theunfamiliarname

Homily for Christmas 1C

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2009 at 12:41 am

Have you ever been lost?
As a child, do you remember that fright
as you turn around and realise that the comforting presence behind you
isn’t Mum or Dad at all, but a stranger, …or worse still, is emptiness?

As a parent or child-minder, have you ‘lost’ a little person in your care?
With a mixture of anxiety and anger wondered where they are,
how you’d let them slip away,
why they haven’t met you again where and when you’d agreed?

Here we are on the Sunday after Christmas,
and I wonder whether we’re being challenged not to ‘lose’
the child that was entrusted to us on Monday.
Not to ‘lose’ the wonder,
not to ‘lose’ the life-changing implications of the Incarnation.

Not to lose the plot perhaps,
because we are asked to do some mental time travelling by the lectionary.
Here we are in the days before the Epiphany,
when the wise men from the East turn up in the crib scene,
suddenly propelled forward in Luke’s Gospel to Jesus, aged twelve.

Think of it as a ‘flash forward’ in cinematic terms,
and perhaps we understand why we see this, here and now.
The baby of Bethlehem, now at bar-mitzvah age, on the cusp of maturity,
teaching the teachers in the Temple.

There’s a connection between Luke’s stable story and this Temple story.
In fact, the first thing Jesus’ parents do after his birth in Luke’s account
– after his circumcision according to the Law –
is to go up to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice at the Temple.

That story ends the whole Christmas-Epiphany season
when we celebrate Candlemas at the beginning of February.
So we are today, “out of order”.

But with a story which resonates, backwards and forwards.

Jesus is lost, or so his parents think.
For three days.
That little detail shouldn’t be lost on us.
And the journey to Jerusalem is for Passover.
Luke’s Gospel has, quite early on, Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem”,
and we have that prefigured here.
This story, like so many in Scripture, has levels of meaning,

The story itself seems quite straightforward:
the family travel to Jerusalem for Passover.
You may have seen in the news that we are in the season of the Hajj,
the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca that attracts millions.
The same was true of Judaism and Passover.
Jerusalem is full,
whole communities band together to travel in caravans there and back.

Jesus comes with his family,
but stays behind in the Temple, the heart of the Jewish world.
There are so many people travelling back to Nazareth,
Mary and Joseph assume Jesus is with the mass of other children.
Eventually, though, they realise he’s not with them.
Panic.
He’s twelve, he’s responsible, where can he be? What’s happened?

Mary and Joseph leave the caravan and return,
looking for where on the way Jesus could be.
Eventually they retrace their steps, every one of them more anxious,
to the Temple,
and there is Jesus caught up in a world of his own,
seemingly oblivious to his parents’ hysteria.
“Why were you searching for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Is this some sort of strange act of near-teenage rebellion?
Some claiming of identity, self-determination?
All those years after the stable and angels and shepherds,
so many questions still surround this child, as he grows towards adulthood.

Mary, we are told, “treasured all these things in her heart” –
words we heard similarly in Luke’s Gospel at the stable
after the shepherds tell of the angels’ message.

We flash back to that stable scene.
The anxiety and exhilaration of the birth.
The relief that, just for this moment, everything is OK.

That’s the story on the surface.

The encounter that immediately precedes today’s story in Luke
is the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple,
has, remember, the old man Simeon saying to Mary
“a sword will pierce your own soul too”, prefiguring his death and her grief.

A really good Christmas carol has at least a hint of Easter about it.

Jesus is lost to his parents for three days.
In Jerusalem.
At Passover.

This is a story that the first Christians would have told and understood
in light of Jesus’ crucifixion and the Resurrection.
Their sense of being lost without him.
Their fear and anger and anxiety.
Their finding again he whom had seemed lost.
Luke’s account of the encounter at the tomb has initially
only an emptiness, the body lost.
And then a journey, on the road to Emmaus, a realisation, recognition.
A return to Jerusalem,
where the disciples gathered together meet the Risen Christ.

Mary “treasured all these things in her heart”.
Looking towards next weekend, and the Feast of the Epiphany,
I share with you a carol by Bruce Blunt, Bethlehem Down.

‘When He is King we will give him the Kings’ gifts,
Myrrh for its sweetness, and gold for a crown,
Beautiful robes’, said the young girl to Joseph,
Fair with her first-born on Bethlehem Down.

When He is King they will clothe Him in grave-sheets,
Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown,
He that lies now in the white arms of Mary,
Sleeping so lightly on Bethlehem Down.

Here He has peace and a short while for dreaming,
Close-huddled oxen to keep Him from cold,
Mary for love, and for lullaby music
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.

We travel this season
with the wonderful child-like images of the stable-scene,
and we may rest there, for now.
But the greatest revelation of God in Christ Jesus is in death,
even moreso than birth.

When we encounter – and in the Eucharist we enter again into –
the self-giving love of God which is more powerful than every kind of death.
The light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.
The light which is the life of all people.

In the name of God…

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