Monday, December 31, 2018

Sermon: "Tween Jesus"

Scripture Intro - Luke 2:41-52

Earlier this week, on Christmas Eve, we heard the story of Jesus’ birth.
Next Sunday, on Epiphany Sunday, we’ll hear the story of the arrival of the Magi  – who, despite how we present it in Christmas pageants,
likely didn’t complete their long journey to Bethlehem until several months or years after Jesus was born.
But here on this first Sunday after Christmas, the lectionary jumps even further ahead and gives us a story about Jesus as a twelve-year-old boy getting separated from his parents before finally being found in the Temple in Jerusalem.

The placement of these stories in the lectionary may irk us because it upsets our desire to hear stories told in a chronological or linear fashion,
but this placement is a function of having two Nativity stories in our Gospels, written by two different writers who have two different ways of bridging the story of Jesus’ birth with the story of Jesus’ adult ministry.

Matthew gives us the story of the traveling Magi who followed a star from their home in the East searching for the child King born beneath it.
Matthew then tells us that the arrival of the Magi prompted King Herod to order the death of all children under the age of two, causing the Holy Family to flee to Egypt and not return to Nazareth until long after Herod had died.

Luke’s gospel, in comparison, has no mention of the Magi, no slaughter of the innocents, no fleeing to Egypt.
Instead, the Holy Family returns to Nazareth eight days after Mary gives birth, and the next time we encounter Jesus he’s 12-years-old.

Matthew, who was writing for a Jewish audience, used his bridge story to equate Jesus’ early life to the story of another great Jewish prophet, Moses – who also escaped death at the age of two, and came up out of Egypt to begin his ministry.
Luke, who was writing for a Greek and Roman audience, had no need for such a story.
Instead, Luke gives us a story of an adolescent Jesus matching wits with the Temple scholars. A story meant to appeal to readers who had heard similar stories of early greatness about Emperor Augustus and other great leaders.

Our Gospel writers may have had different reasons for including the stories that they did, but the readings that we’ll hear over the next two Sundays serve a similar purpose of providing us with a bridge – a transition - between the story of the birth of a miraculous infant, and the man that infant would become.

The Rev. Maureen R. Frescott
Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC
December 30, 2018 – First Sunday after Christmas
Luke 2:41-52

“Tween Jesus”

This is a time of transition.
On the church calendar it’s the Christmas season – the 12 days between Jesus’ birth on December 25th and the season of Epiphany, which begins on January 6th.
On our secular calendar it’s the time between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day – the time where many of us pack away the Christmas decorations and start getting our homes, routines, and eating habits back to what they were before the 'Holiday Season' descended upon us in November.

But as we transition back to the way things were, there’s also a natural taking stock of the way things could be.
There are only two more days to go until we leave 2018 behind and enter 2019.    Two more days until a New Year and possibly a New You!

For many of us, the turning over of the calendar year has us thinking about how we might change our experience of the year ahead for the better –
by changing something about ourselves.
This is the year when we will lose 20 lbs., cut sugar out of our diet,
cut back on watching cable news, cut down on the amount of stuff we own,
be more grateful for what we have, and finally get our lives organized.

If you’re a New Year’s resolution traditionalist,
and set a goal every year to lose weight, eat better, or get in better shape, technology has made achieving that goal easier than ever.
You can get a wearable fitness tracker like a Fitbit or an iWatch that will count your steps, track your heart rate, and even vibrate on your wrist at regular intervals to remind you to move, drink water, and go to bed on time.

When I first got mine, I followed its commands religiously.
Now when I'm sitting at my desk and I feel the tingling on my wrist I end up shaking my arm because I think it must be falling asleep.

If you need more of prodding than a buzzing watch to reach your goal of a new you, there are fitness apps you can download to your tablet or smart phone that come with virtual coaches who monitor your progress in real time.
So when you’re exercising at home you can call up the image of a real trainer who will sweat right along side you and tell you to walk faster or pedal harder or do just one more set of lunges – “C’mon, you can do it!

Having a virtual coach only costs $15 a month or $150 for the year.
They’ve finally figured out how to get people to pay for a gym membership that they’re never going to use without having to actually build and staff a gym.

If your New Year’s goal is to be better organized, there are a multitude of interactive journals, planners, and calendars out there that promise to get you on track and on the road to a new you. 
Going far beyond a traditional day-planner, these life organizers include pages meant for journaling, doodling, and listing daily goals, gratitude’s and joys.
Millions of these kinds of organizers are sold every year, and some people swear by them – insisting that having a structured system to keep them focused and on track has transformed their lives.

But as with the fitness trackers and gym membership cards, many of these life organizers will be used for only a short period of time,
and then will sit for months on a nightstand or wind up tucked in drawer,
as a reminder of one more thing on the “To Do List” left undone,
yet another failed attempt to change ourselves for the better.

Only 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions end up keeping them.
Which is why many of us have given up on making resolutions in the first place. 
But there is something about turning over the page from one year to the next that pulls us to think about how we might make the coming year different than the previous one.
Especially if the previous year had more than it’s fair share of challenges, losses, and disappointments.
When we feel as if we don’t have the power to change much of what happens in the world around us, we naturally gravitate towards changing what we do have the power to change - ourselves.

The story from the Gospel of Luke that the lectionary gives us on this Sunday after Christmas is a story about change and transition.
It’s about Jesus as a youthful messiah who hints at his destiny when he is drawn to his “Father’s House” – the Temple in Jerusalem.
It’s about the continuing journey of the Holy Family and the worry the adolescent Jesus caused his parents as they anxiously searched for him for 3 days.
It’s about the theological foreshadowing of the events of Holy Week,
when Mary would once again believe she had lost her son,
only to find him alive and well 3 days later, on Easter morning.

