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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Caroline Drury's sermon


31st December 2006

CHRISTMAS 1

I wonder whether youíre still feeling ĎChristmassyí today? I donít know what Ďfeeling Christmassyí means to you, but to me itís a sort of warm fuzzy feeling, perhaps a capturing of the way we used to feel when we were children as Christmas approached.

As adults that feeling becomes more elusive, but I find sometimes I can catch a bubble of it as it drifts past me, and perhaps hang onto it for a while before it bursts. And I hope my sense of expectation now is a bit less to do with glitter and presents and a bit more to do with Godís work in the world. A colleague summed up something of this expectation in an email that she sent shortly before Christmas:
The school and nursery concerts and assemblies are over and we are well into mince pies and mulled wineÖthe stable is now in church and the main services nearing. The ox and ass are already there and I am feeling increasingly awe struck and want to savour the anticipation and sense of expectation, by creeping in there with them to watch the story unfold Ė for real Ö See you all thereÖÖ

If you did manage to catch a bubble of something like this some time on Christmas Eve, and if youíve managed to keep it intact until today, hearing that Jesus has grown from a newborn baby to a twelve year old in six days is likely to have burst it.

Sorry!

But really, I think we know deep down that the hope and expectation of Christmas arenít really over Ė that itís all only just begun in fact. We just need to find a new and tougher bubble to catch hold of.

So why this reading today? Why this attempt to move us forward through time faster that we feel we want to go? Why this apparently random snippet about Jesusí childhood on this first Sunday of Christmas?

St Luke was no fool in his telling of the Gospel. We may be a little put out today by his allowing Jesus to grow so rapidly from a dear little baby into a lanky twelve year old, but our mistake is to see this incident as a random one; itís actually part of Lukeís very careful preparation of what will become for his reader a tough and memorable message. Heís begun his gospel by showing us dramatic and unusual things happening in the temple at Jerusalem: Zechariahís vision about the birth of his son John the Baptist and the presentation of Jesus at six weeks old and the prophecies about him by Simeon and Anna.

And now he brings Jesus himself to the temple, concluding his story of Jesusí life as a Jewish child and beginning to move him on to adulthood.

Here is Jesus in his thirteenth year, old enough to begin to take responsibility for his religious duties; and having been brought to the temple by his family to fulfil these duties he chooses to stay there after everyone else has gone home.

But why does he does he do this, whatís he doing there? These are very much the questions that his distraught parents throw at him when they find him. And itís his reply that provides the key to this whole account:
Did you not know that I must be in my Fatherís house? Ė there is ambiguity in the original Greek and there are other ideas about the translation including ĎDid you not know that I must be about my Fatherís interests? orAt my Fatherís side.

Weíve heard it from angels but St Luke saw that we need to hear it from Jesusí own lips. Heís no ordinary Jewish boy -- in the temple he is in his Fatherís house. Mysterious things originating from this temple have attached themselves to Jesusí story right from its start, and now as he sits there he articulates the fact that in the temple he is at his Fatherís side.

So, far from being a disappointing move away from the pretty picture of a baby in a manger, this story about the twelve year old Jesus is the icing on the cake (if youíll forgive the seasonal phraseology). A gurgling baby canít talk about his Fatherís house or being at his Fatherís side, but a Bah Mitzvah age boy can, and we need to have that confirmation of the babyís divinity before we can move on to hear about the adult life of this amazing new human being.

And we see something else here too: in this very first section of St Lukeís gospel the Fatherís interests havenít only been played out the temple at Jerusalem, thereíve been other places where wonders have taken place:
In the homes of Zechariah and Elizabeth and of Mary
on a road between Nazareth and Bethlehem
in a stable
on a hillside.
Can we say that all these places became a kind of temple too?

Using our imaginations, we could say that the temple at Jerusalem is filled with a special kind of air, air that when itís breathed in itís like breathing in God Himself. And that air can be breathed out to form a bubble that can be carried away and home and into everyday life Ė sanctifying everyday life by being carried there.

Samuelís parents, who we heard about in the Old Testament reading, had given their most precious first born son to the temple as a permanent gift, and he grew up there and served there constantly. We heard about their annual visit to him with new clothes.

This visit to their son must have been their breathing in. But their breathing out, their going away from him, canít have meant forgetting about him, he was their beloved son; their visits to him at the temple were their chance to create a bubble that they could carry with them as they went on their way for another year Ö as they breathed out.

I wonder, how does this link with your experience of this church building, your equivalent of the temple?

This is another place where the Fatherís interests are played out. Here, in the interests of the Father you pray, sing, laugh and are silent; in the interests of the Father you lavish your gifts on making the building beautiful, you take pains to plan and prepare so that everything that happens here is the best possible Ė all in the interests of the Father. Over the past week or so you will have come and gone from this church building many times and you will have experienced this pattern of breathing in and out.

So what about our bubble? What do we create for ourselves as we breathe in and out, coming and going to and from our place of worship? Whereís our tough bubble that can withstand the reality that sets in as the gloss of Christmas wears off and we face a new year?

We can find and create it here. Itís here in the gospel story, where, had reality allowed it, a baby would have stood up in a manger and said ĎI am about my Fatherís interestsí. Itís here in our knowledge that God intervened in human history in an incredible way 2000 years ago by allowing Himself to become helpless and dependent on the fickleness of human mercy.

Itís this knowledge and mystery that we breath in whilst weíre here and itís this that we breath into the bubble that we take away with us. And I reckon thatís a bubble tough enough to withstand most of what life throws at it. And by carrying it with us weíre making our whole lives a temple Ė a Ďliving temple to Godís gloryí as our liturgy puts it.

So, as we move forward now in this morningís worship into our Eucharist, and beyond into our various lives and a new year, letís hold onto the bubble that says Ďyesí to a loving God who lay in a manger, sat in the temple and hung on a cross. And letís be Ďabout our Fatherís interestsí in all that that story leads us on to be and do.

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