Sunday 26 December 2021: First Sunday of Christmas/The Holy Family
A time to listen and a time to speak
Context: Eucharistic in a medium-sized congregation mostly of working age, socially mixed, committed Christians with some cultural diversity.
Aim: to emphasise the importance of listening to God for continued growth as a Christian.
This wonderful story is neatly sandwiched between the birth narrative and John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus. Chapter 2 begins with a wide view of what is happening in Jerusalem at the time. Caesar is taking the census across the Roman Empire. He is quite sure that he calls the shots, but we know that God has a very different plan.
The story then narrows down to the Temple in Jerusalem and the boy Jesus as a 12-year-old, on the cusp of manhood. In Judaism of that day, a boy began to learn his father’s trade at around that age.
PICTURE THE SCENE
Luke indicates that Jesus was there because he had been travelling with his parents to celebrate one of the great three feasts of Judaism – the Passover (also known as Pesach). Passover observance was for eight days (cf. Leviticus 23:5-6). Pilgrims were not obliged to stay for the full eight days, but many did. Strictly speaking, women didn’t have to make the journey, but Mary and Joseph were people of deep faith as we know, so they embarked on this pilgrimage as a family.
Luke then tells us that unbeknown to his parents Jesus stays behind in ‘his Father’s house,’ to learn his Father’s trade. Mary and Joseph are frantically searching for Jesus and when they find him a very relatable verbal exchange occurs between them.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF WORDS
The first recorded words of Jesus since his birth are in verse 49 and are hugely significant. ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’. Now we have to ask ourselves whether Mary and Joseph knew of Jesus’ special relationship with, and to, God the Father. The surprise implied by these words of Jesus suggests that they did, it’s almost as if there had been a previous conversation – and of course, it seems extremely likely that Mary had shared something of Jesus’ amazing birth with him. This story, so close to Christmas Day moves us on 12 years to encounter the boy Jesus and it also points us towards Easter Sunday.
When Jesus says ‘Why were you searching for me’ we might remember the open tomb when the angel asks almost the same question (using the same verb—zeteo/zeteite) (Luke 24:5). So, are we still searching for Jesus in our lives? And if we’ve found him, are we allowing Him to transform us?
There is something else worth highlighting in this verse and it is the word must (in Greek dei). Translating from Greek to English something is lost in translation and the better translation of dei is it is necessary. If we look at Leviticus (4:1-2; 5:17) and throughout Scripture – doing what God wants and considers necessary is praiseworthy. It is good to be compelled by divine necessity. Jesus is compelled by such divine necessity, He uses this word several times to reflect his mission: here in Luke 4:43, in Luke 9:22 and also Luke 13:33. I wonder what divine necessity God has placed on our hearts. How will we respond?
LISTENING AND LEARNING
Let us look more closely at what is going on in the Temple. Artists’ depictions of this scene tend to show Jesus teaching the teachers, but if we read closely the text says that Jesus was listening to them, asking questions, and answering questions (Luke 2:46-47). By listening to his answers, we know that the teachers will have been learning. But we are told that Jesus starts by listening. In this exchange Jesus models for us how to be a good listener and a good learner.
He isn’t waiting for an opportunity to speak or put across his viewpoint – he is listening to what they have to say, all of which is part of Jesus increasing in wisdom (Luke 2:52). Jesus shows us that listening is part of our spiritual maturity and growing relationship with God – and this will help us to live out God’s dei in our lives.
Mother Teresa was once asked what she said during her prayers. She answered, ‘I listen.’ And when asked what God says she said ‘He listens’. So finally, take time now to listen to what God might be saying to you? Maybe he is speaking about something that will transform you and enable you to grow in wisdom and understanding.
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