Christmas is over. Baby Jesus is gone. Now what?

My niece, Natalie, just started driving. On December 18th, she had her 16th birthday party and on Monday morning, December 18th, she woke her mom, my sister, excited and ready to take her driving test.  Friends, she passed her drivers test by only a few points and then she drove her mom home. Then, we all watched through facetime, as Natalie drove away from her house to navigate the highways and busy streets alone. 

At the end of the day, my sister received a phone call from Natalie. Natalie had ventured out to target and had managed to park the car at the back of the parking lot far away from everyone else as her mom had instructed. But after having some fun in target, Natalie came back outside to find that her car was surrounded by two very large trucks and she had no idea how to get out.  My sister has told me that Natalie gets very overwhelmed and this seemed to be a situation that would cause her to sit down, cry and call her mom to come get her. But amazingly enough, Natalie was able to get creative and figure out what to do all on her own.  So here is what she did. She found two women who were walking out of target and she told them that she had just passed her driving test this morning and now she was stuck with no ability to see her way out from between these two trucks.  These two women came to her rescue by stopping traffic so that Natalie could back out safely and easily without fearing that she would be hit by another vehicle that she could not see coming. 

Alone. Sometimes, when we are alone we rise to the occasion, get creative, and figure out a solution. Other times, we may end up in tears and needing to call our mommies. 

In our text for today, Jesus is all alone. His extended family and friends had been visiting Jerusalem for the Passover celebrations and while they all kept each other company on the journey home, they did not notice that Jesus was missing!

This story in the gospel of Luke is a transition story between the birth of Jesus and the beginning of his ministry. 

We also are in a transition.  We have been celebrating the birth of Jesus, but now Christmas is over, baby Jesus and all our decorations are being put away for next year, festivities are over, and visitors have gone back home.  Sometimes, we forget Jesus until the Easter celebration.

But for those of us whose devotion is year-round what do we do now? We do what Jesus is doing. We talk about things that matter in ordinary time.

Luke presents us with 3 things that are important to the characters of this story  during this ordinary time.

First, Jesus as the word made flesh is teaching us about how incarnation works. We read that Luke states in v. 40 and v.52 that as Jesus grew in age that he increased in wisdom and in favor with God and humans. This is challenged with hearing a preteen Jesus speak sharply to his parents, but then we read a few verses later that he was obedient to them. Sounds like raising a typical teenager. One minute they are pushing family away to exert some independence and the next minute they are helping you clean up the mess in the kitchen without being asked. And like Jesus, we are called to grow in wisdom and favor by including and accepting all aspects of ourselves –even those parts of us that we would prefer to exclude. Our truest self is that part of us that bears the image of God and then we have our false self, the part of us that we hide or are ashamed or that we apologize so often. But to become whole people, we must wake up to the idea that the two have never really been two..they are really one. Father Richard Rohr writes “Divinity and Humanity must somehow be able to speak as one, for it the union of God and humankind is “true” in Jesus, there is hope that it might be true in all of us too.” (The Universal Christ, 27)

Second, we see that the temple is very important to the gospel of Luke. Luke shows us a Jesus whose second home is the temple and whose disciples at the end of the book are found continually blessing God in the temple after Jesus returns to his father. Last week, we read about Jesus being brought to the temple to be circumcised and then later to be presented with the sacrifice of 2 turtle doves. Today, temple scene is a little different. In this scene, we are transitioning from hearing what others say about Jesus to what he will say for himself.  It is here in the temple that Luke has Jesus speak for the first time. When any person in the bible speaks for the first time, this is important. The writer is saying, “Pay attention!” And what are his first words? He lets his parents know that he is coming to understand that the temple is his father’s house, and he needs to be there. The temple is where Jesus comes to understand who his father is, the purpose for his life, and it is the people in the temple who first recognize something amazing happening in him.  Luke shows us the significance of the temple for Jesus’ life and in the New Testament we read how the idea of the temple was expanded so that we might celebrate its importance for our lives.

Paul will later write to the church at Corinth, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you which you have from God and that you are not your own?” The idea of the temple, our father’s house has expanded to include each of us so that we might recognize that we are always in God’s presence and we are not only included…we are invited to collaborate as God’s presence in this world. I have heard some people say that they wished they could bottle up and take home with them the feeling they have when they are in a church or at summer camp or have had a deeply meaningful retreat. What I hear them saying is that they lose that feeling of God’s presence once they are in ordinary time.

My friends, this is what happens when we worship in ways that address the head and the heart but not the body. What happens is we lose the sense that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. We lose the ability to see that God’s presence is always with us when we are home within ourselves. And we can’t lose these things because it is an essential piece to the Good News!

