I have four favorite stories in Scripture David’s overcoming the all-powerful giant, Goliath, Jeremiah’s being called by the Lord as a young boy to communicate God’s Word to the Israelite people, and then the two stories we hear today, Samuel’s ministering before the Lord as a young boy. What I really liked about Samuel, who would become a Judge charged with leading the Israelites, is his dedication and discipline of mind and body, aimed and learning the wisdom of God. So we hear that Samuel continued – as he ministered – to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the Israelites.
Finally, my favorite story very much echoes Samuel’s here and it comes in our Gospel lesson from Luke this morning. Jesus, the twelve year old boy, had gone with his parents to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. Jesus determines that he’s going to stay in the temple because he is ‘doing his father’s work.’ His focus on fulfilling the mission God sent him into the world to accomplish is there for him even as a boy, just as it was with David, with Jeremiah, with Samuel, and finally with Jesus. The interesting thing we hear though with Jesus, is almost the same refrain we hear about Samuel: Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. This is in fact almost an exact echo of the passage from Samuel.
But let’s pause just here. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we celebrated the Son of God, the Messiah, taking on human flesh, becoming human, being born of the Virgin Mary, by the Holy Spirit. We affirmed that this one named Jesus, is indeed a human being, born a babe, becoming boy, then man, then condemned man on a cross. Looking forward, as we do each year though, we also affirm that this one named Jesus is the Christ and that Christ is God, distinct only in his relationship to the Father and the Holy Spirit. So you might be asking yourself then? Why on earth would this Jesus who is both a human being and God, need to live, to, as Luke puts it, ‘grow in wisdom and years?’
Why would God need to come into the world and live and grow in wisdom like David, like Jeremiah, like Samuel? Does God need to become something more than he is? Is he not enough? (pause). If that were the case, I certainly would not be worshipping him, for something else must be greater and more perfect than him, something must have created him and ordered him, and I need to worship whatever created him.
But Luke gives us a small clue here about why God comes into the world, why he sends his Son into the world. “Why were you searching for me, Jesus says.” Can you not recognize your God in your midst? “For if you recognized me, you would know that I must be in my Father’s house.” Jesus is making a point here that was made in the OT and that will be made again and again in the NT: sin – something that has affected not just each individual, but how we relate to one another, how we live together, how we build our institutions (including the temple, including the church, including our governments).
Sin has had the effect of making us blind to seeing God in our midst. Sin has caused us to literally in the gospel, and figuratively in our lives, lose Jesus Christ in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the crowds – in the middle of busy jobs, busy family life, busy extra-curricular activities, even in the midst of our own religious life. That is precisely what our Gospel is pointing to in a figurative way: we are caught up in a culture, and a society, and a time, when we have lost sight of Jesus Christ. We often presume him to be in the middle of our particular culture’s ways, of their ethics, or their morals, of their ways of acting toward one another, of the way they exercise love, power, authority, etc.
So why would God ‘need’ to come into the world to learn anything, to grow in wisdom? Actually, he didn’t. Instead, God willingly came into the world, sent his Son into the world to take on our every single aspect of being human (our bodies, our frailty, our limitations, our temptations, even our mortality). Jesus’s increase in wisdom and years, was nothing other than living out and taking on the reality of our own human condition – embracing us, binding himself to us, taking on our frailty, our very blindness to God – and overcoming this mortality, frailty, and blindness on the Cross. This was how he reconciled us to his Father so that we might say, Abba, Father. This is how we might receive his own wisdom: as we live before God like Jeremiah, like Samuel, we might grow like Samuel and Jeremiah in understanding who God is, and most importantly, as Jesus did, what it means for us to figuratively say, “I must be in my father’s house.”
At first glance, this might seem like a very individual journey. We might see Jesus as this single, sole faithful figure. And yes, we must profess that Jesus Christ alone has reconciled us to life with God; no one but God himself, who came to us in his Son, could accomplish this. And yet, clearly, from OT to New, God reconciles us to him not for our own personal safety, but so that we might be made into his witnesses, his servants, his messengers, his teachers, his priests. In other words, God reconciles us to himself to be joined to Jesus Christ’s own mission of drawing every human being to himself. That is it. We are not our own. We are not saved for our own sake. That is not what Jesus’s incarnation was about and all we have to do is look at the Gospels to see this.
Jesus is made incarnate, becomes flesh, becomes one of us so that we can actually see in him – a human being – our hope. So that we in our blindness might see a human being tempted as we are, but faithful to God, without sin. And this faithfulness is fundamentally about drawing people to God. How does he do this: by doing what he commands us to do: to go out and be witnesses, to work as a whole community, one church, one body, one people, one parish, to signal to people, to call them, to support them, to guide them, to help them, to challenge them, to look and see the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Christian faith is not about our individual needs, wants and desires. It is not about our expectations, just as it was not about Mary and Joseph’s expectations about Jesus. No, it is about gathering those of this world into God’s kingdom, into his house. God does not simply form individuals who will have an individual relationship with God, a personal spiritual experience. This is a false understanding of God’s life and of his will for human response to him. Rather he forms individuals to be members who give of the gifts he has given them, in order to build up the WHOLE Church, the whole people of God. To love God is to love neighbor. On these two commandments hang the entirety of creation, all the law, all the prophets, all the Scriptures, the whole will of God.
Again and again in the OT, we hear God speak often through a particular individual, but to and for the sake of his whole people. And it is the whole people whom God holds accountable. In the NT, St. Paul takes this a step further, he uses the analogy of a body to describe the function of the Church. Each part of a human body has a critical role to play in making the body function well. If one part is at war with another part, or says, ‘you are of no use to me,’ or, ‘I do not wish to grow close to you,’ the whole body falls apart and this means that it can no longer point to the life, to the mission of Jesus Christ to gather all people to him.
Jesus Christ lived out a whole life of growing in wisdom not because God needs to grow or change in any way. Rather he lived out a whole experience of life – he freely gave himself into this life HE DID NOT HAVE TO LIVE – in order that you and I, and that you and I together, might see and live into the life he calls us to. What does this life look like? Does it look like the preservation of one’s own desires, of own’s own inclinations? IF you think it does, what do you make of Jesus’s words, ‘Father take this cup so that I don’t have to die on the cross to remain faithful to you and to save human beings.’ What do you think it means when Jesus says, you must do what I do – take up your cross, bear the burden of the other. What do you think God is commanding us when he says in our reading from Colossians, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion and kindness, humility, meekness and patience? Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
We have been set free from fear about whether or not we are justified/saved by Jesus Christ who came into this world and took on our flesh and lived out a human life, and who also as God rose from the dead and reconciled us to life. But we have been set free not so we can go about our own ways, but so that we might serve one another, in this very congregation and in our families, our neighborhoods, and our country. How will you take up your cross and conform to Jesus’s mission through the gifts he gave you? AMEN.