A Sermon for Sunday December 27, Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church, The First Sunday Of Christmas, Luke 2:41-52 and Colossians 3:12-17
There’s been an awakening. Have you felt it? The Dark side, and the Light.
Those are the words that the sinister Supreme Leader Snoke says to his young apprentice Kylo Ren, a masked Darth Vader want-to-be, during the latest installment in the Star Wars movie series: Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
Three decades after jedi master Luke Skywalker and his friends have shattered the Empire by blowing up the Death Star and defeating The Emperor and Vader in Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi, the dark side of the force is rising once again.
And this time it appears in the form of the Nazi-like First Order, an organization led by Snoke and Ren, which is determined to rule the galaxy and extinguish the light side of the force, which is beginning to manifest itself in the life of a young woman named Rey.
Living alone on a desert planet, Rey survives by daily scavenging parts from wrecked space ships to buy meager amounts of bread to eat. Throughout The Force Awakens, Rey displays cleverness, compassion, kindness, humility, bravery and resiliency as she learns the ways of the Force and battles the Dark Side of The First Order.
For Star Wars fans and regular film goers, Rey has become an instant favorite, a powerful heroine for the 21st century. But some of the characters in the film, both good and bad, don’t fully understand her.
Even though these characters are well acquainted with the story of Luke and Vader and have seen the Force at work, they don’t recognize Rey’s unique gifts.
There’s been an awakening of the light side of the force in their galaxy. They have felt it. The light. The dark. They know it has to do with Rey.
But they’re not sure what to with this immense power associated with her. And so they put Rey in a box made of their expectations about how a young woman should act, which of course, she defies at every turn during the film.
Similarly, there’s been an awakening of a powerful force in our universe. We celebrate it every year in the seasons of Advent and Christmas:
–The light of the peasant child born in a smelly, dirty manger that got the attention of angels, shepherds and magi and frightened a terrible murderous king.
–The light of the child who grew up to be man who–with only the clothes on his back and the sandals on his feet–would share a whole lot of love and grace with the poor, the oppressed and the sinners.
–The light of Christ that shines in the dark and which the dark cannot overcome.
We’ve felt this awakening. The Light in the dark.
But we’re not always sure of what to make of Christ’s birth or how to respond to this powerful force of Light in our lives.
According to today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is 12 years old when he and his family go to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. Biblical scholars point out that a 12-year-old boy wasn’t “just a kid” by Israel’s standards—“he is becoming a man.” Jesus, like all 12-year-old boys of the time, is entering young adulthood. He is learning more about life and the world. He is discovering his purpose and calling.
Unlike his peers, though, Jesus is beginning to embrace his identity as savior and redeemer of all of creation. Jesus, scholars say, “isn’t just Mary’s boy or Joseph’s son. Jesus has a direct relationship with God as his Father, and he knows his life will follow a path of working for God.”
Oddly, though, Jesus’ mother Mary and stepdad Joseph appear to have forgotten about Jesus relationship with God and don’t seem to appreciate that their missing son is in the only place he could be: God’s sanctuary, preparing for his ministry.
And even after Jesus questions them, the gospel writer says Mary and Joseph were still unable to understand him.
Maybe they were so wrought with emotions that all they could think about was getting their boy home and nothing else. It’s a lot of pressure, for sure, to be the caregivers of Emmanuel—God-with-us who is both perfectly human and perfectly divine. And I suppose Jesus could’ve cut Mary and Joseph some slack and not talked back to them when they were clearly distressed.
However, I think there is something more to this gospel passage than a lesson to be learned about the relationship between parents and teens or that Jesus’ family life is a lot like anyone’s with mishaps and misunderstandings.
With no disrespect to Mary and Joseph’s parenting and their genuine concern for their son, I’d like to suggest that this incident says more about their and our desire to make Christ stay within the boundaries we set for him. And assumptions that Christ will stay there.
Mary and Joseph expect Jesus to stay with the caravan of travelers (extended family members and neighbors from their home in Galilee) and to not leave. When they discover Jesus is missing and search for him, the temple is the last place they check. And when they see him inside talking with the rabbis, they feel Jesus has mistreated them.
But it’s kind of silly that they’re acting this way because this is not just any missing Jewish kid. This is Jesus. Son of God. Savior of all.
His question to them, “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” makes a lot of good sense.
Where else would he go but to the temple? Why else would he be there than to be about God’s business of building a kingdom where the good news would be brought to the poor and the captive would be released and the blind would recover sight and the oppressed would go free?
None of this about Jesus was new to Mary and Joseph. They knew Jesus was God-in-the-flesh and the One who would conquer the Roman Empire that ruled over them and save the world from sin and death.
But maybe they didn’t know what to do with all that knowledge at the time. It was probably too overwhelming to contemplate on most days and much easier to see Jesus as an ordinary child who would always obediently stay by their side and never leave.
So rather than focusing on Jesus’ true identity and purpose, they chose to cling to a different version that placed Jesus in a box or within boundaries defined by their own view and expectations of him as a regular ole dutiful Jewish son.
Because when Jesus defied those views and expectations, as he so often does in the New Testament and life, Mary and Joseph panicked!
In the moment that they discovered Jesus was missing, they never stopped to consider that he might actually be safe or that he might be somewhere else doing God’s work—the work he was born to do.
They just freaked out.
And the truth is that we’re no different from Mary and Joseph.
We know and feel deep in our hearts that this child is the harbinger of hope, peace, love and joy. This baby laying in the hay, this 12-year-old boy in the temple, is the most creative, loving and merciful being there ever was, is, or will be, and this being, this God-with-us, cares about each and every one of us.
There’s been an awakening. We know it. We feel it.
And yet, we don’t always act on what we know and feel and what we say we believe. The entire concept of Jesus can be so difficult to comprehend, let alone respond to, at times that we choose to keep a much more manageable version of God-with-us for ourselves; we unfortunately put Jesus in boxes and within boundaries of our making.
Maybe it’s the one called home where Jesus is more known, read, talked and prayed about than anywhere else.
Or it’s the location known as the neighborhood where all the good Christians live and raise their families.
Or it could be the state of residence where the most devout believers of Jesus work and pay taxes and vote.
Or maybe it’s the nation where Jesus’ teachings have lived and thrived for more than 200 years.
Or quite possibly it’s the church with the most friendly and welcoming and inclusive congregation.
Whatever the box or boundary may be, when we turn around and realize Jesus is no longer where we thought we put him, we panic. We become frantic and upset and indignant:
Why isn’t Jesus close by so we bring him home and keep an eye on him?!?! What do you mean Jesus is far from here and with people who are so vastly different from us?!?! How could this be?!?!
No matter how accustomed we become to the boxes we make and the boundaries we set, Christ can never be contained.
Christ is always with the people and in the places we least expect. And when we try to keep Christ in, we inevitably shut others out—those whom Christ also calls beloved.
The apostle Paul reminds us to “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.”
The awakening of Christ’s Light is not a force that we can fully comprehend or always understand in utmost detail. And it’s definitely not something we can keep and manage in our comfort zones.
Instead it is a force that knows no bounds as it connects and flows through every living thing—a force that continually calls us to boundlessly share love and peace everywhere we roam.
We just have to set aside our own expectations and boxes and allow the Light to dwell within—filling our hearts, enveloping us completely and guiding all of our steps.
That, my friends, is not make-believe. It is true…all of it.
Biblical scholar quotes come from editors notes in The Voice Bible
All photos come from Google Images