A sermon on the first Sunday after Christmas, 2021. Based on Luke 2:41-52.
It seems just like yesterday that Jesus was a little baby and now he is already 12 years old. Kids grow up so quickly these days!
And not only is Jesus 12 years old in our gospel lesson today, he is already getting in trouble with his parents. After his family celebrates the Passover festival in Jerusalem, Jesus somehow stays behind in the Temple without his parents knowing and they look for him for three days. You can imagine what a freakout moment this would be for Jesus’ parents or for anyone’s parents for that matter, and our Gospel lessons portrays Mary and Joseph being filled with anxiety about being separated from Jesus for so long. And when they finally find Jesus after three days of separation, Mary and Joseph understandably scold Jesus for his actions.
This will not be the last time Jesus would get in trouble for actions he did in the Temple, but this time there were no tables being overturned. He was simply talking with teachers in the Temple. Jesus responds to his extremely concerned parents with the equivalent of “where did you expect to find me?” – which as a parent I would not have found to be a satisfying response, and we are told that Mary and Joseph did not fully understand what had happened, though Mary does seem to get that something special is happening with Jesus as she treasures all these things in her heart.
But I don’t think the main purpose of our gospel lesson is to show that pre-teen Jesus sometimes got in trouble with his parents but rather that Jesus was involved in a process of self discovery about what he was called to be in the world, and this required Jesus to be involved in a process of engaging religious teachers and listening and learning from them about the wisdom of God, and this seems to be what he is doing during his multi-day separation from his parents.
One of the fascinating things that we are seeing here is that the Bible portrays Jesus as growing in wisdom and understanding through relationships in community. The incarnation of God’s love in the world is not about static perfection but rather about humbly growing into more perfect love.
In the Gospel lesson for today, we see that a 12 year old Jesus asks questions and listens to the teachers in the Temple. Asking questions, listening, and learning – this is how the incarnation of God’s love increases in wisdom.
We see this willingness to listen and to learn on Jesus’ part later in his life in the encounter with a Syrophoenician woman who challenges Jesus to expand his understanding of his mission and ministry to include all peoples, and instead of rebuking her for disagreeing with him, rather he listens to her and praises her for her faith.
Jesus did not simply talk at people. He talked with them; he listened to them, and his relationships with them contributed to his own growth in wisdom and understanding. It is a reminder that although we recognize and celebrate Jesus as the incarnation of divine love, Jesus was human – he was born like us, he grew up like us, he had relationships like us, he faced temptations like us, he got in trouble with his parents like us, and he lived in community with others like us. The life of embodying the love of God in the world is a human journey, and it is a journey that each of us is called to follow.
It would be a mistake for us to ignore Jesus’ humanity so much as to believe Jesus had nothing to learn about becoming the embodiment of love in this world just as it would be a mistake for those of us who follow Jesus to think we have nothing to learn from others about how we can more fully express the love of God within the community of all creation. Listening and growing is part of what it means to be fully human, and it is essential in the process of growing more perfect in love.
This process of growing in wisdom and understanding in order to more fully live into a life of love and justice was one that Archbishop Desmond Tutu exemplified so well. We have all heard this morning that Reverend Tutu passed away at the age of 90 overnight, and we all know his vitally important work as a key leader in the fight against apartheid and for social justice in South Africa. We also know that he was champion and voice of justice throughout the whole world.
I had the privilege of meeting and talking with Desmond Tutu in 2004 when he was a distinguished speaker at Oklahoma City University. Our convocation center was packed with 4500 people who came to hear him because they knew he was a beacon of love and justice in our world and so he continued to be in life and now in eternal memory and influence of his undying spirit.
When I commented to him on the size of the crowd of people who came to see him speak (which could not have been larger owing to the size of the venue), he simply smiled and laughed in his signature way and said that if we brought Mandela to speak that we would need an arena 4 times the size of the one that was fllled to capacity to hear him speak that evening. He exuded humility in the midst of global acclaim because he knew that it was not all about him but rather about the global movement for love and justice.
The United States has so much to learn from the truth and reconciliation process that Desmond Tutu played such a pivotal role in leading in South Africa. He knew that the only way forward to reconciliation was through a transparent acceptance of the truth of injustice and the cultivation of intense efforts to work for forgiveness and healing. This calls for confronting the truth of our past rather than ignoring or covering up the injustices and racism of the past and present. This is the way to a more just future for all persons in the human community.
As we celebrate the Christmas season this morning, we mourn Reverend Tutu’s death, but let us also have gratitude for his life, and may we have hope that his vision of healing and forgiveness may continue through our work for reconciliation in the world. He lived in the spirit of Jesus who came to increase in wisdom, to listen to us, to love us, and to heal and forgive us for the sake of Beloved Community. Amen