Sunday, 27 December 2015

Can’t make it to church? 27 December 2015

We've celebrated the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and for many people that's Christmas done and dusted and it's time to take the lights down and move on; well that seems to be the case where I am. The reality is that we are just getting into Christmas, the twelve days beginning with Christmas Day, not ending. The end comes on the day before Epiphany – the day we celebrate the Wise Men visiting Jesus – which is the fifth of January.

So what do we have before us today?
In the Old testament we begin with a family making their annual visit to the temple to visit their  son, Samuel, In the Gospel we have another family, also making their annual visit to the temple and losing their son.

Two gifts in the Temple: Both given - one from and one to God

Two men with God in the forefront. Two men, both gifts one (Samuel) to God and the other (Jesus) from God. The first was desperately wanted and yet, when he came, was given to God by his mother Elizabeth. The other, well she was young and unmarried, probably wasn’t what Mary wanted, but obediently she bore the child and bore Jesus, God’s gift to the world.

Both were given to serve God – Samuel in the temple, Jesus, in the world – Samuel the man of God and Jesus the God made man. What a great contrast to start the conversation off with. Two gifts – two women of grace obediently serving their God. I’m not sure which is more difficult, wanting a child and when eventually one comes along, giving him up or being called upon to have a child as Mary was. Two great heroes of the faith – two obedient and blessed women acting as examples to us all.

Stop for a moment to think about these two men, their mothers and the ministries they exercised. Think about giving up a child and then think about what it was for Mary to be given one.

Now of course, everyone focusses on the fact that just like the Prime Minister a few years back, the family arrived and found that one of the kids were left behind. This is what happened to Mary and Joseph, for they too assumed the boy (Jesus) was with one of the family. This is the first account we have of Jesus getting out their and ‘doing His Father’s business’ – listening to, and questioning the teachers in the temple (and in doing so, stunned them). Two men learning their craft and preparing for quite amazing ministries in the service of God and man. A real challenge to us as we wonder (we do wonder don’t we) about how we too might serve god and man.

The New testament reading is a tough call, for referring to us as ‘God’s chosen ones’ we are called to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and patient. Now I don’t know about you but that makes me feel like packing up before I start. What a list! I can do some of them, but to do them all, who does God think I am. To make it even harder I have to be those things with people who are a pain in the behind! But these traits are essential if we are to forgive people.

Some time back I found myself in a position where someone was portraying things as they really weren’t and the desire to lash out and ‘tell it as it is’ was great; perhaps you’ve been there too?
It isn’t easy to smile and be gentle and kind when people are lying through their back teeth to make them look like the offended party and you the bad guy – but despite our feelings, we need to exercise love and not loathing and to forgive as God has given us forgiveness. A timely passage as we bring this year to its conclusion. Are there people you have spoken wrongly of, or been wrongly spoken of by? Now is the time to seek forgiveness, or to forgive, and bring peace and the love of God into being as we look to a new year. Stop and think about the people you need to seek out.

The second part of this passage comes in for some real stick in these wonderfully liberated times. What? ‘Wives, be subject to your husbands,’ now that is an invitation to a punch-up with some of the people I know; and yet looking past the offended, arms-folded, response – without the second clause, the answer is a misinterpretation and misunderstanding!

The second clause, ‘Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly,’ adds something to the party, but you need to put the two together to make sense, for what they mean is this:

‘Wives, love your husband and follow him – husbands, love your wife so much that you’d be willing to die for her’

In our household we work on the principle that I have the casting vote, but I know that should I ever have to use it then I have lost the plot! These two passages are about running a happy home not about who is superior, and this is the problem with sexual politics. They are all about power and not about submission and partnership. ‘Let me be number one,’ is the underlying text from both sides. But life should be about good relationships and not power, about how we serve one another rather than how others can serve us.

The cherry on the relationship cake is added when we place this: ‘Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.’

Two more relationship which I see wrongly enacted on a daily basis. If this was done right perhaps we’d see a different society around us – sadly this is yet another benefit of the post Christian society in which we live. Food for thought there methinks.

So time to reflect and pray:
Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son shared at Nazareth the life of an earthly home:
help your Church to live as one family, united in love and obedience, and bring us all at last to our home in heaven; through Jesus Christ our the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
And because it's Christmas, let's do some carols:

1 Samuel 2:18-20
But the boy Samuel served the Lord. He wore a sacred linen apron. Each year his mother made him a little robe. She took it to him when she went up to Shiloh with her husband. She did it when her husband went to offer the yearly sacrifice. Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife. He would say, “May the Lord give you children by this woman. May they take the place of the boy she prayed for and gave to the Lord.” Then they would go home.

Colossians 3.12-21
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.

Luke 2.41-52
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.

Post Communion Prayer
God in Trinity, eternal unity of perfect love: gather the nations to be one family, and draw us into your holy life through the birth of Emmanuel, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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