12/27/2021 1:15:15 PM
Believe the Christmas Story
Pastor Kyle Bitter - The First Sunday After Christmas - Sunday, December 26, 2021
I’d guess that over the last couple weeks at some point, you’ve probably heard the Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Maybe more than once. So, where are we in that carol right now? I think if you count it out, today would be the second day of Christmas. So, what are the presents? I think it’s two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree. Kind of odd gifts for the 21st century, but my question for you is this. Does today feel like the second day of Christmas with ten more days of celebrations to go…or does it kind of seem like Christmas is over? The gifts have been opened, the special worship services have already happened, relatives who live locally may have already gone home. Perhaps there are some Christmas gatherings coming yet this afternoon or in the upcoming week, but after that? After Christmas sales will start tomorrow, and you could probably even take down your tree and decorations in the next couple of days and people wouldn’t be surprised – you’re just making use of the vacation time. But according to the Christmas carol…it’s only the second day of Christmas, and even though “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a secular Christmas carol, the message it hints at is worth remembering – Christmas isn’t just one day. Christmas isn’t even just twelve days, for that matter, as it used to be celebrated in years past when that carol was written. If you Believe the Christmas Story and the promises attached to it, then you know that Christmas stands in the background of every day – even the “regular” days of ordinary life.
Today’s Gospel shows us why the message of Christmas is one worth taking with us every day, year-round. Luke shares a unique account – one of just a few events we know of from Jesus’ childhood. On this occasion, we catch a glimpse of Mary and Joseph and Jesus in their ordinary, normal, every-day lives. By the time these events occurred, twelve years had passed since that magnificent Christmas evening. The angels in the sky, the excitement of the shepherds – those were distant memories. The visit of the Magi from the east, the terrifying flight to Egypt to escape wicked King Herod – those had faded into the past. Jesus’ dynamic ministry and miracles were still eighteen years in the future. For now, things were normal. Joseph worked in his carpenter shop and taught the tricks of the trade to Jesus. Hard work, six days a week. Honoring the Sabbath on the seventh. Mary and Joseph made their yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover. The routine went on, week after week, year after year, until one spring day when Jesus was twelve. Luke picks up the story there. “Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. (Luke 2:41-45 – NIV84).
Now, it’s easy to wonder how Mary and Joseph could have been so careless in assuming their son was with their fellow travelers, but that really isn’t fair. Luke says that this pilgrimage for the Passover was a yearly event, and in a less mobile society than today where people often lived in one place for most of their life, it was probably a pilgrimage with people from the same families every year. Once they were old enough to go, the children probably walked together on the road, worshiped together in Jerusalem, perhaps even slept in their own tent at night, as siblings and friends and cousins often do today. With that context, Mary and Joseph couldn’t think of any place their obedient son would be other than where he had been for the whole trip thus far: with his relatives and friends! But he was nowhere to be found, and their worry started to grow. Even though they were already a day’s journey away from Jerusalem, they frantically rushed back and started searching high and low in all the places where one might expect a twelve-year-old boy to wander off to. Unsuccessful, they finally arrived at the temple. “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you!” (Luke 2:46-47 – NIV84). In that moment, when their frustration at changed plans combined with an overpowering sense of relief, one has to wonder if the events of that first Christmas twelve years earlier were anywhere in memory. Or in that moment, had Mary and Joseph forgotten just how special this child was? When he didn’t behave in the way they had expected him to, they were frustrated to say the least, if not outright angry.
It’s easy to smile and shake our heads when we imagine the silliness of Mary and Joseph being upset with the perfect Son of God, but it’s probably also a reaction we can identify with at those times when God allows things in our lives to develop in a way we weren’t expecting. Maybe it happens when a loved one dies, or a relationship ends, or sudden illness strikes…and you didn’t see it coming at all. You know that the response should be “your will be done Lord,” but it’s a lot easier to ask why? Why have you treated us like this? Or maybe you’re brought face to face with sinfulness. Your own words or actions and the guilt that follows, or a friend or loved one who unexpectedly does something very hurtful, and you know you should forgive as you have been forgiven, but…but it’s easy to wonder if God is really asking you to do something that difficult. Or maybe it’s changed plans. Maybe two Christmas’ ago your future was filled with all kinds of visions for the future…but few if any of them ended up coming to pass. “Why God? Why are you treating me like this?” In addition to all that, another Christmas has now passed…and you realize that as life gets back to normal the things that were problems before Christmas will still be problems after – it seems little has changed. The temptation is to package up the Christmas joy and excitement with the Christmas decorations and put it away on the shelf until the next time a religious festival comes along. In the meantime, we get on with solving the problems of real life.
