Christmas Homily 2009

Yes, Virginia, Baby Jesus Did Grow Up!

Homily for the First Sunday After Christmas

 

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 Samuel was ministering before the LORD, a boy wearing a linen ephod. His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the LORD repay you with children by this woman for the gift that she made to the LORD”; and then they would return to their home. Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the LORD and with the people.

 

Colossians 3:12-17 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

 

Luke 2:41-52  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 ten year old girl went with a group of family and friends to see the 
Christmas lights at various locations in her town. At one church they 
stopped and got out to look at a beautiful nativity scene. “Isn’t 
that beautiful?” said the little girl’s grandmother. “Look at all the 
animals, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.” “Yes, Grandma,” replied 
the grand-daughter. It’s really nice. But there’s one thing that 
bothers me. Isn’t baby Jesus ever going to grow up?  He’s the same 
size he was last year!”

In the movie Talledega Nights, Will Ferrell plays a famous race car driver named Ricky Bobby, and Ricky Bobby has a unique way of praying: “Dear Lord baby Jesus, lyin’ there in your ghost manger, just lookin’ at your Baby Einstein developmental videos, learnin’ ’bout shapes and colors. I would like to thank you for bringin’ me and my mama together  . . .” His wife interrupts him and says, “Sweetie … Jesus did grow up, you don’t always have to call him baby, it’s a bit odd and all, praying to a baby.” Ricky answers: “Look, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m sayin’ grace. When you say grace, you can say it to Grownup Jesus or Teenage Jesus or Bearded Jesus or whoever you want.

 

It may seem to some that we return each Christmas to exactly the same place, and nothing changes, so it can seem like all we’re doing is looking backward for no particular reason or purpose other than habit or nostalgia.  And baby Jesus just stays locked in a time capsule, like a display at the museum.

 

It’s interesting that Jesus’ ministry was only about three years.  Most of his life was lived in obscurity, and the New Testament offers almost no details of his life from childhood to his appearance as an adult.  So, in the story of Jesus visiting the Temple and becoming separated from his parents, Luke gives us a glimpse to suggest that Jesus wasn’t just wasting his time.  He was growing up, and, as it is for all of us, striking out on your own and becoming your own person is part of that.   He was exploring, he was learning, he was making connections, and trying his wings.  

 

We baptize people to start them on a Christian journey.  Remaining at the beginning – the entry point – is useless. We end up just getting in the way of new folks who come to that same starting point, because, if they find us “just sitting there,” they get the sense that that is the norm – that being a Christian means just sitting there, and that it’s OK never to set off toward first base.  

 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is portrayed as moving forward, moving on — moving beyond the circle of his family, and into a much broader sense of his mission and purpose in life.  When a child is small and vulnerable, a family’s job is to contain the child in a web of safety, but there comes a point when the child needs to step beyond that.  If you stay too close to home, you risk not finding your own way but just living to please others.  Luke shows us that by the age of 12, Jesus already knew something of his true identity and place in the world.

 

There is a message here that says it’s important not to underestimate our children.  Years ago, while visiting a church one Sunday while on holiday, as we entered, a well-meaning church person stepped forward and started handing toys and colouring books to the kids.  In other words, the implication was that they had no expectation that the children would take part in the liturgy, and needed a distraction.  My kids were put off by it, and one of them said something like “We’re not here to play; we’re here to worship!” They felt they were being dismissed and underestimated.

 

This is what we do to children and to ourselves, when we make no effort toward maturing in faith or when we assume the material is not sufficient to move and grow with us. As Luke tells it, Jesus found his way to a place where he could engage at a deeper level.  This is a process we all need to undergo, and like Jesus we need wise, experienced and patient mentors – people who take us seriously, people who have lived the faith and grappled with the deep issues, people who will receive our questions without being threatened or defensive.  Over the years I have encountered so many folks whose faith did not accompany them into adulthood, who, when confronted by complex, difficult, adult issues, simply abandoned their faith, because they had allowed it to remain stalled in kindergarten.  We as a church need to bear responsibility for this – we have done little to help or oblige people to make those transitions, and we have consented when they have asked us to remain quaint and one-dimensional.