It means that it is always Christmas and always Easter because God is at work in your life to complete the incarnation and resurrection in your life. And it is in ordinary time that we practice bringing this kind of awareness into all of our life not separating and dividing spiritual time from secular time, true self and false self but instead recognizing that the 2 are really 1 because they enhance and complete each other.

Now this sounds very individualistic. So what about the community that gathers in church on Sunday morning? I think the idea of the temple of the Holy Spirit in each of us helps us recognize that what makes this space on Sunday Sacred has nothing to do with this building. It has to do with our awareness of God’s presence in each of us and in all those who have gone before us who have met, prayed, and worshiped in this space.

Our time together in this place is important because we gather to remind ourselves of these things. We remind each other of the truth of God’s abiding love and to celebrate with each other God’s eternal presence with us. This 1 hour reminds us of the power that we each have. The power to be who God has called us to be in this world.

Third, we see Jesus widening the boundaries of family and home. We read that Jesus came to Jerusalem for Passover with his family and other traveling companions that were an extension of the family. This was a group of people that watched over each other’s children and they trusted the community to keep everyone together.  But at one point, the community’s watchful eye turned away and in that moment, a 12 year old Jesus was gone. Mary and Joseph spent 3 anxiety ridden days searching for Jesus.  3 days of not knowing where their special boy was.  3 days wondering if they had failed the mission that God had asked of them which was to raise the one who would be the Messiah.

When we moved to Kingwood, we bought a house in one of the first subdivisions built. Our kids could walk to their elementary school and later to their middle school.  As we got to know our neighbors, we realized that in the house to our left lived a family with a boy who has autism.  One of the major sources of anxiety for this family was that he is a runner.  What this means is that at every opportunity he will run away. He will run out of the school building. He will run off the school bus.  If the doors at home are left unlocked, he will run away from home.  His parents and teachers and bus driver all know his tendencies, so they have action plans in place to keep him safe and his parent’s anxiety level down.  But one day, my family and I were walking on the trails, and we ran into his mom.  She was out of breath and clearly frightened.  We asked her what was wrong, and she told us that her son had run away from home. She asked us if we could walk the trails and ask people if they had seen a boy with a blue jacket.  My heart started pumping harder and my mind was spinning because I felt her anxiety and knew how unsafe this boy might be.  So, we spent some time talking to everyone we met about the boy, but nobody had seen him.  As we started looping back home, we ran into his dad. His dad told us that he had found the boy.  He knew that his son’s favorite place or home away from home was at Jack in the box so that was where he went first.  Guess what?  He was right.  His son was happy as can be in his second home while his parent’s worried that his life was in danger. 

Mary and Joseph also find a happy and kind of sassy young man asking questions, teaching, and listening to the wisdom of his elders in the temple. Jesus’ response to his parents anxiety is to tell them that this is his home away from home. He tells them that his family is no longer just his close family and friends, but includes an even larger extended family in the Temple which he calls his father’s house.  Jacob Neusner in his book A Rabbi Talks with Jesus writes about the importance of Torah study which helps us understand what Jesus is saying. He writes that in the Israel of Jesus’ time, Torah was understood to take precedence over genealogy so that the master of Torah gains a new lineage. In our text today, Jesus is speaking about this new lineage.

But Jesus does not stop here in widening his circle, for later in Luke’s gospel we read about Jesus including people beyond the house of Israel offering the Good News of God’s love to all who can hear his voice.  But I think he does more than just include.  Inclusion is the first step, but this word has become so overused in church work that we are now acknowledging it’s limitations.  Inclusion means you are welcome to join us.  You are welcome here, but it does not signal to people that they can participate or make a difference in shaping our community.  So let’s see how Jesus expands this idea of inclusion. For example, we read in Matthew 8:5-13, we read the story of the roman centurion who believed that Jesus could heal his servant.  The Roman Centurion tells Jesus that he doesn’t even have to come touch his servant, but asks that Jesus just say the word. Jesus is reportedly amazed and turns to those who are insiders and says, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness..” Jesus is not only including people, he is saying they will collaborate in God’s dream of bringing the kingdom to this earth. I am sure this was not comfortable for his people to hear.

Collaboration brings discomfort because collaboration happens when you include someone in your community in such a way that you say, “this is who we are as a people, but we are not tied to our ways. In fact, now that you are here, we hope that you will challenge us and encourage us to live into the fullness of God’s dream for us.” 

Amber Mattingly

Terrell McTyre Minister of New Church Strategies for the Disciples of Christ says that Collaboration takes equal sacrifice (sacrifice on both sides) to work with the chief carpenter to build something new.

Christmas is over. Baby Jesus is gone. Now what?

Now we get to do the messy work of finding Jesus in ordinary life. We get to grow in the wisdom of what it means to participate in the incarnation. We gather to remind ourselves of our innate power. And we continue widening the circle until all are not just welcomed.  All are not just included, but all are collaborating in God’s dream for our world.

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