Such thinking is easy to engage in, but it shows that we may not fully appreciate the message of Christmas. These events from Jesus’ childhood remind us of that fact. Think about it: a normal boy may well have wandered off from his parents too. A city like Jerusalem promised many things to explore and many adventures to be had. But Jesus didn’t do any of that. He went to the temple…which in those days was similar to going to school. He went to study with the Rabbis. Why? His desire to learn God’s Word wasn’t hampered or distracted by the laziness inspired by sin – he loved it! He progressed rapidly, demonstrating insight and understanding of how the prophecies, the laws, and the events of the Old Testament all fit together. Luke writes: Everyone was amazed at his insight and answers! Surely his study of God’s word had been going on at home in Nazareth too, but in Jerusalem Jesus had access to the best and brightest of the teachers of the law, and he just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Perhaps the years that had passed had caused the significance of who Jesus was to fade for Mary and Joseph, and perhaps at times for us the Christmas story appears to be a faded and dusty piece of history that has little impact on real life but take note of what was actually happening here. For thousands of years, God’s plans had been pictured through the activities that happened at the temple, symbolized in the festivals, sacrifices, and prayers, and now Jesus was at that very same temple, taking the next step forward in completing God’s plans. Even the best and brightest of religious minds wouldn’t have fully understood the details. “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 – NIV84). Translated literally: “didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to take care of my Father’s business?” Jesus said, “It is necessary.” Luke records Jesus using that same phrase a number of times throughout his ministry – usually when Jesus is talking about doing something unexpected, but critical for God’s salvation plan. For example, the carpenter’s son says it is necessary for me “to preach” (Luke 4:43), it is necessary for me “to suffer” (9:22), it is necessary for me to “be handed over, crucified, and rise from the dead” (22:37, 24:26), it is necessary for me “to fulfill prophecy” (24:44). Here: It is necessary for me…to study! And in that little image we get a huge insight into who Jesus is. We see the Son of God, humbling himself to become so thoroughly human that he has to study and learn like an ordinary child. He humbles himself to live in obedience to ordinary human parents, bound by the demands of God’s laws just like all the rest of us, humbling himself to live amidst the challenges of a sin-corrupted world, just as we do, but with one key difference. Whether a child, a teenager, or an adult, Jesus never sinned himself. Luke emphasizes that when he explains how after these events, “he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them…and Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:51, 52b – NIV84). Already at age twelve we see Jesus well on the way to completing the perfect life that would earn God’s favor in every way – a life that would end at the cross in payment for sin.
It’s probably true that Mary and Joseph didn’t understand how all of this was going to play out, but they did remember the Christmas story, and helped them to put aside their changed plans and frustrations and wait to see what God had planned. Luke writes that “his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51b – NIV84). A very similar description to Mary in the aftermath of that first Christmas, when Luke says she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” You see, Mary Believed the Christmas Story, and accepted what God was doing even though she didn’t understand all the details.
That’s the same attitude you and I can take with us from our Christmas celebrations and our annual review of the Christmas story. We Believe the Christmas Story, and the promises God has attached to it, and that makes all the difference. When hard things come up unexpectedly, we Believe the Christmas Story and trust that hard though it might be, all this has a role in God’s plan that takes us home to heaven where such trials and hardships will never be seen again. When we are confronted with sin, we Believe the Christmas Story and who this child would grow up to be – the Savior who forgives our sins and who is the only one able to give us the strength to forgive others too. When our plans go awry, we Believe the Christmas Story, and trust that today Jesus is doing the very same thing he was doing in the temple courts – taking care of his father’s business. You and I know what that business is – shepherding his people through life and safely home to heaven. Like Mary, we Believe the Christmas Story, and that leads us to accept what God is doing even when we don’t understand. That perspective is the part of Christmas that we don’t put away with the decorations, because trust in our Savior and joy in his guidance is something we need with us not just on Christmas Day, not just on the twelve days of Christmas as it was historically celebrated, but on every single day of our lives! May God grant us this Christmas joy every day, no matter what we might face. Amen.