travel to Jerusalem to worship God.
So this is where we find them in this morning’s gospel lesson. Three days ago, Jesus was born in the manger, and today he is 12 years old and has traveled with his family to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. There was food, there was celebration and there was reunion. And after a couple of days of partying, the caravan with which they traveled turned back toward Nazareth. At suppertime on that first day, Mary began looking for Jesus. “Joseph, is Jesus with you?” “No, I thought he was with you!” They frantically scoured the crowd with whom they were traveling, but Jesus was nowhere to be found. They must have left him in Jerusalem, 15 miles away. The next morning, they traced their steps, looking throughout that large city for their adolescent son. Finally, they found him in the temple with the rabbis and teachers.
Legend tells us that Jesus was there, a 12-year-old boy, teaching the scholars. But Luke doesn’t say he was teaching; Luke says Jesus was “listening to the teachers, asking them questions.” This is how Jews pass on the faith, you know; by having the young ones ask questions. Murray Haar, our Jewish friend in Sioux Falls says that, when he was a child, every day when he came home from school, his father would say “Did you ask any good questions today, Murray?” We usually said to our kids “What did you learn in school today?” But Jewish parents say “What questions did you ask?”
So Jesus was asking the rabbis questions. It is undoubtedly something his parents taught him to do. Mary and Joseph taught Jesus to be a respectful, curious, compassionate young man. We often think Jesus turned out the way he did because he was the Son of God; that he supernaturally learned how to read and write, how to say “please” and “thank you.” We tend to think Jesus grew up in a vacuum, without benefit of a mom and a dad who taught him, and trained him, and maybe even grounded him a time or two. Our Roman Catholic friends think we Protestants don’t give enough honor to Mary, and that’s probably true. Joseph as well. They taught Jesus lessons, they were role models for him, and trained him up in the way he should go. Of course they did; they were his parents.
But for Mary and Joseph, like us, the time passed way too quickly. One day, Jesus was a child in a manger…another day, he was a 12-year-old asking questions in the temple. One day, Mary watched him playing with his friends…another day she watched him die on the cross. This week, we celebrate Christmas and the birth of a Savior…in just eight weeks we will enter the Season of Lent and consider the death of a Savior. Until the advent of the VCR, I never heard the phrase “fast forward” but it exactly describes our lives. Time passes, just like that.
What lesson do you need to glean from this gospel text that stands before us today? Do you need to learn that you should enjoy each day of your life to the fullest, because you do not know what tomorrow holds? That’s something I need to learn. It seems like so much of my time is spent rehashing something that has happened in the past, or dreaming about something that might come in the future. As a result, I don’t fully appreciate each day. Someone once said “Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is not yet here, but today is a gift; that’s why it’s called ‘the present.’” In the New Year, I want to slow down a little bit and savor my moments more. If I made resolutions, that would be one.
Or maybe the lesson you gain from this text is that Jesus was born for a specific purpose in this world, and that was to die for our sins. God didn’t plot out this story one page at a time. It wasn’t just a coincidence that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem, or that Wise Men brought them gifts, or that when John the Baptist blessed Jesus in the Jordan, a dove landed on his shoulder, and a voice from heaven announced “This is my Son, listen to him.” Jesus came into the world for a specific purpose, and it was to save you from your sins. St. Augustine once said that if you were the only sinful person on the planet, Jesus would have come to save only you. Maybe that’s what you needed to learn today.
Finally, this: if you are a parent of little ones, maybe what you needed to be reminded of today is the tremendous responsibility we have in raising our children. Everything we do, and everything we say…little ears and little eyes are listening and watching and emulating us. Like it or not, we are role models for our children.
Members of Our Savior’s received a letter ten days ago about a financial challenge in our church. Our ministry is bursting, and at year’s end, we’ve been stretched financially. Many of you have sent in year-end gifts, and it has been gratifying to see, but I want to tell you about one gift in particular. Last Sunday morning, Sheri Prigge showed me a baggie filled with change; quarters and dimes and pennies, I would estimate about $7 in there. And there was a note, handwritten, which said “year end gift.” And it came, anonymously, from one of the children in our Sunday School. I can only imagine that it was the result of a kitchen conversation between mom and dad about a year end gift to the church. And some little boy or girl overheard it and concluded that if mom and dad are giving a gift, then I will too. And five days before Christmas, the piggy bank gets emptied.
Well, lots of lessons from these verses in Luke today, but perhaps the simplest is that in a world full of questions and challenges and disappointments and grief, there is hope…because a child was born in Bethlehem, and God chose us. Thanks be to God. Amen.
— Copyright 2003, Steven Molin. Used by permission.