Sermon for Second Sunday after Christmas Luke 2:41-52
As she walked along the dusty road, all Mary could think of was “What in the world are we going to do with Jesus?” The boy knew she was angry with him. This time, he had pushed his limits further than he ever had before. This time, he had moved too far out of her protective circle than he should have. So he kept his distance from his mother. He scuffed along the edge of the road, kicking stones, looking out at the horizon, deep in thought. They all said little to each other. Joseph was always a quiet man, so his silence was not unusual. But the usual easy conversation between Jesus and his mother had vanished, and the younger ones looked at each other for cues. They weren’t used to this stony wall of silence, either.
Jesus had never been like the other children in the village. But then Mary’s firstborn had not had the usual beginnings. It is true, her memories had faded a bit. Over the years, practical life had pushed aside the memories. Every day, she had to bake bread. She went to the market in Nazareth. She haggled about prices of olives, dates, a little meat, oil for the lamps. As Joseph and the boys worked in the shop on carpentry jobs for the building project in nearby Sepphoris, she and her daughters tended a couple of scrawny goats, worried over a few grapevines, swept the dirt floors. With a growing family, Mary was busy. With all of King Herod’s building projects going on in the next town, Joseph and his sons were busy as well.
Sometimes at night, after the children were asleep, Mary would stand in the doorway of their little home and look up at the night stars. She would remember that one bright star shining on the night that Jesus had been born. She would remember the amazed faces of those scruffy shepherds as they looked at her newborn son. Sometimes, she thought about that first time she took Jesus to the Temple. That old man, Simeon, had taken her baby in his arms and blessed him. But some of his prophetic words still sat uneasily with her: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Now, that phrase comes back, unbidden, to Mary as she strides along the dusty road. “A sword will pierce your own soul too.” She glances over at her eldest, who avoids her gaze. Jesus knows that it is his fault that they are way behind schedule. The usual five-day journey from Jerusalem to Nazareth has become a ten-day one, because Mary and Joseph did not miss him until that first night, when they all set up camp. Then they had to go back into Jerusalem to find him. That took another day. Then it was three days before they found him.
Mary realizes that a sword has pierced her heart more than once during Jesus’s twelve years. There was the visit of a group of magi from Persia, who brought amazing, expensive gifts to her tiny son. Then, someone warned them that Herod was furious. He had ordered those magi to come back to see him; instead, they had taken another road back home. In his temper tantrum, Herod had ordered all baby boys aged two or younger to be killed. So one evening, Mary and Joseph frantically packed their belongings. As soon as it was dark enough, they fled, guided by moon and starlight, to become refugees in Egypt for a few years.
But that was many years ago. Life has been pretty ordinary for years. Oh, Jesus has that faraway look to his eyes a lot of the time. He is obviously the most intelligent of her children. Occasionally, a neighbor makes a casual remark that reminds Mary that her firstborn does not really look like anyone else in hers or Joseph’s families. She always ignores the implied slight, but she notices it. And of all her children, Jesus pays closer attention to things and people. He never misses a chance to drop a coin in a beggar’s cup. He always sits up straighter and pays close attention when the rabbi begins instruction in the synagogue. In fact, now that she thinks about it, Jesus slipped away from them several times during that Passover week. She had thought he was out playing with the other boys; now she wonders if he had found his way to the Temple, to wander through its courtyards and find some elders deep in discussion and argument about the Torah. She wonders, because when she and Joseph finally found Jesus the day before, he seemed completely comfortable. He was perfectly at home with the scribes and Pharisees—not just listening, but actively participating. Just as amazing, it was obvious that these elders had made room for him, and in the midst of their scholarly conversation, “Jesus was fully engaged in the discussion, in the study, in the life of the community of faith.”
What in the world are we going to do with Jesus?
Jesus’ family were likely mystified by him—his detachment from them, his love of theological conversations that were way beyond those of a carpenter’s son, his restless heart that was evident even as he was obedient on most occasions. Yet in Luke’s gospel, it is clear that Jesus’ questions, his searching, even his wisdom at an early age, were shaped and grounded firmly within a faith tradition. Mary and Joseph were faithful and active, observant in their Jewish rituals and traditions. It seems clear they went regularly to synagogue and taught their children fundamentals of the faith. Each year, they made the five-day pilgrimage, on foot, to the annual celebration of Passover in Jerusalem. Luke shows us that Jesus has grown up in a family that was committed to God. Deeply rooted in their faith tradition. So perhaps Mary and Joseph should not have been so surprised to find their eldest son standing amidst Temple scribes, asking cogent, Socratic questions. Amazing them with his understanding and answers to their questions. No doubt they had somehow missed the fact that their son had learned much from them, and their examples.
