Sermon Text: Luke 2:41-52
Merry Christmas! During the Christmas Eve service, we sang “Away in the Manger.” When we sang that line, “The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes,” I turned to Don Martin and said, “Wanna bet?” Of course, Jesus cried as a baby…. It was that sweet little newborn baby cry, which is very mild compared to the full-throated cry of a six-month old! The little Lord Jesus cried because he was human, just like any other baby.
I think that we Christians sometimes believe that Jesus came into the world like Superman, with superpowers and invulnerability. But this is not what the Bible teaches. The amazing healing miracles, the feeding miracles, the walking on water, and whatever else Jesus accomplishes, he accomplishes not because he possessed any innate abilities that you or I don’t possess, but because of the Holy Spirit working through him as a consequence of his obedience to the Father. It’s the same way we accomplish good works. Remember, with faith the size of a mustard seed, Jesus tells us, we can move mountains—not because of what we can do, but what God does.
No, Jesus comes into the world completely, 100 percent human. As Paul tells us in Philippians: Although he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. Why is this important? Because otherwise we imagine that Jesus had an easier time being human than we do—that when, for example, Jesus was being tempted by Satan in the wilderness, he easily dismisses each temptation with a wave of his hand… because, after all, Jesus is God, and he never really had to struggle to do the right thing, to be true to his best self, to be faithful to God. No, Jesus felt the temptation; otherwise, in what sense could the temptations have really been thought of as tempting? On the contrary, the author of Hebrews says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”
The point is that in this passage from Luke we get a small but fascinating glimpse into the mystery of Christ’s incarnation. What does it mean that Jesus Christ—who is also God, the Second Person of the Trinity—is also fully human? Well… What is Jesus doing in the temple? Is this 12-year-old boy answering questions and teaching all the priests and rabbis? No. He’s listening to the teachers and asking them questions. Jesus, who, as Luke tells us, “increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor,” was not born knowing all the answers: he was born like you and me. He had to learn and grow just like the rest of us—only he did so without sin. Jesus had to grow into the person that would later be anointed by the Spirit to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind and let the oppressed go free. [Luke 4:18]
How could it be any other way? Jesus wasn’t less human because he was also God; he was more so. He was the complete human; the perfect human. This is one way of understanding how Jesus gives us salvation: Jesus lived that life of perfect submission and obedience to the Father that we need to live but are unable to. Jesus is God entering into time and space and being born fully human, yet without sin, and through living this life of perfect submission to God the Father—including submission to the point of dying on a cross—restores for us the image of God that our sin damaged beyond repair. This was a victory for all humanity. Through faith and baptism we become a part of Christ’s life, and we share in his victory. And Christ freely shares this victory with us. But even though it’s free, it’s not cheap. Because once we become a part of Jesus Christ, and make him Lord of our life, we are required to live like him.
This is not easy, but he teaches us how to do it. This may sound like a really obvious thing for a preacher to say, but it’s still true: First, we need to go to church! That’s essentially what Jesus is doing in today’s scripture. He tells his frantic parents, who have been searching for him for three days, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” That’s a good tip for us in our lives. If we’ve lost Jesus, and we can’t find him—and maybe we feel as if God is a million miles away—the best place to look is in our Father’s house, right here at church, in a community of fellow believers. If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for us. Jesus teaches us that good things happen when believers gather. Jesus says, for example, that where two or three are gathered in his name, he is present among us in a special way. Church isn’t anything special because what we Christians bring to it; we are of course sinners and hypocrites; it’s special because of what the Spirit of Christ does when we’re here.
Jesus gives us an example to follow when he gets older and begins his public ministry. What do we see him doing often in the gospels? Taking time out of his busy schedule of teaching, preaching, and healing to do what? To be with his Father in prayer. In Chapter 1 of Mark’s gospel we’re told that Jesus went to a deserted place early in the morning to pray. I suppose if Jesus lived in our age, being in a deserted place would mean turning off his Blackberry or his iPhone from time to time. His disciples went looking for him and when they find him, they said, “Everyone is searching for you.” Everyone is searching for you! “Jesus, don’t you know that you have very important business to attend to? What are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere wasting time? You could be doing really good and important work healing the world if you weren’t out here!” Don’t you know that’s what they were thinking?
I think I sometimes hear those same nagging questions in my head when I take time each morning or evening to pray: There’s more important work to do! Why are sitting here doing nothing?
Jesus understands that in order to do his important work, in order to accomplish the mission that God has for him, he has to be prepared—spiritually prepared. If we as a church and as individuals are going to be faithful to our Father and fulfill our particular mission that he’s set before us, we also need to be prepared spiritually.
Our problem is that we’re often much less like Jesus and more like Mary and Joseph in today’s scripture. First, let me say that I am very sympathetic with them. I can only imagine how terrifying it is to lose their child. I got lost one time when I was a little boy—not for three days but three minutes. It happened at Cloth World. Cloth World is where my mom went to buy sewing patterns, fabrics, and thread. Some of you will remember Cloth World—otherwise known as the world’s most boring store. It offered nothing for a little boy to do to entertain himself. Well, except for one thing: It had these racks of spools of different colored thread. And they were slanted downward, on an incline, so that if you take a spool from the rack the other spools would roll down. So that’s kind of fun: Push the spools up to the top of the rack and watch them roll down; push them up and watch them roll down. I was playing with these spools of thread, entertaining myself for a few minutes, when I turned around and my mom and my sisters were nowhere to be found. I started crying, and a nice store clerk found me, asked me my name, and called for “Brent’s mom” to come to the customer service desk and retrieve her child. It was terrifying for me to be lost, even for a few minutes; I can’t imagine how frightening it was to be Mary and Joseph.
So while I’m totally sympathetic with them for being upset at Jesus, it almost seems as if they forgot who Jesus was and that their lives were now a part of a bigger picture; they had forgotten about the angel Gabriel coming to Mary, or the angel coming to Joseph in a dream, or Mary’s miraculous pregnancy, or the shepherds or the remarkable light show of angels proclaiming “good news of great joy,” or the Bethlehem star or the magi. They had forgotten about all the amazing events of just twelve years earlier. They had forgotten, in other words, about Christmas. I suspect that when Luke says that Mary “treasured these things in her heart,” that was her remembering again who Jesus was, what he was about, and what that meant for her own life.
Our challenge is to remember… When we come to worship and celebrate Holy Communion, our Lord tells us to take the wine and the bread “in remembrance of me.” When we take time out of our busy schedule for prayer each day, we remember that we are God’s beloved children. I wonder: After the tree has been taken down and the lights put away and all the gifts make their way to drawers, closets, and cabinets, and we no longer have Christmas music playing in the background, and the parties are over, and we return to work and to school and we resume our busy and often hectic lives, will we forget that the birth of this child means good news of great joy and this good news changes everything about how we live our lives and love one another?
Will we forget about Christmas?