1 Samuel 2:18-20; Luke 2:41-52
There are so many places I want to go with these texts, especially the one from Luke.
I want to use it as a church attendance shaming text. Listen up, people! It says “every year” as in “ethos” as in “as usual.” Mary and Joseph took Jesus to worship. They were observant Jews. Regular participation in a faith community matters, by gosh! (I can hear my kid now: Three festivals a year, that I can do; it is the every week thing that is a grind.) I am tempted to use this story from Luke and the one from Samuel, too, to beat people up about the importance of showing up in the sanctuary, but I suspect those present on the Sunday after Christmas have already bought into that premise. Besides, guilt isn’t the best method for evangelism or for deepening discipleship.
I am also inclined to go right to the moms in these texts. Let’s make this all about those dutiful, dedicated, faithful, long-suffering, anxious mothers. This is relatable, isn’t it? I want to focus on Luke 2:48, especially this line, “Child, why have you treated us like this?” And add, “After all we’ve done for you!” Then I want to skip to verse 51 about Jesus being obedient. I am not sure where to go beyond that other than I want some validation of my parental angst and dutifulness in the face of it. Hey, if Mary gets anxious about Jesus, then surely my anxiety is understandable! Unfortunately, this focus takes us back to shame and guilt and that is decidedly not what the gospel is about.
So, if not shame or guilt, not the importance of religious ritual or the difficulty of parenting, then what to preach this Holy Family Sunday? Well, how about first and foremost preaching and teaching about faithfulness, God’s faithfulness, and then our response to it. What I love about both the stories appointed for this first Sunday after Christmas is their intimacy, their ordinariness, the fact that they are relatable. We know these parents, some of us are these parents. We know small Samuels gathered on the steps for the children’s time and 12-year-old-boys who might well wander away from their parents.
Many of us even know about attending religious festivals year in and year out. We have the photos and family stories to prove it. Remember that Christmas Eve service when Ashley refused to be a shepherd and had a tantrum on the chancel? Did Good Friday worship scare you as a kid like it did me? Oh my gosh, I hated having to wait until after Easter worship to eat what the bunny brought. You think you had it rough, I grew up Episcopalian, we had to leave our toys and go to church on Christmas morning!
This Holy Family Sunday is about our families, too, whatever their configuration, whatever their past traditions. But this Sunday isn’t primarily about our family or any family or all families. It isn’t even first and foremost about the Holy Family. This Sunday is about God working through families, through people, in the midst of the year in and year out, day in and day out, earthly, ordinary life. That’s the main theme here: God’s faithfulness to us through the miraculous birth of Christ who is Emmanuel, with us every time-to-make-the-donuts, groundhog-type, daily grind day.
Now that the hubbub of Christmas has passed (I know we are in the 12 days of Christmas, but let’s be real – in our cultural context, the excitement of Christmas is over) and we move back into our ordinary, as usual, customary living, God is still very much at work in the midst of us, even in the angst and the anxiety of parenting, the tug and pull of getting to weekly worship, the obligatory travel to work or school or appointments.
Might we ponder that truth this Sunday after Christmas? No guilt, no shame, just assurance that while we go about our lives, God is quietly working out salvation history and we are a part of that story, even when we don’t know we are, even when we don’t understand it.
Since the Incarnation, the mundane has been imbued with the holy, year after year. Jesus’ birth into a family we recognize helps us recognize Jesus’ presence is our families. The anxiety, the misunderstandings, the anger and the disappointments aren’t God forsaken, Jesus Christ has taken them on himself and therefore they will be redeemed.
That’s the truth revealed in this exchange about paternity. Mary says, “your father and I” – meaning she and Joseph. Jesus says he’s been in his Father’s house the whole time. Jesus is both Joseph’s son and God’s Son, an ordinary boy from Nazareth and also the Messiah come down from heaven. The barrier between the divine and the profane has been breached making every family a holy one.
Remind your hearers this week that no matter what their family looks like, no matter what it has experienced, or struggles with right now, it is not God forsaken. God is faithful and at work, so faithful and so committed to reconciliation and transformation that God sent a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord, born in the most ordinary of places to unremarkable people. Jesus can still be found, year in and year out, as is his custom, in the ordinary and seemingly unremarkable. Let’s look for him there, trusting he is in the midst of us, a member of the family, making us all brothers and sisters and holy ones at that.
- Is there a sense of let down (or relief) the week after Christmas? How does the Luke text speak to how we live out the miracle of the Incarnation all year long?
- Note the parallels between the 1 Samuel text and the Luke text. What do you make of the similarities? What are the important differences?
- Whose son is Jesus? How are our children and the children of the church both “ours” and not “ours”?
- What is the role of routine and ritual in shaping belief and character? Why does it matter that we participate regularly in a faith community? How can we communicate the importance of this without resorting to guilt or shame?
- Notice that Jesus is in Jerusalem, in the temple. How does this text relate to Luke’s Passion narrative?
- Here is a prayer from “Advent with Evelyn Underhill” that is appropriate for the Sunday after Christmas: Not under a Christmas tree nor in neatly wrapped packages, but in a bare barn visited by farmers you came once, Holy One, and where the need is greatest, you come now; guide me, gracious God, to seek you and serve you there and so to simplify my life that you will come also to me.
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