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

Christmas 1 Year C
Message December 30, 2012

Fears Anxiety Trust and Hope

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

In all of Scripture there are but few details concerning the youth of revered or famous people. True, we get a glimpse of the baby Moses and of Jesus, but very little concerning their growing up or what they were like as young boys girls or teens. Today we hear of two such honoured people – the boy Samuel and the pre-teen Jesus. Both stories provide an interesting look at two men of God: one to be one of the greatest prophets, the other the Son of God. They also give a wonderful account of the relationship between mother and son in the context of the religious life of Israel.

Samuel, Hannah’s firstborn is dedicated to God and given up to the priest Eli to be educated for the temple service. He grows up to be filled with God’s Spirit, talks with God and becomes the intermediary in a time of transition from the judges to the Kings of Israel, including David, the son of Jesse the shepherd. The othr firstborn son Jesus continues that line of David and will go on to prove to be not only a king in the line of David but also priest in the line of Melchizedek. Both sons are pivotal people in the life of Israel and for that matter of the world. And both mothers respond in their own way to the mysterious ways God has worked in their lives. Those responses can be called nothing less than worship praise and spiritual awe which are highlighted by the readings of Psalm 148 and Colossians 3.

Whereas the story of Samuel sees the young boy dwelling in the house of the Lord and once a year being visited by his mother on their annual pilgrimage to Shiloh, the story of Jesus is the reverse. He is still at home and makes the yearly Passover journey to the Jerusalem Temple with his parents. Yet both boys are steeped in their calling: Samuel about to be called and Jesus already aware of his identity, and perhaps of his own ministry.

Yet this is not the only thing we should see. What of the angst and lives of Hannah and Mary in all this? What of their responses and how they understood God’s work in the lives of their sons. Can you imagine the anguish of giving up a child to a stranger and an institution to be brought up ‘you-don’t-know-how’ and only getting to see that child but one a year? The anguish must have been tremendous! We certainly know from what has happened in our own times around residential schools and the state’s involvement with orphanages and so on. Yet Hannah doesn’t respond in that way at all! Perhaps it was the social political atmosphere of her times; perhaps it was her voluntary pact made with God; or perhaps it was her insight as to who her son would become, but her responses continued to be one of praise for God and wonderment of what God was accomplishing. And her reward – becoming the mother of 3 more sons and 2 daughters . Some might question this reward – but in a society where a woman’s rank of honour and fortune were measured by the size of her family and number of children – this was a great reward.

And then what about the anxiety and absolute terror Mary and Joseph must have experienced? Each year travelling to the Temple in Jerusalem in honour of Passover – perhaps a five day journey each way. They would have done that in the company of family and friends. As the entourage would have been fairly large and the children mingling and playing together it would not be surprising to go a day’s journey without parents necessarily seeing their children. And this is what seems to have occurred on the return trip. Joseph and Mary return to Jerusalem and must have been frantic as they searched for Jesus. Three days: a day of journey back and 2 days in Jerusalem before they find him. The fear must have been overpowering!

I cannot say that I have had that experience but I know something from the other side of the equation. This is not to say, I, like Jesus, was preoccupied with spiritual and theological matters. Rather I know what it’s like to be wrapped up in the present and having no thought for parents. When I was about 7 or 8 we went to Holy rood,a small town 30 miles from St. John’s. It was and still is an oil refining community. However about 2 miles from the port along one of the rivers emptying into the Atlantic is a picnic site where the river has a wonderful swimming spot. On the far side of the river I remember a rock outcropping which was just like a child’s couch. Lying down on that with the water just covering the ears and basking in the bright sun I recall the wonder at hearing the gurgling of the river as it flowed past this outcropping and being oblivious to all the surroundings. How long I lay there I can’t be sure, but when I did wake I realized it was late in the afternoon, most of the others were gone and I could hear my mother with absolute terror in her voice calling my name. When I answered there was palpable relief. Then when I got ashore there was a ? and a punishment resulting in a sore bottom for some time. I couldn’t understand the reactions for to me it had been a wonderful day. It wasn’t until many years later that I came to appreciate the emotional stress my parents had gone through.

Luke’s story invites us to experience the story from Mary’s perspective and her response to seeing her son engaged in such theological discussions with the teachers and rabbis such as to arouse within them bewilderment and amazement. Mary in what must have been great relief tempered by her 3 days of abject fears is reported to say, “child why have you treated us like this? Look your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” Jesus’ reply becomes all the more astounding as he answers a question with a question, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

The double entendre or play on the words father and Father cause Mary to be confused and we are told she did not understand. Yet our translation doesn’t fully help us appreciate her response. A better translation would be that Mary pondered or kept these things that is she thought about them and, despite her having been the recipient some 13 years earlier of the engels announcement, she continued to wonder about the child and who he would become. “Mary stands with the church itself, trusting that this child comes from God, consenting to obedience and straining to understand.”

We can only respond in praise faith and anticipation of the things yet to come.