... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Christmas 1 Year C
Message December 27th, 2015

Low Sunday: High Theology

Text: 1Samuel 2:18-20,26; Psalm 148; Col. 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52

The commonly referred to ‘low Sunday’ of the church’s year follows one of the more highly attended celebrations – that of Christmas. By now the presents have been opened, many of the prized toys have been worn out or broken, the tinsel pulled off the tree or repackaged, the hordes of family and friends dispersed leaving that ‘let-down’ feeling as we attempt the return to normalcy. Yet in this time of sighing with relief and of slumping with exhaustion, we risk missing one of the greatest Sundays in the year – the Feast of the Holy Trinity. In this feast we hear of the only youth narrative of Jesus in all of the Scriptures and it is a narrative filled the true identity of Jesus and the indicator of his future greatness. If nothing else this story alone should wake us from our post-Christmas somnolence!

And just so that we don’t miss the import of this story the authors of the revised common lectionary have combined it with the youth story of Samuel in 1 Samuel, the praise song of Psalm 148 and the inclusive family injunction of Colossians. Talk aobut dynamic interpretations! We are literally directed to delve into the depths of understanding God’s design as we reflect on the youth narratives seeing how Samuel and Jesus are contrasted, appreciating Jesus’ self-awareness and feeling the angst of unawaring parents and relatives.

Psalm 148, the Hallelujah psalms calls on all creation to give praise to the Lord for the wondrous acts he has done. He has raised up a horn for his people. To the children of Israel living in the midst of oppression surrounded by great empires and hoping for a great leaders in their lands, the psalmist tells us that God has delivered and that the asked for leader has been grantede. Whether this leader was one of the Davidic kings or David himself, whether it was a great prophet such as Samuel, Isaiah or Jeremiah or whether it was a predictor of Jesus is never stipulated – the vagueness of the identity or nature of the ‘horn’ makes it an ideal introduction for any of the great luminaries of Israel’s history and combined with the Samuel and Jesus youth narratives help compare and contrast the two young men.

In 1st Samuel we hear the plight of Hannah beloved wife of Elkanah but ridiculed by her sister wife Peninnah, because she has been unable to bear Elkanah a son. However, after years of praying her desire is granted by God and she conceives and bears Samuel whom she dedicates to the Lord’s service. Hence, Samuel is relinquished to the care of the Temple priests and their only contacts thereafter are the few visits each year. On each of these visits we are told that Hannah brings up a coat for Samuel. Today’s snippet shows Samuel as a young man fully garbed as a priest doing his work as a servant of the Lord and growing in stature and favour with God.

Luke in his recounting of Jesus as a youth probably chose this particular scenario – the only one from Jesus’ growing up – a reminder to his readers of the similarity of Jesus’ desire to serve God as one of Israel’s greatest prophets. Samuel grew in stature and favour – Jesus too grows in stature and favour. But here the similarities diverge. As we reflect on these two stories we must note the discrepancies – Samuel grew up in the Temple, he is a willing servant, his parents understood his vocation and call as well. Now look at the narrative Luke gives us of Jesus – he has not been raised to be a Temple priest – yes like Samuel he was dedicated as a baby but not as a servant in the temple. He remained with his parents. At the age of 12 Jesus is seen as somewhat of a protégé – he remains in the Temple after the Passover celebrations so as to listen to the teachers. Listen yes, but also asking very profound and insightful questions – questions so pointed that even the scholars round-about him marvel at his perception and depth of comprehension.

As Mary and Joseph return after several days having not noticed that Jesus had failed to accompany the group back toward Nazareth, there is no warmth in their reunion. We can certainly appreciate Mary’s anxiety and her rebuke.\, “Child why have you treated us like this? Look your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” In fact most of us, put in a similar situation, would probably have a more demonstrative tone of anxiety and displeasure. But then Jesus in an almost off-handed way retorts, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Two things should immediately startle us – the question of searching and the statement of Father’s house. Luke deftly shows us the dichotomy of lost and found and Jesus’ identity and place of home in two very succinct questions. I imagine no parent on being separated from a child considers themselves lost. Rather the child is lost and needs to be found. In every case the parents will go in search for the ‘lost child”. Jesus however does not consider himself lost, and questions why his parents should be in search. It is as if Jesus puts the lostness back on his parents. And Luke uses this as an opportunity to introduce one of his great themes – Temple adherence over against family ties. For Jesus, Temple life is an all important aspect of who he is and his relationship to God. Later on Luke tells us Jesus cleanses the Temple chastising the clergy, “You have made my house a den of thieves.” Still later in John’s Gospel Jesus tells his followers – In my Father’s house there are many rooms. For Luke the temple really is Jesus’ home and where he garners his strength and purpose. This also explains the seeming contradiction in Jesus reply to his Mother’s comment about your father and I have been searching. It would seem Jesus is fully aware that Joseph is not his Father. The play on the term father highlights the unawareness by Mary and Joseph of who Jesus really is while we the audience are let in on the big secret. Mary Joseph and the rabbis each one in turn are shown to be in the dark – they marvel at Jesus’ ability they are astounded by his comprehension but they fail to connect the dots and so never get to see the picture. Even his own mother fails even though she treasured all these things in her heart.

We should probably better translate treasured as ‘kept’ meaning that she internally pondered on these things looking for their meaning rather than the typical memorializing we have attached to it. We would do well to be like Mary and keep all these things in our hearts – pondering on them, looking for their meanings and significant roles in our lives – thus we would grow and perhaps understand why Colossians has been added as a reading connected with the other three.

From a profound understanding of who Jesus is and what his life means to those who follow him, the passage from Colossians speaks volumes. It is the result of understanding Jesus knowing who he is and what he brings that we can incorporate into our being the attributes Paul describes to his readers. This is not just some philosophical treatise on moral existence but to the contrary it is an evolution of the practical aspect of being in Christ in covenant with God and joined to every other human.

The high ideals and admonitions of the lessons for this ‘low Sunday” ought to be with and in each of us year round and be the markers of our entire existence. And as Paul says, “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…”