Hancock Church Sermon
Alex Shea Will
December 30, 2012
What an exciting time the season of Advent was. Outside these walls we faced the lines at the malls and the anxiety of picking the perfect gift for our loved ones. In our homes we worried about preparing the perfect meals and hanging the Christmas lights just right. Inside these walls, we were no less busy. We walked with Zechariah when he was made mute due to his disbelief. We marveled at the miraculous pregnancy of not one, but two women. Angels came to carpenters, teenagers, and shepherds, while Magi followed a mysterious star. It was a busy month, but we’re only just beginning! As we journey through Epiphany we’ll hear voices from Heaven and see the miracles of Jesus before our eyes. Water will become wine and our fishermen disciples will catch more fish than they’ve ever seen, but i’m getting a bit ahead of myself. There is a lot to see and hear these winter months of ours, yet here we are today, after Christmas day, but not yet Epiphany, with something completely different.
In our Gospel lesson today there are no angels. There are no mysterious stars or voice from Heaven. No miraculous pregnancies or miracles to be found. In the midst of our Christian story, there is something very ordinary about today’s lesson. If you were to update the locations, you could almost imagine it happening today. Two young and busy parents, while originally terrified at the prospects of raising a child, now have more than 12 years under their belts. Sure, they watch out for him, but they’re no longer driving 30 MPH on the highway, with the hazard lights on, like they did the day they brought their newborn home. Everything is a bit more comfortable. A comfort that only comes with time. And then it happens. Maybe it was a miscommunication between Mary and Joseph, Maybe Mary thought Joe was going to pick Jesus up, and Joe though Mary was going to meet him after school, but no one met him. Once they realized their mistake, they frantically look for him, only to find him safe and sound, teaching the ones who are supposed to be teaching him.
I can’t tell you why it took them a day to realize their son was missing, but God certainly wasn’t sending them the help they might have been used to or that we’ve come to expect. God didn’t send an angel to let them know that Jesus wasn’t where they thought he was. He didn’t send a star to guide them back to the temple, they had to stress, and wait, and worry, before they found him. A nerve wracking, but rather ordinary story. Suddenly Mary and Joseph sound a bit more like us.
What is this story doing here? I don’t necessarily mean as the scripture for this week in particular, but I ask in context of Luke’s Gospel. What is this story doing here? We’ve spent the previous chapters giving shape to this mysterious and beautiful birth narrative. For the rest of the Gospel, we’ll follow the short ministry of Jesus on Earth. But these simple 11 verses, situated between the two, are all we have of what occurs between these epic bookends. And in it we don’t get any angels or miracles. We get a lost boy and two frantic parents.
One of things we do a lot of in seminary is write. Not just writing about scripture, Christian history, or church, even though we do a lot of that, but writing about ourselves. The process of ordination to Christian ministry, in the United Church of Christ, is dotted with opportunities to write about yourself. In fact, it’s one of the very first things prospective candidates for ordained ministry are asked to do. I have yet to meet a peer, outside of this world, who has to be in such constant conversation with our own personal biography. And I hate it. Not only do i dislike having to spend so much time focusing on myself, I dislike the actual task of it all. Those whom I’m writing to aren’t looking for my life story in it’s entirety. They don’t want to know what I did at every birthday party or baseball game. They’re not looking to read about what I ate for dinner when I was 12. They’re interested in the milestones. They want to read about those moments and experiences that shaped me to be the person I am to today. And even at only 26, I feel overwhelmed by the task of reworking my life story into a concise, but informative, narrative. It’s exhausting. Maybe you haven’t had to do the same exact thing, but I’m sure you’ve done something very similar for a resume. That unenviable task of diluting your life’s accomplishments down to bit sized statements, making good use of “active verbs.”
Clearly the author of Luke’s Gospel struggled with this question of worthiness, this problem of redaction. Since the author of Luke and it’s companion text Acts was writing almost a century after Jesus’ death, the author had quite a task on his hand. How could he tell such a powerful story in a concise way. Things had to be cut, parts of Jesus’ life had to be skipped. Nevermind the fact that the author of Luke/Acts (as it has come to be known) couldn’t have known every detail of Jesus’ life himself! Someone had to decide what parts were worthy for inclusion and what parts couldn’t be reduced to narrative, the details worthy of merit for the future generations of this community.
What we seem to be left with, the decision the author seemed to make, is what we started our journey together discussing. An exciting account of the birth narrative. Extensive details of Jesus’ ministry, but very little about the 30 odd years in between. The years, lost to history, seemingly deemed “surplus to supply.” However, we didn’t lose all of it. The author of Luke/Acts retains one story for us. One rather ordinary sounding story.
Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re left wanting just a bit more. What about those other stories? What else did Jesus do as a child? What were Mary and Joseph like as parents to a teenager? Did Jesus talk back to his parents? Did he get in trouble? Did he excel at Torah study, or did he slack off sometimes? Those details we’ll never know; they didn’t make it into any of the gospels. You know, I bet the author didn’t know them himself, but even if he did, could he have written every detail? Would every detail of the time in-between his birth and ministry have helped us better understand what we are dealing with, to better comprehend the incarnation and eventual resurrection? I doubt it. Just as a baptism in the water of the Atlantic ocean would fall short of representing the fullness of grace in baptism, i doubt even a moment by moment detailed account of the years we miss in the Gospels would shed one bit of clarity on the mysteries of our faith. Does that mean we are supposed to forget about that part of Jesus’ life? That, for our purposes, we are to focus on the two bookends of his life and simply disregard the rest? If that were the case, I don’t think we’d have ended up with this story at all.
The author of Luke gives us one story. One story for approximately 30 years of life. One story devoid of the trappings found in almost every other story. Yet, in this one story we get a tacit acknowledgement that there is a gap in our story, and something should be said about those years. What happened in those years may be lost to history, but they happened. In terms of our faith story, in terms of the Christian story we tell today, they may not provide any more clarity, but they did happen, and this one story acknowledges that reality. Jesus had a life outside of his birth and short ministry. He had years in which he played like a child and learned what it meant to be a man. He shared meals with his family and laughed with his friends. He was a human. Fully human in each and every way you and I are human, mixed in with the qualities that made him an individual. We don’t get to hear the stories, but we need to know and remember they happened. Luke’s Gospel tells the most beautiful story I know about parts of Jesus life, but his life as a whole can’t be reduced to the Gospel narrative – this resume version. His time on Earth can’t be fully understood by a brief paper on his “spiritual journey.” No. And it’s important for us to remember that, because neither can yours. You are more than bullet points on a page, or the milestones in your life that potential employers may find interesting. You are the sum of parts that can’t be reduced or expressed in simple ways. We aren’t called to measure our lives in bookends, rather, we are called to live in each and every human moment. Especially the moments that expose our true humanity, like temporarily losing one of our children. Even if he knew them all, the author of Luke’s Gospel didn’t have to write of every human experience Jesus had. By this brief acknowledgement, sandwiched between two moving bookends of his life, we are instantly reminded that like us, Jesus was human. With experiences that extend far beyond the ones people would write about in the future.
Today. In the liminal space between Jesus’ birth and resurrection. Let us remember that Jesus lived a life just like us. Just like our children. And that by taking time to stop and acknowledge the completeness of Jesus’ humanity, maybe we can grow to see the holiness of our everyday humanity.