 

The second aspect of Jesus’ little adventure is about identity and belonging.  It may seem offensive to some that Jesus distances himself from his human parents and makes reference to his heavenly Father as having a prior and superior claim on his life.  It is a way of saying that he chose to see himself primarily as a son of God, and that he knows his proper place is in the larger scheme of things.  It’s a comment about ultimate things.  Especially at Christmas, we can become painfully aware of what a cult we have made out of the idea of family, and those who don’t have the “ideal” family feel inferior and left out, and probably envious and angry as well.  Jesus, in stating that God’s claim, the divine claim on his life, is primary, puts family and other connections in perspective, and thus creates an opportunity for belonging for everyone on the planet.  If a family or community or relationship is truly strong, its borders stretch – it is not threatened by growth and does not need to take a rigid and defensive stance against the world, as if the world were some kind of threat.   One of the Church’s essential tasks is to encourage that factor to be present in people’s lives, so they have reason to hope, so they have reason to look beyond where they are, and not have their identity locked in to one dimension.  After all, it is tribal and racial and parochial thinking that causes so many of the world’s biggest problems.

 

This vignette in Luke’s Gospel can suggest to us that “family” can be a larger thing than what we experienced growing up in our homes.  This can be especially good news for people who were subject to neglect or abuse or poverty, and for people who are disconnected or disowned for other reasons. 

 

It’s good to become aware of those people/factors in life that keep you small, belittle you, shame you, and make you afraid to offer your gifts, and to try your wings: controlling parents; authoritarian employers; overzealous coaches; unresolved childhood fears; etc..   Yet another movie reference:  A few years ago, in The Truman Show, Jim Carrey played a man who has been raised, from infancy, in a giant TV studio.  They have made a reality TV show out of his entire life, from infancy onward, creating a whole community around him, with people acting as his friends, his parents, his wife, everything.  Supposedly he has everything he wants, but they have taught him from childhood to be terrified of the horizons, and terrified of attempting any journey, because it is in their interests to keep him small. So while he is supposedly free, he’s not, and in his spirit, he is restless and unfulfilled.  When he begins to break away they actively conspire to prevent him from getting anywhere.  But eventually he does what we all must, which is to break out of the circle of familiarity and safety and into the fullness of life.  It’s a terrific parable of modern life.

 

Christ and Christianity are not intended to keep us small.  If Christmas is not to be a beginning point from which we never depart, or a point to which we return every year empty handed and clueless, it must remind us that we are always on a journey, and encourages a new cycle of exploring and adventure in faith.  It must persuade us of the importance of moving on and maturing in faith, and not becoming absorbed and immobilized in our cuddly time with baby Jesus.

 

I believe it is important to re-visit the Christmas story every year, to look into the manger again, to re-connect with that place of hope and promise, and to allow God to reflect back to us from the manger the image of our truest humanity.  It is good to experience the glow of Christmas, and to delight in the Christ Child for a time, to be refreshed and renewed, but then it’s also good to move forward, to recognize that we have a mission, and that we are to bring the spirit and light of the Christ Child to the cold and dark places of the world.  There is a time to connect with Baby Jesus, and that’s OK, as long as it doesn’t mean we are disconnected from other aspects of Jesus, and the Gospel witness of the life of Jesus itself reveals to us the path toward a mature faith. Seeing Christmas as a beginning that is meant to lead somewhere allows Jesus to be alive, real, not stuck on hold, and not part of some ongoing fantasy.  Then we can move along with him on the journey, on the walk of life.

 

 

 

So, even as we bask in the glow of Christmas spirit,  it might be well to ask: Where does Christmas take you?  Where do you intend to go from here?

 

The Rev. Grant Rodgers

St. John the Apostle Church

Port Moody, BC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I want to believe it’s something like what T. S. Eliot was describing when he said: “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.  (Little Gidding)

 

 

That harkens back to Samuel – serving in the temple from the time he was a child

 

Or perhaps the Dalai Lama – who is chosen (or discerned) when still a child and whose future is not his own from that point on

 

 

But it’s all about growing up – letting go of some things and moving on – you can’t cling to the Christmas tree – it very quickly becomes time to begin living what the Christmas tree symbolized – past Christmas it has served its purpose

 

The circumstances into which we are born affect who we are – but what we become is not just a factor of – deterministic – there are much larger forces at work that can

