Yesterday’s sermon from Luke 2:41-52
There’s nothing like watching a child grow up. They are fun, funny, often insightful in unexpected ways. Think about the parents (or grandparents, aunts and uncles) of young children that you know.
It’s likely that they will often have a tale to tell about the funny thing the children in their lives did that week; or the sweet thing little Molly said, and young Asher’s newest talent of stacking blocks and knocking them over.
People who are blessed to love and be about, young children in their lives love to share stories and compare antics because it’s a shared experience, and because they know childhood seems to last but a fleeting moment.
Childhoods observed and remembered are among the great joys of our human existence.
When parents chronicle the antics of their children, hilarious things that they have said in all seriousness, stifling laughs and allowing children to explore their own little worlds, parents create a kind of time capsule.
Collected papers and drawings, baby books, and home movies become the chronicles of childhood. These are fun to relive as the children grow and become teenagers, young adults, engaged, married, and parents themselves.
They are markers of life lived, love poured out, and dreams fulfilled and reimagined.
Few things in life fill me with wonder like watching dear friends and relatives become parents.
It’s kind of a holy shift that happens, beautiful to behold when someone becomes a mother.
The magnitude of responsibility and worry that comes with this great blessing is serious and wondrous, and I know some very strong mothers who have grown beautifully into their roles as parents.
I wonder what those preparatory experiences were like for my friends who are mothers.
What did they do with all of the new things that they were witnessing and experiencing, in the carrying and preparing for, birthing or adopting, and in the parenting of their children?
As they looked at their babies were they pondering in their own minds the wonders of tiny bodies when they enter the world?
Were they anxious about their abilities to parent a baby?
Did they look at their little ones and wonder who they would become, what kind of talents they would develop, and what mark they would leave on the world?
When Jesus was first born, and people came from all over to meet him and to shower him with gifts, Mary treasured all of these moments recording them and remembering them so that she could revisit them later and wonder at this child of hers.
Wondering what he would be like, what talents he would develop and what mark he would leave on the world.
We find her in this same place of wonder and pondering when Jesus goes missing and is found in the temple.
As much as we, in modern times, love to chronicle and tell and retell the stories of our children or grandchildren; or nieces and nephews, this passage from Luke is the only account that we are given of Jesus as a child.
And he certainly does embody all of the characteristics of any human child: impulsivity, a disregard for parents schedules and feelings, a disrespectful response to his mother, and later, a commitment to obeying his parents when they return home.
It’s been a long few days. Mary, Joseph and Jesus have traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of the Passover. As devoted Jews, their lives are built around celebrations of faith and God’s provision throughout their existence as a cultural group.
Traveling to the temple in Jerusalem is an important part of the Passover festival and they travel as part of a caravan.
Jesus has likely been passing the time on this 3 day journey by bouncing from family group to family group, spending time with his friends and their families.
But at the end of the day, each family reunites to have supper together and recount the day’s travel adventures.
After 3 days of such travel, Jesus and his parents have arrived in Jerusalem. They have shared in a Passover meal with their fellow travelers and each has vowed to gather again as a community, next year, in Jerusalem.
The next morning, the caravan departs, lively conversations of their Passover reflections echoing through the group. It’s a good day for traveling, and everyone’s spirits are lifted as their souls have been fed.
As families regroup at the end of the first day’s travel, Jesus is nowhere to be found.
A panicked Mary and Joseph set off back toward Jerusalem- a day’s journey which they have already completed in the other direction.
Hoping they have enough grain for the camels to sustain this prolonging of their trip, and praying all the way that Jesus will be found safe and sound, Mary and Joseph head toward Jerusalem and the temple, which is where they eventually find Jesus.
Travel worn and frazzled with worry, the sight of their son, calmly sitting among the temple leaders and engaging with them as though nothing else matters is, all at once comforting and infuriating.
“How could you do this to us?” Mary’s voice shakes with fear and fury. We have been looking everywhere for you. We had to double back the journey we just made. You’ve treated us like an afterthought; how could you?”
Jesus’ cool response implying that they acted foolishly in worrying and frantically looking for him is a bit much for Mary.
Jesus’ words that he must be among “his father’s house” remind her of the angel’s words all those years ago and she falls silent now as she did then, pondering in her heart what these things she doesn’t fully understand mean, for her and for the world.
As they begin their long journey back home, Mary rides in silence; treasuring once again, the childhood experiences of Jesus, and pondering the possibilities and implications of this latest encounter with their son: a child of heaven who entered the world through a very earthly path.
What did it mean that he astounded authorities in scripture, who have spent their life studying and pouring over the sacred text, with his questions and then with his answers?
What did it mean for Jesus to carry the characteristics of God in his human body?
What did it mean for her, to be a human parent to a divine child, and how would she navigate all of the things that she did not yet understand?
How was Mary being called, over and over through the carrying, birthing and parenting of Jesus, to be a caregiver of God in human form;
to tend the truths of the gospel of God’s love come to earth, and to share this truth with others?
What a huge responsibility she had, to tend to this gift of love made fresh; day by day. But also, what a gift to witness first hand the unfolding wonder as Jesus grew in divine and human favor.
The possibilities she pondered in her heart throughout Jesus’ growing up years became flesh and dwelled among her and the world.
Mary pondered all the things Jesus could be, and tried her best to understand what it could mean that God came to live among us, to love us and fill us with peace and joy, and hope.
Each time a pang of anxiety hit and she thought “this is too much for me,” she returned in her mind to the tiny stable in Bethlehem.
The blessings whispered over her and Joseph and baby Jesus, and the inner strength she found in holding all these blessings and possibilities in her heart guided her through the doubts and fears.
What do all these things mean to you? And to me?
When you lie awake at night, thinking about things, what possibilities do you ponder when you think about what it really means that Jesus came and lived and loved and left us an example to follow?
What does it really mean to care for love of God among us and within us; how are we being called to tend it and let it flourish in our own lives?
What possibilities do you ponder about what Jesus is doing and can do with your life?
I ponder what it would be like for faith communities everywhere to embody love and justice, nurturing these two virtues into what renowned preacher Otis Moss III calls the two children of love and justice: transformation and liberation.
Transformation and liberation make us aware of those among us who are overlooked. In our production-focused society this includes the aging.
Isolated elders are overlooked, and we as a faith community can, Jesus’ transforming liberation, help them to be free of the notion that God has forgotten them.
Others in our society are often overlooked: because of their skin color, or because of who they love; because of how much money they have or don’t have, or because how they look doesn’t match who they are inside.
Through Jesus’ transforming liberation, we can be a voice of hope and welcome in their lives; a listening ear to hear their struggles and a comforting presence to sit with them until their despair finally finds a ray of hope.
Jesus grew into a living representation of love, and became an example for us to follow.
And through faith communities like ours, full of Marys like you and like me, who bear witness to that love unfolding, and who ponder possibilities for putting that love in action, Jesus continues to grow.
When we doubt if we can do it, when we think “this is too much,” we can travel back to the stable in Bethlehem and sit, and ponder.
In Mary’s willingness to “let it be unto her as the angel said,” and in her faithfulness in tending to the radiance of God in the person of Jesus, we find our own calling to do the same with our own lives.
I pray that we, like Mary, will always look to understand what God with us truly means; And that Jesus will continue to grow in us. I pray that his love will spread throughout the earth, through us.