Sermon Ideas For Luke 2:41-52 Part 2
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations are over. Plans for New Year's Eve parties will be completed. Attendance will be lower than usual. Many pastors may even be on vacation. So, why bother with a search for meaningful implications within the texts for today?
On this day many persons will be present who may not normally attend worship. College students, military personnel on holiday leave, and young families visiting parents and grandparents will be present. Persons for whom the holidays bring painful reminders of lost relationships and unfulfilled dreams will be present. Extended families, often scattered throughout the world will be together for a rare celebration of unity in the spirit of Christ.
Today's texts reveal a powerful message of growth and encouragement along the challenging pilgrimage of life. Even pastors who plan to be on vacation this week will find a message that must be shared with parishioners. These scripture lessons provide an insight into how one can live a faithful life as a Christian in the midst of tensions, conflicts, and ambiguities in contemporary society.
The lessons from Advent through Easter lead us on the journey of life, literally from conception through resurrection. Today's scripture provides some helpful suggestions for travelling along that pathway.
The principle quality for a meaningful life pilgrimage is wisdom. The young Jesus and Samuel grew in wisdom, age, and acceptance (favor) before the Lord and their contemporaries. (Lk 2:52 and 1 Sam 2:26) The remaining texts in Psalms and Colossians describe some specific criteria for living in wisdom as a faithful child of God.
Wisdom here is considered to be the ability to lead a godly life in the midst of conflicting impulses, pressures, and changes. It is learned through experience, observation, reflection, and dialogue with other wise persons. The wise person perceives relationships between other persons and God.1 Wisdom originates as a gift from God.
In this context, wisdom is quite similar to some conceptions of Christian maturity. A maturing Christian is one who is able to meet the various developmental and situational challenges that occur throughout the life cycle from conception to resurrection. In the face of changes, a maturing Christian is confident of the surrounding presence of God. A maturing Christian is one who is able to separate from parental dependence and yet acknowledges an interdependence with parents and other significant persons in positions of authority. (Lk 2:41-52) Christian maturity includes the capacity to accept and assess life realistically. Imperfections and limitations of self, family, and institutions are acknowledged, but not without challenge. The mature/wise person is able to discern a contiguous relationship between past, present, and future.
The Christian journey includes many significant turning points. Many persons at worship today will be in the midst of making choices that will influence the direction and shape of that journey. The preacher today must acknowledge the many pressures that are being encountered and emphasize the presence of God in the midst of the decision-making process. Are changes perceived as threats or as challenges? Restrictive and binding, or as empowering? In the process of choice is the presence of God acknowledged at the time? After the fact? Not at all?
At this point we must recall again the experience of Jesus in today's gospel lesson. At the time of a principal developmental epoch (age twelve) Jesus made a choice that affirmed the primary importance of the reality of the presence of God. (Lk 2:49) The choice also was an example of wisdom
(maturity) in that Jesus took a major step away from exclusive dependence on his earthly parents, placed himself in a wider religious community of adult authorities, and moved toward an interdependence with parents, others and God. (Lk 2:49f)
Each significant choice we make or challenge we face truly has within it an opportunity to discover new meaning. Each challenge, whether it is developmental or situational, truly becomes an invitation to a deeper understanding of and participation in the unfolding of the love of God. The pilgrimage from conception through resurrection is a journey replete with tension between disappointment and joy, stagnation and growth, moving backward or moving forward. The invitation is present within the tension. The challenge to greater service emerges from the invitation.
Today the preacher must help others to identify the choices of life as opportunities or invitations to increase in wisdom and favor with God and persons.
Our texts in Psalms and Colossians provide some suggestions that facilitate growth in Christian maturity.
The first step is fear of the Lord. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who practice it." (Ps 111:10)
Fear of the Lord includes a wide range of emotions from terror and dread to trust and faith, to overpowering awe. This fear is the result of an encounter with the transcendent God who also became incarnate in the midst of humanity. This transcendent creator God whom Jesus calls Father in today's gospel lesson, approaches us first. Awareness of God's power and of God's grace evokes the intense gamut of emotions and internal experiences described as fear of the Lord.
Recognition of our weakness and sin in the face of such awesome power and love often stirs up within us new feelings of shame and guilt. Encountering the transcendent God, we fall on our knees and remove our shoes, for we know that we are indeed standing on holy ground. (Ex 3:5)
The beginning of Christian wisdom is truly discovering that the powerful and holy Lord walks with us along the journey of life from conception to resurrection. Effective pastoral care provides opportunities for persons to encounter that presence within the turning points and tensions of life. Inherent within each developmental or situational turning point is an invitation to stand in fear of the Lord--to walk on holy ground.
In the Colossians text for today Paul describes the life of Christians who are growing in wisdom and favor with God and persons. Christians are aware that each person is God's chosen, and are invited to walk the journey of life with kindness, meekness, compassion, and love. (Col 3:12) The journey is filled with conflicts, complaints, and disharmony, even among Christians. Yet, because Christians are chosen and daily walk in the fear of the Lord, Paul counsels patience and forgiveness. (Col 3:13)
Living in wisdom and growing in favor with God and others, invitations of Christ can be discerned within each choice and challenge. The peace of Christ can be experienced and shared even in the most difficult situation. (Col 3:16)
In summary, growth in wisdom begins with a daily acknowledgement of God's presence along the pilgrimage of life. It is nourished and strengthened by placing ourself in the gathered context of the community of believers. Here God's word is proclaimed and studied, and the sacraments are received. The life of the maturing Christian is a life of prayer and a life of service in response to the divine initiative of God in Jesus Christ.
Finally, the maturing life in Christ is one of an increasing sense of connection to and harmony with the powerful and awesome presence of God along the journey from conception through resurrection.
Daryl S. Everett
1. Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 4 (New York: Abingdon, 1962), pp. 853, 860