Sermon - first sunday after christmas
Fur Elise - Fur-get-it
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
So I enjoy music, but I can’t do music. I can’t remember if I’ve shared this story with you, but Sharon and I met each other at a church youth gathering at the University of Maryland. I was the chaplain and Sharon’s college roommate was the chairperson of the event. A Christian rock band was hired to perform. That’s pretty upbeat, energetic music, and everyone was clapping along to the beat of the songs.
I can’t hear the beat of music, but I’m also out with Sharon on one of our first ever dates so I can’t let her see that I’m soooo uncool that I can’t even clap my hands right. Out of the corner of my eye, I have to watch when she claps to know when I’m supposed to clap to keep the beat.
But I still try at music. We have a piano at home and I’ll tinker a bit now and then. When my daughter Amanda was a lot younger and before school-sports stole her away from piano, she took lessons and played at recitals.
I remember practicing Beethoven’s Fur Elise. It’s melodic and rather simple. I thought I was playing it pretty well. Then I go to Amanda’s recital and some little kid, without any music even in front of him, plays it like he’s Beethoven himself. That was the end of me practicing Fur Elise. Fur Elise - forget it.
And this kid is nothing compared to the young prodigies I hear on the radio on Saturdays on a program called From the Top. They travel all over the place to give these young musicians a chance to share their talents. It’s just not fair how gifted these kids are and no amount of practicing on my part is ever going to help me be anywhere near as accomplished as they already are.
Today we hear again from the Gospel of Luke. Luke is the Evangelist who is very concerned with the theme of continuity. His Gospel begins in the Jerusalem Temple when Zechariah the priest is told by an angel that his wife Elizabeth will bear a son, and that this son will share the spirit and power of Elijah, the great Jewish prophet.
When Jesus is eight days old, as Luke tells us, the Holy Family takes Him to the same Jerusalem Temple and there they perform the traditional Jewish religious rites for a first-born male child. Jesus is the continuation of God’s revelation among the Jewish people. The Holy Family is keeping the religious traditions of their people. Jesus is being raised intentionally Jewish.
Today’s Gospel begins with the description that “every year [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover,” and that now Jesus is twelve years old. This is the last year of Jesus’ childhood. At 13, a young Jewish boy is recognized as a man. In the eyes of the Temple teachers, Jesus is a child. And yet there He is listening to Jerusalem’s most distinguished religious leaders and teachers, and asking them questions.
He’s like those kids on From the Top. Jesus is a spiritually gifted child that not even the well-practiced leaders of the Temple could match no matter how much it must have infuriated them.
This is the only biblical story that we have of Jesus as a young person. We have a couple of Christmas stories, and except for this one story of Jesus at twelve, we don’t hear anything else of Jesus until He’s about ready to begin His public ministry.
And this story is told only by Luke because of his particular interest in continuity. How did Jesus move from being raised devoutly Jewish to next being seen out in the wilderness with that unorthodox, rabble-rouser John the Baptist who has turned away from a life as a Temple priest?
Well, it didn’t come about suddenly. It was a slow progression, and Jesus’ example is always an example for us. This is where that well-known aphorism, that four-word phrase comes from: What would Jesus do? Jesus, Luke tells us, was learned and Jesus was listening, but Jesus was also asking questions.
When we hear the later-in-life stories about Jesus, He has remained committed to His Jewish faith. He has been keeping His Jewish traditions and practices – but not blindly. Those questions of the 12-year-old boy led Jesus to delve deeper into His faith. They prodded Him forward.
They remained and led Him out into the wilderness seeking direction from John the Baptist. They then drove Him alone into the desert to search His soul. And when He re-emerges from those 40 days, Jesus has a new and intimate vision of a personal, approachable and compassionate God.
Jesus kept-up His openness to God’s continuing revelation. There’s the remarkable story of Jesus’ encounter with the foreign woman who Jesus dismisses at first as not His concern. Then her tenderness and sincerity awoke Jesus to a greater understanding of His ministry and life. He was sent to all people whomever they may be.
Even at the end of His life, questions remained. He struggled with God in the Garden of Gethsemane. He yelled to heaven from the cross, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” Questions were always there, but they weren’t asked in isolation. They were always asked from a position of relationship.
Jesus wasn’t asking questions about the void from the void. He wasn’t unsatisfied because He felt isolated from God. He was driven by His passion to better know the God that always felt so near and so powerful in His life.
What drove Him to ask these questions was the deep and abiding presence of God within and around Him. Jesus wasn’t satisfied with the old answers, so He asked questions not as a sign of faithlessness, but as a passion to better understand the presence of God that surrounded Him.
And since Jesus’ life is an example for our lives, let’s try and make some spiritual New Year’s resolutions that help us to grow closer to God.
Questions are not the enemy of faith. Questions can be the doorway into a deeper faith. They can be calling us out to discover the hidden mystery that is Jesus’ life with and within us.
So let’s close with words that Linda read for us from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” May this be a part of our New Year’s resolutions, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
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