As parents and grandparents–even as friends–we can understand the quandary in which Mary and Joseph found themselves. We are usually focused on the everyday type events in our lives and the lives of our families. We lose sight of the bigger picture. And in our own world, it is easy to get caught up in focus on the negative: the violence in our world, the safety of our youth, what they are looking at online and with whom are they texting. Yet as parents or grandparents or godparents or people who are part of the Christian faith community “tribe,” we might read today’s Gospel and see what is underneath it. That is to say, there is an assumption that a firm foundation of faith has already been laid for this twelve year old Jesus.
Mary and Joseph had taught Jesus his prayers. He read and learned scripture. They all went regularly to worship at the local synagogue. In other words, Jesus’ Jewish faith was as close to him as the air he breathed. So by the time his parents found him in the Temple, in the midst of a theological conversation with his elders, Jesus already knew enough about his faith tradition to question it, to argue about it, to speak with authority about it.
How do you and I do that in today’s world? What in the world are WE going to do with Jesus? It is easy to get caught up in the demands of everyday life. Our world is complex, we are busy, and although we mean well, time vanishes before we know it. We know it’s important to learn about our Christian faith, yet we’re not always so good at knowing what that looks like on Monday or Tuesday or Friday.
The preacher contends that the first step is to want to know more, to want to ask questions—even if we think our questions are dumb (which they are not.) If we do, we are already on the right path. We, in this community of faith, are Episcopalians. Anglicans, Christians. It is important that we learn the fundamentals of our faith—and, if we have children, to teach them the same fundamentals of faith that Jesus of Nazareth was taught. How?
We are three days into a New Year. No doubt many of you have made some New Year’s resolutions. Yet today, instead of making some resolutions that we all know we’ll break by the end of this month, I suggest that we make some goals. I invite you to set some goals for yourself or your family. For example, set a goal of coming to worship every Sunday for four weeks in a row. Set a goal to bring your children to Sunday School every Sunday for four weeks in a row. Set a goal of praying a prayer at least one time every day. You don’t know how to pray? Okay, that’s an easy one. See the book in front of you in the pew? The one with the cross on the front of it? That is called The Book of Common Prayer. If you need to take one home, take one home. No, really.
Turn to Page 810 in that book, and you’ll find a Table of Contents for prayers. The prayers actually begin on page 814. We are Episcopalians. Anglicans. We don’t make stuff up. In that prayerbook, you will find prayers to pray with your children before bedtime or before meals. You will find prayers for every possible occasion: from birth of a child to prayers for the sick, prayers for guidance of children, prayers for family life. Prayers for men and women in the Armed Forces, prayers for our national life, prayers for the dying. You will even find Compline (p. 139), and every night, before bed, if you pray this short office, you will be joining millions of other Christians around the world—monks, nuns and others—especially the Benedictines, from whom we got this office—saying prayers.
Here is what you need to build your faith. Prayer. And since our prayerbook is full of scripture. (even though it is not always identified) you’ll get some of that too.
Here is what you do about Jesus. You learn about how he lived his life, in scripture, in prayer, in our tradition. Then you live your life the same way. You teach your children and grandchildren and godchildren how to live that life too. So at least one time every day, pray a prayer out of this Book of Common Prayer—alone, or at the dinner table, or with your children at bedtime. Come to worship. Come to fellowship, to coffee hour, in this community. And learn with others.
What in the world are YOU going to do with Jesus? Let’s help each other figure that out, as we walk on this spiritual journey together. Amen.
© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton
 Luke 2: 34-35
 Kathy Beach-Verhey, in Feasting on the Gospels: Luke, Vol. 1, Chapters 1-11, Cynthia A. Jarvis & E. Elizabeth Johnson, Editors, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 60.
Pictures of Jesus in temple as a boy and 1979 Book of Common Prayer accessed through Google images