January 3, 2016 Series: Lectionary
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 2:40–2:52
Second Sunday of Christmas
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
If you’re not listening for it, you might miss it. Did you catch it? It’s pretty subtle, especially as you hear it read aloud. Once you’ve noticed it, though, everything else just comes together.
Listening can be tough. It takes effort to really listen. Between the noise of all the diversions and distractions that surround us and the noise of our own thoughts, the average person has got to work to pay attention. That’s not just true for sermons – the work of listening happens at home, at school, and at work. It happens with the people closest to us and with people we barely know at all. Are you listening? Or is something keeping you from hearing?
Here we are at the start of another new year. Looking back at the year now past, I hope that you’re feeling wiser from whatever experiences you’d had. Maybe you learned a lot. If you’re feeling pretty confident right now that you’re in a good place, that you’ve got it all figured out rolling into 2016, I hope that goes well for you! Chances are, though, that the new year hasn’t gone perfectly for you, even if it’s only a couple of days along. We could all use greater, growing wisdom in the year ahead – waxing wisdom, if you will.
If you’ve of a certain generation, hearing the words “wax” and “wisdom” stuck together might bring to mind a classic 1980’s film: The Karate Kid. Daniel, a teenager, hopes to learn karate from Mr. Miyagi, the apartment handyman who’s agreed to teach him. Before he really does anything else, though, Mr. Miyagi gives Daniel work to do around his house, including waxing his classic cars. “Wax on. Wax off.” A bit later in the movie, we learn that the tasks that Daniel misunderstood as pointless manual labor have actually been teaching the young man how to defend himself through muscle memory. It’s only after Daniel realizes the result of Mr. Miyagi’s exercises that he starts to learn and grow wiser.
There’s a fair amount of misunderstanding in today’s Gospel reading. Mary and Joseph – you remember them from the Christmas story, right? – have gone with Jesus on a family trip to Jerusalem for Passover. And as family trips sometimes do, this one turns out differently than expected.
Back in Jesus’ time, it was common practice for families to join with other families as they made big trips, like going up to or down from Jerusalem. It made sense. This way, they could support each other as they travelled, and they’d be less of a target for robbers along the road. When these groups of families travelled, the women and children would usually leave first because they would travel slower, and the men and older boys would catch up to them when they stopped for the evening at a prearranged spot. So if you’re wondering how Mary and Joseph could have “lost” Jesus, here’s what likely happened. As a twelve-year-old boy, Jesus was right at the age where he could have gone with either the women and younger children or with the men and older boys. Leaving Jerusalem and travelling for the first day, the parents probably each misunderstood that their son was with the other group. It wasn’t until they stopped for the night that they realized that Jesus wasn’t with them. So they travel back up to Jerusalem the next day, and then search for him on the third day, finally finding him in, of all places, the temple.
Take a moment here to imagine Jesus the 12-year-old. He’s the same age as some of our Confirmation students – maybe the same as you. Jesus isn’t your typical pre-teen, though. He’s been a perfect son since Mary and Joseph first saw his face in that little town of Bethlehem. It’s not like he’s ever disobeyed his parents or run away from home. But he’s still 12. Mary and Joseph are worried as they frantically go searching for their lost child: “in great distress,” as Mary puts it. Why would Jesus not be where he was supposed to be?
Look at it this way: Jesus was exactly where he was supposed to be. Mary was Jesus’ mother and Joseph his adopted father and guardian, but Jesus knew clearly – even at age 12 – that he was God the Father’s Son. In Jewish culture, Jesus was at the age of spiritual maturity, the time at which he would be considered a man in the faith. It makes sense, then, that he’s going to now be about the work that his Father had given him, that he’d be in his Father’s house.
Now let’s get back to that first thing, the point that you might not have caught without paying close attention to Luke’s description of what Mary and Joseph saw when they found their son in the temple on the third day. Where was Jesus sitting, that struck his family with such astonishment? He was right there at the center, with the teachers of Israel gathered around him. As he asked questions of them – and they of him – they were amazed.
Amazement. Astonishment. Marveling. Nobody else there truly understood who Jesus was or why this young person demonstrated such wisdom. Even Mary and Joseph didn’t expect to find what they found, to see what they saw, to hear what they heard. But Jesus was right where he needed to be: at the center, in his Father’s house, the Word of God come to be with His people. And while his destiny would bring him back to Jerusalem about 20 years later to complete his Father’s business, Jesus went home to Nazareth with his parents and continued being a perfectly obedient son, honoring God’s gift of the family. And he waxed (grew) in wisdom.
It’s a pretty safe bet that we could all use some more wisdom in this new year, especially when it comes to listening. How are you at listening to the people who are closest to you, like your parents or your spouse or your children? Do you make the effort to understand what they’re saying to you, or do you already have it all figured out? Is something keeping you from hearing?
What about your neighbor? If you listen to them, you might be amazed. Have you misunderstood the people who live, shop, work, and go to school beside you? As Jesus waxed in wisdom, he also grew in favor with God and man, being a true neighbor to all. Living in perfect obedience to his Father, he returned to Jerusalem to give himself on the cross for us all. In this season of Christmas, we remember and celebrate the Word of God made flesh, Immanuel, because Jesus came as God’s gift to us; he’s also God’s gift to the people out there. That’s what you and I will get to share as we listen to our neighbors and understand God’s love for them.
But if you really want to wax in wisdom in this new year, your best hope is to be listening to God’s Word. Hear it as you engage with the Bible in worship, in classes, in devotions, and small group studies. And while studying scripture can sometimes be like Mr. Miyagi’s exercises for Daniel, building up “muscle memory” in your heart and mind, it’s never pointless labor. As you listen to Jesus, God will work through His Word, the same Word who sat among the teachers at the temple, right in the center, waxing wisdom in you. By the working of the Word, whether you’re twelve or twenty or ninety-two, you will grow in wisdom and in favor with God and man.
Jesus is at the center. Everything else comes together around him. He is our wisdom in this new year, and in all the years to come.