Christmas 1C: Welcome to the Family

It's been a while since I did this. Last Lent, it got me through a season in which a lot of other things were falling apart, but afterwards, I blamed my Lenten practice for the fact that I got nothing else done. Still, I do insist that if you can't preach the gospel, instead of all the other things that show up in the text, you can't understand Barth. It's about time I got back into the practice. It may be the least esoteric thing I do!

Just the New Testament this week, though.

Colossians 3:12-17:
[Seeing, therefore, that you have died, and that the life by which you live is hidden with Christ in God, waiting to be revealed:] As those who are chosen, holy, and beloved of God, invest yourselves with compassionate hearts, common decency, humble intentions, gentleness, and slow tempers. Tolerate one another and, if one of you has a grievance against another, be gracious to them. In just this way was the Messiah gracious to you, and you should do likewise. And above all these things, invest yourselves with love, which ties them together perfectly.

Let the Messiah's peace, to which you were called in one body, arbitrate among your hearts and minds, and be grateful. Let the Messiah's reason dwell among you abundantly, teaching and advising yourselves using psalms, hymns, odes, and spirituals, singing to God with grace in your hearts and minds. Whatever reasoning you may make, or whatever action you may take, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, being grateful to God the Father through him.

Luke 2:40-52:
Now the child was growing and getting stronger, being filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. His parents went to Jerusalem each year for the festival of Pesach, and so, when he had come to be twelve years old, they went up for the festival as was customary. And after the days were over, on the return trip, the child Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, and his parents did not know. They assumed he was in the caravan, and went a day's journey before searching for him among their relatives and acquaintances. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

As it happened, they found him after three days, and he was sitting in the Temple, among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. All who listened to him were beside themselves at the good sense and discernment evident in his responses. And, seeing him, his parents were shocked. His mother said to him, "Child, how could you do this to us? See how distressed your father and I are, searching for you?" And he said to them, "What caused you to search for me? Did you not know that it is necessary for me to be among those who belong to my Father?" And they did not understand this thing that he said to them. And he went back with them, and went to Nazareth, and was their obedient child. And his mother pondered all these things he said in her mind. And Jesus made great strides in wisdom and maturity and grace before both God and the people.

Precocious isn't even the word. "Didn't you know that I must be among my Father's people?" Oh, they knew. They were so sure that Jesus was among Joseph's family, in the caravan, that they could wait until evening to make sure which part of the family he'd wound up with. Family is safety. A child by the age of twelve knows this, and knows to stay with family. Aunts, uncles, cousins, a whole massive troupe of Joseph's family made this trip together. Plenty of adults to keep the children safe. Plenty of children to play with inside the family. And that's where the children are supposed to be: inside.

But Jesus, who is beyond precocious at the age of twelve, is not among Joseph's people. He does not stay inside the safe confines of family. Though he might disagree with that statement, as indeed he does in the text! Jesus is where he must be found: among those who belong to his Father. Ask any good Jew what belongs to God. This caravan of Joseph's might even have sung the answer in one of the pilgrim songs, while making their way up to Jerusalem. We know it as the opening to Psalm 24:
The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof;
the world, and those who dwell therein.
The Lord has established it above the waters,
and made it secure above the floods.
And Jesus isn't even out wandering in the wilderness or anything. (Not yet, anyways.) He is with a group of people who may be among the most thoroughly content in their adoption as children of God: Pharisaic scholars. Theologians who spend their days in the Temple. Not that rabbis are renowned as providers of childcare, of course, but Jesus seems to be holding his own. You see, they don't know that they are Jesus' family—but he does. As Terence says, "I am a human being; I consider nothing that is human foreign to me."

On Christmas day, we celebrated the birth of God as a human child. A child of human parents, one who belongs to a human family—but more than that, one who belongs to the human family. God did not become a Jew, and then a human being. God became a human being, Mary's child, and then a Jew, just as you also became a human being, and then a Christian. None of you are truly strangers, to Jesus. And if even the wild animals recognize him, none of those outside are strangers to him, either. Nothing created is alien to God. Nothing human is alien to Jesus.

And this Sunday we realize the irony. On Christmas day, we welcomed Jesus into the family of humanity. We welcomed Jesus into our family. We took him home, we kept him safe, we did all the things you do to take care of a baby. And today—twelve years, a festival, and four days plus associated travel time later—this child, so far beyond precocious, dares to welcome us into God's family. And "dares" isn't even the right word. We're shocked. We think this is audacious behavior. But Jesus just does it. He is not ours; we are his. And we are not alone! These others are also his. People you've never met are his. Your neighbor is his. Your family is his. You are his. We have all been redeemed by this one who is called the redeemer. Like he had a right to do it, and we had no right to question it. Like we should just have known that this is the way things are. We are his. No consultation, no asking permission, just "Welcome to the family!"

And thank God for that!

But that's not all that's going on here. Jesus is still a twelve year old child. The text doesn't even refer to him as a son, just a child. An offspring. He's not even a person yet. He still belongs to his parents. And this child needs to learn to act like it! Jesus may be human, but he's not done learning to act like one yet. We may be his, but he is still ours. Jesus does not save us by breaking the rules—and talking back to his momma is definitely breaking a rule. (Not to mention needling his father over the delicate matter of his true parentage.) Being the messiah is not an excuse for disrespect. And Jesus learns this today. It is not enough to be the child of God. You must also become what you are: a human child. A human being.

Jesus' life, too—the full reality of his glory, just like ours—is hidden in God, waiting to be revealed. The future always is. And that future is assured. God has promised, and God will fulfill that promise. But we must still live through the time in between, waiting on God. And just as it does us no good to treat the world with contempt because of the promise of God, it does Jesus no good, either. We must be what we are, and be that graciously. And so the author of Colossians, in good Pauline fashion, speaks to people just like Jesus in our gospel reading, and just like us, when he cautions us to love. To feel for each other deep down in our guts, to be respectful, to show kindness and gentleness. And to do this especially when we disagree. To know who we are, not just as children of God and people of a promise, but as human beings. And to act like it!

And this is what Jesus does, for us. He does not save us in spite of our humanity. He does not redeem us from our humanity. God becomes a human being, and really becomes human, in all that that involves, and submits to his mother, and goes home, and continues to grow in wisdom and grace before others. God, in Jesus Christ, redeems our humanity and saves us precisely as human beings. God, in Jesus Christ, saves us by being truly human. These families are now one. We belong to God, and God belongs to us, and gives us this whole world in which to grow and learn as children.

Welcome to the family!


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