This is my sermon for Christmas 1C.
The readings are 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26, and Luke 2:41-52.
Last week, we heard about Jesus being born. This week we hear in our reading how his destiny begins to unfold.
It's rather like flipping through the family album. On page one - ahhh! Baby Jesus in the manger, surrounded by shepherds, Mary and Joseph and the shepherds all beaming at the camera. Do you remember how that donkey kept us awake all night with its eeyore? And the smell of that goat!
On page two - oh my goodness, that takes me back! Do you remember when that one was taken? Jesus just twelve years old and we thought we had lost him- you thought he was with your mum and dad, I thought he was with Mrs Nextdoor and her kids, and then those awful three days of panic before we finally found him in the temple. Look how cross he was at being dragged off home!
We are working with lots of different calendars today. On one timescale, Jesus was born just a few days ago. He is now five days old, perhaps just beginning to establish feeding to Mary's great relief. He is not yet sleeping through the nights, and Mary and Joseph are shattered. Even though they've registered for the census now, they can't begin to face the long journey home just yet. And to top it all,this enormous star is shining above the inn. We know, but they don't yet know, that it is acting as a beacon for the magi from the East, who saw it shine when Jesus was born and are even now travelling to find this new born king. On this calendar, they'll arrive next week, and Mary and Joseph will then flee before the jealous King Herod can find them and slaughter Jesus.
On the other calendar, our lectionary, we catch a rare glimpse into Jesus' childhood. In our gospel reading today we see him at 12 years old, on what we're told was his annual visit to Jerusalem with a great crowd of extended family and friends. It's fascinating to think that when Jesus went into Jerusalem as an adult, he was returning to somewhere he'd been many times as a child, the place of happy holiday memories. Even the temple, where he was to throw out the money changers and engage in a hostile and ultimately fatal confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees, was somewhere where, as a child, he had longed to be and had sat at the feet perhaps of some of those same scribes and Pharisees, or their fathers, asking eager questions.
And on our secular calendar, we are at the cusp of a new year, with most of 2012 behind us and 2013 stretching ahead. We've read the annual letters from assorted friends, relations and distant acquaintances, summarising what 2012 meant for them, and we may well have written our own, or taken mental stock of a year now ending. And we begin to turn to the new year, whether with New Years resolutions, new gym memberships, new diets, or simply with new holiday planning to look forward to. we have new diaries to fill, we may well know were about to be given new objectives and targets at work, we may be looking forward to a forthcoming birth or a wedding, or a special trip. Christmas can suddenly, even though it was only five days ago, seem so last year.
So many different calendars. All held together, today, by the central figure of Jesus, and his unfolding destiny, and what that means for us.
Both our readings this morning give us little glimpses into the childhood lives of great Biblical figures, the prophet Samuel as well as Jesus. The focus is very much on pointing out their destinies, that even as children they were part of Gods plan and were serving God's purposes. Samuel in particular is well known as the child who heard Gods voice, calling in the night - 'Samuel! Samuel!' - and thinking it was his mentor Eli who was calling, until Eli realises it must be God and advises him to reply 'here I am Lord, your servant is listening'.
And in our gospel reading today, we hear about Jesus, as a twelve year old, getting himself left behind in Jerusalem because he was so caught up in debating and learning in the temple.
We often focus, when we hear this story, on the human drama of a lost child. I'm sure those of you who are or have been parents or in any sort of caring relationship will know the surge of adrenaline you get when you realise the child you're responsible for is out of sight for a second - and the overwhelming relief, and anger, that comes when you find them again!
But I want to focus today on where these two stories coincide. Both end with an almost identical sentence:
Samuel, and Jesus, we are told, both continued to grow. They grew both naturally in size and age as children do, and they grew in favour with God and people.
It is unusual for the heroes of one, let alone two of our daily readings to be children. In these readings Jesus is 12, and Samuel about 7. And it is very noticeable that whilst they are both growing - there is a clear sense of future destiny for both - they are also both serving God and being the people they are called to be now, too. Jesus is sitting and learning from the temple authorities - effectively sending himself to extra school because the subject fascinates him. Samuel is serving in the temple, being visited annually by his mother - I suppose the closest equivalent today is a choirboy at boarding school. They are both still learning from the masters, but they are also really doing religion themselves too, not just having it done to them. These children are demonstrating something of what it means for children to be the church of today as well as the church of tomorrow. They are still growing, but they aren't waiting until they are fully grown to get started on their life's work. Even as children, they are participating fully in the life of Gods church.
Sometimes we all feel that we will do something good, something important, but we are not ready just yet. We will make changes in our life, but not yet. The time isn't quite right just now. When we've learnt more, earned more, seen more, been more, then, then maybe then....but the time never seems to be quite right.
These stories of Samuel and Jesus as children show us, perhaps, that we can get on with things even as we are growing. We don't have to feel we've made it as Christians before we can be useful to God and others. God works with us as we grow and change and learn.
Just as God called Jesus to certain tasks and to a certain life, so God calls each one of us. We aren’t all called to the same things, and we are called to different things at different times. But we are all called to do something. We are all invited to co-operate with God in bringing his kingdom about. The start of a new year is a good time to take stock, and to make plans. And I want to suggest that it is also a good time for us to think and pray about what God is calling us to do and be. Because one thing I am absolutely sure of is that God has something for you to do in 2013. It might be more of the same. It might be radically different.
Think for a minute about the idea of us as God’s children, his heirs. One of the important things about that image is that there is a future dimension to it. Like Samuel, like Jesus, we are always growing and changing. We learn more and more about God, about ourselves, and about the world around us. We ask questions. We are constantly faced with choices to make about our lives. And what God wants from us can change too.
So as we stand at the start of a new year, what is God is calling you to in 2013?