- The Revd Camellia Flanagan
1 Samuel 2:18-20,26 & Psalm 148; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Saint Paul offers a strategy to help us live for God day by day: Imitate Christ’s compassionate, forgiving attitude; let love guide our life; let the peace of Christ rule in our heart; always be thankful; keep God’s word within us at all times; and live as Jesus Christ’s representative. It is recognised that this is a big ask and an almost impossible task, but we know we are all works in progress and as we journey through life can we begin with forgiveness?
To have a forgiving attitude towards others is remembering how much God has forgiven us. Isit difficult to forgive someone who has wronged us a little, when God has forgiven us so much? When we realize God’s infinite love and forgiveness we find we are helped to love and forgive others.
According to the law, every Jewish man was required to go to Jerusalem three times a year for the great festivals. In the spring the Passover was celebrated by all families and after this, the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread. At 12 years of age Jesus was considered almost an adult and so when the family went to Jerusalem, he didn’t spend a lot of time with his parents during the Festival. Families often travelled in caravans, or a convoy of pack animals and people for protection from robbers along the Palestine roads. It was customary for the women and children to travel at the front of the caravan with the men bringing up the rear. A 12 year old boy conceivably could have been in either group and both Mary and Joseph assumed Jesus was with the other one.
But when the caravan left Jerusalem, Jesus stayed behind absorbed in his discussion with the religious leaders. The temple courts were famous throughout Judea as a place of learning. The apostle Paul studied in Jerusalem, perhaps in the temple courts, under Gamaliel, one of its foremost teachers. At the time of the Passover, the greatest rabbis of the land would assemble to teach and to discuss great truths among themselves. The coming Messiah would no doubt have been a popular discussion topic, for everyone was expecting him soon. Jesus would have been eager to listen and to ask probing questions. It was not his youth, but the depth of his wisdom, that astounded these teachers.
When Mary discovered Jesus missing from the group she would have been fearful that she hadn’t been careful enough with this God-given child, and searched frantically for him. It was entirely natural that Mary rebukes her young son for causing her and Joseph unspeakable anxiety by staying behind in Jerusalem while they searched for him in the three days of their return journey. Any mother or father in our time would react in the same way, foreseeing with dread the beginnings of adolescent rebellion. But Jesus responds without rebellion, sullenness or apology. Instead he speaks of another identity he possesses and another parenthood that has even greater claims upon him. Why were you searching for me?He asks with some surprise and did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? These questions leave Jesus’ parents speechless and give us a glimpse into his childhood. Here we have parents struggling to understand the Son of God responding to his Divine Father and his future life by wanting to be in the temple. Here in this narrative we have Jesus, the Son of God, taking his rightful place in the Temple, in his Father’s house and sending an early signal that he, Jesus, came to reveal the Holy Family of the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit. We are all invited to become part of this family, Mary and Joseph and all of us.
From the Gospel story, the family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus exists because of the family of the Trinity which exists for the sake of this family.
The Trinity is its origin and its goal. The message is that for our earthly family to find its proper place, we need to make Jesus and his Family, the Trinitarian family the centre of our lives. It does not matter what family background we come from; a nuclear family with mum, dad and kids, a single parent family, LGBTQIA family, or no family at all. Some people never know their family members for any number of reasons. In Christian terms it is not one’s background that matters but whether Jesus is the centre of our lives and whether we live by Jesus’ values.
All the virtues that Paul encourages us to develop are perfectly bound together by love. As we clothe ourselves with the virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with each other and forgiving grievances, the last garment we are to put on is love, which holds all of the others in place. To practice any list of virtues without practicing love will lead to distortion, fragmentation and stagnation. As Christians we need to live in peace. To live in peace does not mean that suddenly all differences in opinion are eliminated, but it does require that loving Christians work together despite their differences. Such love is not a feeling, but a decision to meet others’ needs.
To live in love, leads to peace between individuals, and among the members of the body of the believers. Paul is in effect, telling us to let Christ’s peace be the umpire or referee in our hearts. Our hearts are the centre of conflict because there our feelings and our desires clash: our fears and hopes, distrust and trust, jealousy and love. How can we deal with these constant conflicts and live as God wants, we might ask? Paul explains that we need to decide between conflicting elements by using the rule of peace. Which choice will promote peace in our souls and in our families, our church, and our society?
Although the early Christians had access to the Old Testament and freely used it, they did not yet have the New Testament or any other Christian books or letters to study. Their stories and teachings about Christ were memorized and passed on from person to person. Sometimes the teachings were set to music, and so music became an important part of Christian worship and education.
Paul is asking all Christians to bring honour to God and the name of Jesus Christ in every aspect of our daily living. No one can keep all the virtues Paul listed and no doubt he knew this, he also knew that we all need forgiveness and the grace of God to live the Christian life and as we live into this lifestyle we grow in grace and virtue. As a Christian we represent Christ at all times wherever we go and whatever we say. Can we ask ourselves the serious question about what impression do people have of Christ when they see and talk with us? What changes would we make in our life in order to honour Christ?