It’s also about Jesus’ coming of age as a 12-year-old boy and the commonalities we find between his story and our own story.

Adolescence is a time of transition.
A time when we have one foot in the world of childhood and the other in the world of adulthood.
When we feel like our bodies are maturing faster than our minds or vice versa.
Where our skin breaks out and feels like it doesn’t fit anymore.
It’s the time where we move from running freely through life and not caring much about how others perceive us to suddenly feeling as if all eyes are upon us – teachers, parents, peers, strangers – studying, quantifying, judging.

Nowadays, we call kids who are between 9 and 12-years-old “tweens” – in recognition that they’re not yet teenagers, but not really children either.

Writer Mia Geiger, who rose to fame with her parenting blog called “Scary Mommy,” offers these Five Signs You’re Living with a Tween:

1.   Your child no longer refers to broccoli as trees, or raisins on celery sticks as “ants on a log” and will no longer eat either of them.
2.   Toys become a lot more expensive. You thought those big Lego sets (cost) a fortune? Wait until you shop for a family data plan.
3.   You suddenly don’t know anything. Before, you seemed to be the keeper of the world’s secrets. Now, your kids do the opposite of whatever you suggest.
4.   Their bedroom door only opens a few times a day, primarily 1) when you are not around, 2) it’s time to get something to eat, or 3) they need the cell phone charger. On the plus side, if the door is closed, you don’t have to see the week’s worth of laundry balled up in the corner.
5.   Their usual response to any comment you make is an eye roll, sometimes combined with a “whatever.”

We may say that today’s tweens are forced to grow up too fast and are experiencing the pangs of adolescence at an earlier age,
but the concept of being a teenager - spending the years between age 13 and 18 still living under the roof and guidance of one’s parents without the full responsibilities of adulthood - is a relatively modern invention.
It wasn’t too long ago that the societal norm was for “teenagers” to be working and married by the age of 14 or 15.
As soon as you were old enough to bear children of your own you were considered to be an adult - not an adolescent.

For Jesus, as a 12-year-old boy growing up in first century Palestine,
this also would be the time where he was expected to transition from the world of women to the world of men.
As he no longer spent most of his time in the company of his mother and female relatives who served as his caretakers, nurturers, and general teachers,
and instead moved to spending his time with his father, male relatives, and rabbis, who would serve as his religious instructors, teach him a trade, and hone his skills as a scholar and public debater.

This is likely how Jesus become lost in the first place.
Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph were on their way home after the Passover celebration and they had traveled a full day away from Jerusalem before they realized Jesus was no longer with them.
For a Passover pilgrimage, this was not unusual.
They were likely traveling in a large group of family and friends, with the woman walking separately from the men.
Mary probably assumed that Joseph had Jesus, and Joseph assumed that he was with Mary.
It was only when they stopped along the way that they realized that no one had seen the boy since they left Jerusalem.
As a tween, Jesus’ presence was both expected and unexpected in both his mother’s world and his father’s world.

The transition – the shift in place and providence came the moment they found him in the Temple, skillfully asking and answering questions of the religious teachers.

This is where Mary rushed in, likely flushed and shaking, and said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
We might imagine that tween Jesus responded first with an eye roll and a “whatever.”
Then he said, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Spoken by a 12-year-old in our time, we might say this was a smart-mouth answer given by someone too young to realize how much worry he had caused his parents and too immature to recognize that actions have consequences and that we can’t just run off and do what we feel like doing without giving thought to how those around us are affected.

Spoken by a 12-year-old in Jesus’ time, this was a welcome sign that the child was seeking the company and challenging questions of his elders,
and would soon make the transition into the world of adulthood.

Spoken by 12-year-old Jesus in particular, this was Jesus’ first demonstrable act of being Emmanuel – God with us.
For here he demonstrates that we are drawn to live in relationship with God – whether we see God as Father, Mother, or other –
and that we are never lost when we seek the company of God – in God’s house, in our house, in the brightest or bleakest place we can imagine.

But for Jesus’ mother in particular, this moment in the Temple meant that a much more personal transition had taken place.
It was a sign that the events that God had set in motion when the Angel Gabriel first appeared to her, were moving forward into the next stage.
The preparation for Jesus’ ministry of teaching, healing, and ultimately, turning the status quo upside down, was under way.
Recognizing this likely added to Mary’s anxiety when she discovered Jesus was missing.
Perhaps she knew all along where she would find him,
and that this would be the first painful step towards the day when she would have no choice but to let him go.

But that time, at this point in the story, is yet to come.
In this in-between time, this time of transition, the ending of the story is still unknown.
Mary, like us, is imagining a future that could be different,
if enough people embrace the idea that change is possible and feel empowered to make that change.
And the change starts in ourselves – 
in our hopes and expectations,
in the way we interact with and treat others,
in the trust we place in God that we’re not doing this all on our own.

Here’s a New Year’s resolution you might consider keeping.
Follow the example of 12-year-old Jesus and trust that God is longing to be in your company just as you are longing to be in God’s company. 

Trust that whatever change you’d like to make in your life is completely doable if it comes from a place rooted in joy,
and the desire to create a bigger space for love, compassion, and grace.

And trust that Emmanuel – God with us – will be with you every step of the way.

Thanks be to God, and Amen.

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