12/26/2021 ~ First Sunday after Christmas, i.e.: the First Sunday after the Celebration of the Nativity of Jesus, the Christ ~ 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE; NOTE: THERE ARE OCCASIONAL ISSUES WITH THE SOUND: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x54NggMJtmc.
“When the festival had ended they started to return. But Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, something Mary and Joseph did not realize.” — Luke 2:43-44.
Jack Scott, my brother in law, lives Downeast, on Deer Isle. That statement of relationship and location in no way describes me as an expert on Maine but it does mean over time I have found out a thing or two about Maine.
Something I suspect anyone familiar with Maine knows is the further Downeast you go the test of who is a real Mainer and who is not becomes more stringent. On Deer Isle it’s said you need to be at least second generation before you are a real Mainer.
On that island they have a way of explaining this stand which has typical Maine dry humor in it. “A cat may have its kittens in an oven. That doesn’t make the kittens biscuits.” I apologize for my downeast accent.
Despite that demanding test, I actually consider Maine my home. So let me tell you about my first encounter with Maine and Downeast.
My best friend, Paul Johnson— full confession: New York City is the place of my birth and Paul lives there— Paul, my best friend, invited me for a week of vacation to family property near Stonington. The property has been in Paul’s family since 1898.
Two years later, having liked that experience, I was back. But this time I encountered Paul’s cousin, one Bonnie Scott who, at that point in time, was a photographer on the Brunswick Times Record. To use a euphuism, we hit it off. We got married a year later.
I don’t know why but Bonnie did not want to move to New York City. That meant if I was to marry Bonnie I needed to move to Brunswick, where she lived. And since I did move to Brunswick— not a small move for someone who thought if the subway did not go there it was too far to travel— if I did move to Brunswick I guess to say we hit it off is an understatement.
We have always insisted that when we met we were not looking for anyone. Why? I was 39 and Bonnie was 38. Bonnie puts it this way: when we found one another we had given up looking. And of this I am fairly certain. When we met we were not looking.
Indeed, we both agree, had we met ten years earlier— which could have happened since ten years earlier I already knew Paul for 5 years— it’s unlikely we would have found one another because our heads were in a very different place. I am also aware that ten years earlier we actually were both looking for someone.
My point is sometimes when you are looking for something you never find what you’re looking for since often you actually don’t know what you are looking for. And yes, when you’re not looking, what you are really looking for, perhaps unconsciously, becomes evident. (Slight pause.)
We find these words in Luke/Acts in the section commonly referred to as Luke: “When the festival had ended they started to return. But Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, something Mary and Joseph did not realize.” (Slight pause.)
As was stated when this reading was introduced, there are apocryphal gospels, works which didn’t make it into the canon. Some contain astonishing stories about the boy Jesus striking down difficult playmates and resurrecting them, bringing them back to life.
In one of those stories the boy Jesus shapes sparrows out of clay and brings them to life. One can readily see why these apocryphal gospels were voted off the island, or at least did not gain entry into the canon called Scripture.
For me a recurring theme throughout all the Gospels and one reflected here is that people try to find Jesus. People seek Jesus, in part because they seek a Messiah.
Here are two examples. First, and I hope this is clear, throughout all the Gospels the disciples seek a Messiah.
Another more specific example: Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin— effectively the city council in Jerusalem— seeks out Jesus but does so by night. It is likely Nicodemus seeks Jesus at night, because he is afraid someone like him, someone who holds such a high station, would be even seen with this revolutionary, this rabble rouser. (Slight pause.)
In the story of the twelve year old Jesus we heard today there is a lot happening and a lot to be reckoned with— everything from the fact that Jesus appears at a young age to be quite learned to the fact that Mary and Joseph are clearly devote Jews. They visit Jerusalem each year at Passover. I think there’s enough for a couple of sermons or at least a couple hours of sermonizing here.
Fear not: I will limit my observations. Indeed, let me concentrate on one way to look at this story. In fact, perhaps one reason this story finds its way into the canon as opposed to the stories which were left out is, in a real sense and to reiterate, people seek a Messiah. And so people seek, identify, Jesus.
I think there is a twofold aspect to this seeking of Jesus. First, Jesus is there. Jesus in not hiding. Jesus is simply there. Since Jesus is there people prod, question Jesus as if to ask, “Are you real?”
Second and as you probably know, people are not expecting the Jesus Who is actually there. In this story the teachers, the Rabbi’s in the Temple, are amazed by Jesus, amazed by the questions asked by Jesus and amazed by the answers offered by Jesus.
They did not expect this from someone so young. In later stories, people largely are expecting a Messiah Who will overthrow, perhaps overthrow violently, the existing civil order, the Roman Empire.
But the Messiah they get is not the Messiah they expect. The Messiah they get is a Messiah Who teaches, a Messiah Who spreads the love of God, a Messiah of peace.
I think sometimes we have the same problem today. The Messiah some of us want is not the Messiah Who is there in the Gospels. So people seek a Jesus Who is not there, a Messiah Who is not there, instead of recognizing the Jesus Who is there, recognizing the Messiah Who is there in the Gospels. (Slight pause.)
I want to suggest the reason we celebrate Christmas is to remind us that Christ is with us— here, now. Our claim as Christians is the presence of Christ is a reality, whether or not we admit it. Is that the Messiah we want? I would also suggest because of that presence, Christ invites us to participate in the work of God, the Dominion of God— here, now.
And what is that work? That work is the work of peace, hope, love, joy. I would add to those four virtues we celebrated in Advent that the work of the Dominion of God includes equity and freedom. So here’s the short version of this message, a message which I find riddled throughout the Gospel stories.
Relax: we do not need to seek Jesus. Jesus is with us; Jesus walks with us here, now and invites us to do the work of the Dominion. That is, I think, the message of Christmas. Amen.
South Freeport Congregational Church United Church of Christ, South Freeport, Maine
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Response and Benediction. And this is a précis of what was said: “There is a cartoon you can find on the internet. It’s a picture of a woman has opened her house door and two men stand there. They are on a proselytizing mission since what they say is, “We are here to ask if you’ve found Jesus yet.” But also in the picture is another figure, clearly meant to be Jesus, hiding behind some window curtains. It seems not only has this woman found Jesus, she is hiding Jesus. That is also something we should not do: hide Jesus. We need to share the love, peace, hope, joy, equity, freedom of God we find in Jesus.”
BENEDICTION: Go now, go in safety, for you cannot go where God is not. Go now, go in love, for love alone endures. Go now, go with purpose, and God will honor your dedication. And go now, go in peace, for it is a gift of God to those whose hearts and minds are in Christ Jesus. Amen.