Growing in Stature and in Wisdom and in Favour
A sermon for the first Sunday after Christmas
Friends, we are all growing older! We are growing in years, perhaps in stature of one kind or another. This is a good thing, but especially so if we are also growing in wisdom. That can be a little harder to judge, especially about ourselves. I should say that wisdom will be reflected in our relationship with God and consequently our relationships with other people.
Today we hear about both Samuel and Jesus growing in these ways, although no doubt there were differences between them.
Think first about little Samuel. The promised child of Hannah and Elkanah, he was loved and treasured and promised to God. When he was weaned, his parents took him to the House of the Lord in Shiloh and left him there in the Lord’s service, visiting him once a year when they went to offer an annual sacrifice. He was very young, although it may be that he was weaned at a very few years, rather than months, old.
We hear that Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favour with the Lord and with the people. This phrase is very similar to what we later hear about Jesus. Samuel has been placed in the Lord’s service. Jesus will place himself in the service of his heavenly Father.
Just before today’s Gospel passage, Luke tells of the time when Jesus was younger and the family returned from Bethlehem to live in Nazareth. Verse 40 says of Jesus at this time, The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him. (Luke 2. 40)
Immediately afterwards, in today’s Gospel reading, we see Jesus as an older child. It is worth noticing that at the end of today’s reading we hear, And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years [or stature, depending on the translation], and in divine and human favour.
The enclosure of this story between these two statements about Jesus tells us that that is what it is all about.
We know very little of Jesus’ childhood. We know the story of his birth and that the family eventually returned to Nazareth where he grew up, and today the reading from Luke’s Gospel tells us about this visit from Nazareth to the temple.
Jesus is 12 years old. Although still a child, he is of an age when, though still under the authority of their parents. young boys would take on a large measure of personal responsibility.
There is some evidence that fathers would pray a blessing when they were being freed from responsibility for their sons’ behavior. This signaled that the son was old enough to exercise conscience and judgment. The books of Deuteronomy and Isaiah speak of an age of knowing good from evil.
It appears that Jesus has reached an age of taking such decisions. His parents apparently trust him sufficiently to assume that he is where they expect and with whom they expect. There is great peace of mind in knowing that your child has reached that point.
I remember once getting home from school. My mother was not home but due any minute. I was never normally at home alone. On this occasion a friend asked if I wanted to go with her to her ballet lesson in the local hall. It was only for an hour and it was only half a block away. I judged that my mother would be happy for this to happen so I left her a note to say that was where I was, and off I went.
Unfortunately, I wrote it with the only suitable writing implement I could find, a light green pencil, and I wrote it on the only suitable paper I could find, which was a parcel on the table which was wrapped in brown paper.
You can imagine what happened. My mother in her anxiety did not see the pale message in a strange place. Although I was not lost in a large town amongst strangers, I was not where I was expected to be and my parents did not know where I was. There was worried searching.
Children are often good at being temporarily lost, so many of you will have experienced this from the viewpoint of the child or the parent, or both.
Jesus’ absence was a rather long temporary one. Three days is a long time for a child to be missing. It is also rather a long time for a child to be single-mindedly immersed in self-chosen learning and questioning of his teachers on theological matters.
I wonder who those teachers were and whether they were still in the temple years later when he began his ministry.
When Mary and Joseph found Jesus, their reaction was also typical of most parents. It was not a request to be updated on all Jesus had seen and heard and learned: What have you been up to son? Had an interesting time?
No, rather it was an expression of their own worry and anxiety: Why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety. Their focus was on their anxiety for his safety.
Jesus told them as best he could why he was there in the temple, but they did not and could not understand.
He, on the other hand, did understand their anxiety and we hear that he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.
But there is another little statement that adds to the picture of this family relationship.
His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
Why does this sound so familiar? . . . We have heard it not so long ago, also in Luke’s gospel, in the reading for Christmas Day. It is earlier in this same chapter (Luke 2. 19). After the shepherds visited the baby Jesus, they left and told everyone what God through the angels had told them about Jesus. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. So Mary’s reflections of the heart also bracket this story of the visit to the temple as well as linking it to the story of Jesus’ birth and who he was.
Then we have the final closing bracket: And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour
Here is the sequence.
|Jesus’ birth||Mary reflects.||Jesus grows.||Visit to the temple.||Mary reflects.||Jesus grows.|
I wonder if we can take two lessons from this story, one from Mary and one from Jesus.
Mary treasured and reflected on all she knew about Jesus and from Jesus. Might we also treasure and reflect on all we learn about Jesus and from Jesus?
Jesus understood the needs of human relationships and human society but he nevertheless prioritised the things of God. I must be in my Father’s house.
This fits well with the Colossians reading. To follow Jesus is to grow in holy wisdom and to prioritise the things of God.
Paul speaks to God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. You are also God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved; and Paul tells what God’s chosen ones should look like and live like.
Paul says, Clothe yourselves with … so what should people see when they observe you? What are you wrapped in? Well, there should be compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. They should see love. How will they know that that is what they see? How does love manifest itself? What do acts of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience look like? Paul tells us that they look like a people who bear with one another, forgive one another, encourage one another, and have peace and thankfulness in their hearts. They are a people who worship God and seek to live as Jesus lived and as he taught.
May we, like Jesus, grow in wisdom and make choices that show our love for others and our love for God. Amen.