The Second Sunday after Christmas
The Rev. R. Bingham Powell
Ever since I was a child, perhaps because I was a child, I have been enamored with this Gospel story today. The image of the child Jesus and all of these adult scholars sitting around - talking,listening, learning - has always grabbed my imagination. The back and forth of discovery as they all struggled with the ancient texts of their faith. Jesus not turned away for being young, but invited in because he asks questions that take the conversation deeper. A very human Jesus, growing, learning from others, and teaching them at the same time. A very human Jesus who has a family, and does what his family does. Notice that detail that they went up to Jerusalem every year for the Passover. They went up again "as usual." Jesus engaged in the family rituals, the normalcy of life situated within a family and a tradition. A very human Jesus, who as a youth is starting to separate and differentiate himself from his parents, and does things to make them anxious and upset with him. Very human, isn't it? This is not the Jesus of those medieval paintings that have him looking and acting like an adult when on his mother's lap as an infant. No, this is real humanity.
This Gospel story today is the only story of Jesus' childhood that made it into the Gospels. There were others circulating. Stories of Jesus performing all kinds of crazy miracles, turning clay sculptures into living birds, raising the dead. Stories of Jesus not learning from his teachers, but refusing to learn and getting angry, because he already knew more than they did. Stories of Jesus generally showing off his divine side by performing all of these miracles and showing how smart he already was. No, those stories never made it into the Bible. They weren't deemed credible portraits of the life of Jesus. No, the Gospels only paint one picture for us of Jesus' childhood, that of an actual child, a special child perhaps, a child who has a particular interest in and natural predilection for theology and biblical interpretation, but still a child, who grows and learns and lives a normal life situated in a family, following the rules, breaking the rules, loved by his parents, but also upsetting them from time to time. This story says that he was truly and fully human, he was even a teenager for goodness sake. A human who grew in divine and human favor, a human who grew in wisdom.
Today's Gospel also points to his divinity - "Didn't you know I would be in my Father's house?" he tells his parents. Yes, this story emphasizes both the divinity and the humanity that were found in Jesus Christ. On this last day of Christmas, we hear this story that so beautifully illustrates what it is like when the fully divine God becomes fully human, this story that so beautifully celebrates the incarnation. God came down to be one of us, to live our life - to love, and laugh; to learn, teach, and grow; to go through all of the ups and downs of life, the good and the bad, even unto death. God found his life in us, so we can find our life in God. The incarnation is the beautiful truth of the closeness of God in our lives. God is so close, that God now dwells in us. In the good and the bad, God has been there. In laughing and crying, God has been there. In living and in dying, God has been there.
There is this beautiful line from the Rite I Eucharistic Prayer, in the section that talks about all of the wonderful benefits we receive from receiving communion, that says that in receiving the bread and the wine, may we be "made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him." You may have noticed that I slow down to emphasize these words whenever I celebrate the Eucharist, because they are so important. They so clearly convey the importance of the incarnation. God is so close, that God is now in us. The human and the divine meet, in Christ, and now, because of Christ, in us. We dwell in Christ and Christ dwells in us. In a few minutes, we will receive the bread and the wine, the body and blood of Christ. We will take Christ's Body into our own body. We will take Christ's Blood into our own blood. And we will become one with him, and he will dwell in us, and we, in him.
As we finish this Christmas season and we put away the ornaments and take down the tree and the greens, do not think that the incarnation gets put away with the rest of the decorations. Do not forget that the incarnation of Christ is still alive in the Body of Christ today. Remember that the fullness of divinity and the fullness of humanity that dwelt in this child, dwell with us, the continued Body of Christ. As you receive the bread and the wine, feel the closeness of God to your life, feel Christ dwell in you, and feel yourself dwell in Christ. As you leave here today, to go back out into the world, live the incarnation and be Christ to all you meet. Amen.