25 December 2018

And so we jump from the manger to the Temple when Jesus is twelve years old. We’ll be going back to his childhood next week, but in the meantime, we are faced with a Jesus who is very human – learning, debating, growing, looking rather like Samuel did when he was a boy. One of the toughest choices we will make in our faith is to really take the humanity of Jesus seriously. This is the challenge of this week in the Lectionary.

As we worship the incarnate God, may we also encounter the human Jesus this week.

1 Samuel 2:18-20,26: Samuel grows under the care of Eli the priest, and his parents visit him annually when they come to the Tabernacle for the sacrifice.

Psalm 148: A psalm calling all of creation to praise the God who has strengthened God’s people.

Colossians 3:12-17: Instruction on how those who have been chosen and forgiven by God should live – in compassion, harmony and peace.

Luke 2:41-52: Mary and Joseph accidentally leave Jesus behind in Jerusalem, and return to find him in the Temple in discussion with the religious teachers. Jesus is obedient and grows in wisdom and stature.

The Lectionary takes us on a strange journey this year. Having just celebrated the birth of Christ, we now fast forward to the one story in the Scriptures from Jesus’ childhood – when his parents forgot him in the Temple. Then, with next week being Epiphany, we go back in time again, to the visit of the magi. The difference is that, while Christmas seeks to explore the event of the incarnation, Epiphany begins to tease out the meaning of the incarnation. The season that follows Epiphany leads us still deeper into an understanding of Jesus through the eyes of those who encountered him, while also showing the different ways that God’s glory was manifest through Christ. That means that we are still seeking to gain some grasp of the incarnation itself in this Sunday after Christmas. The clue in the Lectionary this week is in the reading from 1 Samuel which forms a kind of parallel with the Gospel. Both Samuel and Jesus were at home in the temple from a very young age. Both had parents who valued and visited the Temple. Both became teachers and leaders of God’s people. And both were completely human. As such, both had to learn and grow and be nurtured into their ministries. In a similar way, the Psalm speaks of God as the one who strengthens all of creation – which responds in praise. Finally, in Colossians, God’s people are also called to learn and grow into the life of following Christ – a life of compassion, harmony and peace.

So, as much as we celebrate the divinity of Christ, and acknowledge that in him God has become flesh, the focus this week is on how the humanity of Jesus enabled him to understand and experience life as we do, and made it possible for him to be an example for us to follow. This means that we can’t use the divinity of Jesus as an excuse to accept lower standards for our lives than those embodied in his. His call for us to follow him is based in the truth that his life was completely human, and therefore completely accessible for us. It also means that as we follow Jesus, we do so with the same need to grow, learn, change, fail and develop as Jesus did. Our faith is not a doorway to a magical life free of the usual human struggles. Rather it is a pathway that enables us to journey through our humanity with deeper meaning, understanding and connectedness. The implications of following a human Christ will be the focus of our worship this week.

Global Application:
In so many ways faith has been framed as a way to escape the struggles and injustices of the world. Social justice is still an uncomfortable, or forbidden, term in many segments of the Christian community. As we have focussed on the divinity of Christ and on the otherworldly heaven we believe he has won for us, we have become disconnected form our planet, from other people who believe and live differently from us, and even from our own flesh and blood – our own humanity. We have come to act as if our bodies didn’t matter and our spirits were the only “real” part of us. We have come to live as if the earth does not matter, since “it’s going to be all be destroyed in the end anyway”. We have come to believe that our primary task in dealing with those who suffer is to get them to make a “faith decision”, to agree with certain ideas in order to be “saved”. The result is that many Christ-followers have refused to get involved in the work of feeding the hungry, liberating the oppressed and healing the sick. And when we have done these things it has often been with a hidden agenda – to convert those we serve. If we are to take incarnation seriously, though, we will find ourselves taking embodiment seriously, taking the earth and our humanity seriously. Once this truth has captured us, we will inevitably begin to care more about serving and caring for people just because they are valuable as human beings. We will strive not to convert them, but to bring them to wholeness in whatever way is best for them. And we will seek to serve with an attitude of learning, humility and seeking to grow into wholeness together. The incarnation really does change how we engage in the world, if we will let it.

Local Application:
The humanity of the incarnate Christ has strong implications for our lives and ministry in our homes, communities, workplaces and neighbourhoods. When we recognise the extent to which God is concerned for the details of our lives, when we really embrace the incarnate nature of Christ, we can no longer devalue the daily realities we must face. If incarnation becomes the basis for our lives, we cannot help but heed the call to be always growing and learning. We cannot help but view this life as more than just a test for eternity, but as having value in and of itself. This means that we must become just as concerned for the physical, emotional and mental well-being of those around us as we are for their spiritual well-being. It means that we can no longer live with a dualistic view of ourselves, but must embrace the essential unity of spirit, mind and body, of God and creation. In the light of this we will discover that following Jesus means that we get involved in play, companionship, advocacy, service and acts of generosity as much as we are engaged in worship and evangelism. Suddenly we discover that so-called “spiritual” pursuits are not separate from our normal “human” pursuits. And out of all of this we will find that following Jesus becomes something that engages every facet of our lives – our relationships, our learning, our work, our leisure, our money, our values, our ethics and, yes, our spirituality. The Christ who grew, who challenged, who debated, who ate and learned becomes a true model for how we choose to live our lives, and how we can best bring life to those around us.

Growing Together
Partnering with God
The Life That Is Truly Good
Weak and Poor God
Praise Be to You

All Creatures Of Our God And King
Jesus, Lord, We Look To Thee
O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee
Dear Jesus, In Whose Life I See
Be Thou My Vision (A gender inclusive version of the lyrics is available here)
Let Me Shine (Lord in your life I see)
Give Thanks (Link to YouTube video)
All The Way My Saviour Leads Me (Link to YouTube video)
God Of Justice (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for the Lord’s Supper

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