 

 

A hungry beggar walked up to a plump, well-dressed woman shopping on Robson Street and said: “I haven’t eaten anything for several days.”
She replied (and almost as an envious prayer), “God, I wish I had your willpower.”  Some folks never get past Square One – never get what the Christmas story points toward – and isolated, by itself, it becomes quite useless.  If a branch manager reported back every year end that nothing had happened – because he hadn’t bothered trying — he’d be fired.  We know how that principle works in everyday life, in the real world, but we don’t tend to apply that sense of purpose and accountability to the Gospel – and to the Christmas Story which is only its beginning – that it is meant to lead somewhere – it points beyond the moment – it’s just the beginning.

 

Every year it’s like people show up at the beginning of the story – at Christmas — and again at Easter, at the end of the story – and all we`re missing is everything that is supposed to happen in between.

 

How do you show up at those critical moments of life – like Jesus, to be ready – to know your moment – your calling?  You have to spend time developing – growing – discerning – not just learning a bunch of information but what the information MEANS – which is called wisdom.

 

 – when Jesus went off into the desert and was confronted by Satan – like our ego, Satan knew what the scriptures said, but he didn’t know what they meant.

 

 

In two of the

 

 

lessons this morning we see two children who have been dedicated to the service of God – Samuel, who became one of the greatest prophets; and Jesus, who is the Christ.

 

But both of them are portrayed as having moved on from their infancy and they are busy with

 

Every year we have this huge build-up to Christmas and then very suddenly it’s over – we’re left out in the cold and in the dark, as it were. 

 

 

Cf Scrooge – importance of connecting past present and future

 

Michael Oher – whose amazing story I shared on Christmas Eve (a young black kid from extreme poverty and homelessness who was given a new lease on life by a family who reached out to him and took him in – so that he was able toi fulfill his potential and eventually became a college graduate, and pro football player making millions.)  The movie The Blind Side tells the story of his life.

 

Now that he is successful and no longer faces the prospect of homelessness and poverty, Oher can never forget what he’s endured. He says he can’t pass a homeless person on the street without digging into his pocket and offering money. “I know how hard it is,” he says.

 

In life, each of us inherits a legacy of some sort.  We are all born in to circumstances beyond our control – circumstances that will profoundly affect who we are

 

How the Depression affected many – or WWII – or living in poverty or with parents with alcohol or drug issues – abuse

 

All of these carry a long and usually painfully legacy – and they continue to affect how we react to the world long after the actual circumstances are over

 

Essential to expose children to the great stories of God and faith and human transformation.  Little Samuel and Jesus himself become role models pointing to the importance of learning and mentoring and growing up in the presence and reverence of God

 

Essential that we teach young people their faith has a direction – it’s meant to grow with them –

 

An American farmer named Dan West was ladling out rations of milk to hungry children during the Spanish Civil War when it hit him.”These children don’t need a cup, they need a cow.”

 

West, who was serving as a church relief worker, was in a position of having to decide who would receive the limited rations and who wouldn’t — literally, who would live and who would die. This kind of aid, he knew, would never be enough. So West returned home to form Heifers for Relief, dedicated to ending hunger permanently by providing families with livestock and training so that they “could be spared the indignity of depending on others to feed their children.”

 

In 1944, the first shipment of 17 heifers left York, Pennsylvania, for Puerto Rico, going to families whose malnourished children had never even tasted milk.

 

 

Why heifers? These are young cows that haven’t yet given birth — making them perfect not only for supplying a continued source of milk, but also for supplying a continued source of support. That’s because each family receiving a heifer agrees to “pass on the gift” and donate the female offspring to another family, so that the gift of food is never-ending.

This simple idea of giving families a source of food rather than short-term relief caught on and has continued for almost 60 years. As a result, millions of families in 115 countries are experiencing better health, more income, and the joy of helping others.

 

 

 

The man by the pool 37 years

 

A child shall lead them – out of the mouths of babies and little children .. .

Samuel and Jesus – two children dedicated to God from the time of their infancy

 

 

 

 “Best by” dates —

 

Same old, same old . . .

 

Why doesn’t Baby Jesus ever grow up?

 

Growing in our faith