Sermon Archives

Sunday, January 3, 2016
The Second Sunday after Christmas
The Reverend Kenneth N. Near, Guest
You Have Choices

Biblical scholars try to help us understand the history and context for the Bible. They help us unlock the message by providing context. Scholars point to the fact that each of the Canonical Gospels serves a purpose.

Mark was the first Gospel written:

Mark: c. 65–70.

Matthew: c. 7o–85

Luke: c. 80–85 though most scholars argue for somewhere nearer the end of this time frame – somewhere nearer to 85

SYNOPTIC

John: c. 90–1o0 – The majority view is that John was written in stages, so there was no one fixed date of composition.

What do we know about the Synoptic Gospels?

Well we know that Mark was the shortest of the Gospel narratives. We know that he had a clear and discernible purpose – i.e. that he wanted his readers to see and know Jesus as a heroic figure who marches toward the cross. So, the details of Jesus’ early life are not significant in Mark’s gospel. There is no Christmas narrative in Mark – his emphasis is the cross.  Mark begins the story of Jesus at the Jordan River as John the Baptist unambiguously baptizes Jesus. The miracle narratives of Jesus public ministry are minimized too.  Mark does have a point of view – he always POINTS to the cross and invites us to journey with Jesus to the cross and understand God’s deep, profound, and redemptive love revealed for humankind on the cross. 

We know that Matthew roots the story Jesus within the context of salvation history as understood by the people of Israel. Over and over Matthew reminds us of how Jesus is the fulfillment of the great Hebrew prophetic scriptural tradition. The ancient Jewish lineage of Jesus is rooted in the ancient Patriarchs Abraham, Jesse, David and this lineage concludes with Joseph. Matthew’s audience was clearly Jewish and Matthew wants this community to believe that Jesus is their hope.

We know that Luke was addressing a gentile community. The story of Jesus is invitational in Luke. Over and over we are invited into a relationship with Jesus. Mary, rather than Joseph, is the center of Luke’s gospel. Please notice that there is a lot of pondering in Luke and we, in a real sense, are invited to ponder too. Recall these words that were heard here, in this parish, during Advent:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God…

Notice please – Mary has been given a choice. She, and she alone, must decide.

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

And now recall these words from the familiar Christmas narrative:

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Luke, in a sense, invites all of us to ponder with Mary. Luke encourages us to engage with Mary and her predicament. We are all encouraged to ponder the mysteries of life and then – trust, choose, and, finally, – believe.  Luke is always invitational and encouraging. Here is a story – ponder the deeper meaning of this, and now, what is it that you believe? Luke invites us to believe and then to go and share this good news.

The majority of the familiar Christmas narratives come from the Gospel of Luke and This Christmas story has great appeal. It provides real comfort and deep assurance of God’s deep and surpassing love for humankind – a message we desire to hear. But Christmas Day is now past. On January 6th we will finally leave the familiar Christmas story in Luke’s gospel and embrace Epiphany. This is also an invitational time when we will journey with the holy Magi into the larger world in order to follow the leading of a star to Bethlehem where we will contemplate how God, in Jesus Christ, was revealed to the larger world.  During the Sundays that follow we will hear again the story of Jesus’ baptism, the story of Jesus breaking bread with those who did not recognize him on the road to Emmaus. And then, as Epiphany draws to it’s close, we will find Jesus mysteriously standing on the Mount of Transfiguration and pointing to Jerusalem – inviting and encouraging us to live sacrificially and follow Him during Lent to Jerusalem to where the great events of salvation history will be dramatically recounted for us during Holy Week and Easter.

The scriptural message over and over during these great and instructive seasons is that Jesus comes to us in myriads of ways, and yet we frequently fail to perceive and celebrate this profound mystery… 

But before we get too far ahead I want you to pay careful attention to our story today. Some context:

A few weeks ago, as we began Advent, we pondered with Mary the message of the angel, Gabriel, and reflected on her YES to God’s angel messenger. Then, at Christmas we traveled to Bethlehem with Mary and Joseph and heard of their difficulties in finding a place for their baby to be born. Then, we heard the message of the angels, and heard of the shepherd’s visitation. Finally, we learned that after the birth of Jesus, in Bethlehem, the Holy Family returned to their home in Nazareth, in far away Galilee, where “The Child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”

This morning, during this last celebration of Christmas, we discover Luke’s birth narrative and find an insightful and beautiful little nugget that is unique to Luke’s gospel:

The parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem every year for the festival of the Passover. And when Jesus 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 favor.

On some levels this story is disturbing. Obviously, I think we can all relate to the deep sense of concern that Mary and Joseph are expressing in this story.

"Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety."

It fascinates me that Jesus’ first response, in Luke’s account, is enigmatic and somewhat mysterious. We read:

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

However, Luke offers a transition that reveals that Jesus’ behavior changes as a result of this encounter with his parents and that things somehow are smoothed over.

Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

Notice that there is a change in this story.

There is a transition.

You can readily see that our little one is growing up. With this growth there is an aspect of pain. It is just so in every human transaction. This is reality. But before Jesus begins His public ministry at the River Jordon he had to start the psychological separation from family and that, as the Gospel writer Luke so cogently notes – is the way of life.

As a parish priest I am constantly on the Lookout for material from contemporary experiences to help us more fully encounter the Living Word.

Just a few weeks ago I was going through some of my notes from my days studying theology at Trinity College, Toronto. Amongst the clutter I found a pamphlet that was given to me, and my classmates, by Bishop Michael Ramsay. Bishop Michael was consecrated Bishop of Durham in 1952. In 1956 he became Archbishop of York and, in 1961, Archbishop of Canterbury. He retired and left Canterbury in 1974. For several years he traveled to theological colleges and seminaries visiting with those preparing for ordination. In 1976 he visited Trinity College, Toronto, where I received my theological training. During his time on Toronto he delivered a public talk entitled: “The Scandal and the Glory of the Church.”  It was a tour-de-force presentation!
Scandal:

Glory:

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Bishop Michael also spent an entire day with my theological college classmates. At the conclusion of our time together he gave each of us a small card titled:

“Helps for the New Year” which he had written for the clergy of England’s Diocese of Durham when he served there as bishop.

1.    Thank God. Often and always. Thank God carefully and wonderingly for your continuing privileges and for every experience of God’s gracious goodness. You see, thankfulness is a soil in which pride does not easily grow.

2.    Take care about confession of your sins. As time passes the habit of being critical about people and things grows more than each of us realize...He then gently commended the practice of sacramental confession.

3.    Do not worry about status. There is only one status that Our Lord bids us be concerned with, and that is our proximity to God. "Whoever serves me, must follow me, and where I am, there will be my servant also". (John 12:26) That is our status; to be near our Lord wherever He may ask us to go with him.

4.    Use your sense of humor. Laugh at things: laugh at the absurdities of life. Above all learn to laugh at yourself.

Through the year people will thank God for you. And let the reason for their thankfulness be not just that you were a person whom they liked or loved but because you made God real to them.

You see, what the Gospel writer has written, is true. 

You have choices.