I don’t want to put anyone on the spot, but what if for Christmas someone gave you a gift you did not want or did not need, or you don’t have any idea what in the world what to do with it? What do you do with it?
What if for some reason for Christmas someone gave you a dog or a cat or something more unique like an iguana, and you didn’t want a dog or a cat or an iguana, because either you don’t think you have the time or the ability to take care of a pet or because you just don’t like animals all that much, especially iguanas? It may be a nice gift, but what do you with it – when it’s right there in front of you? Or what if you have purchased every successive iPhone as they have come out and for Christmas, someone gave you a jet black super cool rotary phone, and you know you don’t need it and you may not even know what it is that they have handed you? It may be a nice gift, but what do you do with it? Or what if for Christmas someone gave you a gym membership and you don’t know what they are saying by giving you a gym membership – or maybe you know very well what they are saying by giving you a gym membership? It may be a nice gift, but what do you do with it?
Or what if someone for Christmas gave you the story from God that a little baby was born in a stable who is Christ the Lord, the Savior of the world, and you – or someone else – doesn’t really know what’s so big about knowing about a Savior and Lord or whether anything like that is even necessary to know about – or it just doesn’t seem as special and meaningful as it once did? A nice gift that people talk about and sing about and act nice to each other about, but what do you do with it? What do you do with him? What do you do with Jesus?
On this day after Christmas after receiving this holy gift of Christmas, let’s think about what to do with Jesus by joining his mother Mary in treasuring in our hearts what Jesus was doing as a twelve-year-old boy in the temple at Jerusalem, as he was talking to the teachers of God’s people, who we are told “were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
The teachers of God’s people in the temple were amazed at his understanding and his answers, but what is even more helpful to understand what we should do with Jesus is to think about the fact that Joseph and Mary, we are told, were “astonished” at what they saw, when, after three days of anxiously and, quite likely, frantically searching for him, they saw what he was doing in the temple. The word that is used for “astonished” is a word that makes it is clear this was something that just plain knocked their socks off it was so beyond comprehension for them. It might be something like those extremely rare instances where a little child without any training can play music on the piano that shows the talent of a virtuoso or putting a paintbrush in the hand of a child who somehow produces what could be considered a masterpiece. The huge difference still is that any child like that still makes mistakes, still has weaknesses, still sins – and Jesus, the twelve-year-old boy from Nazareth, did not – and could not – make any mistakes or have any failures or commit any sins. Helping us realize the significance of that is the simple comment that St. Luke makes that after all this was over, Jesus was “obedient” to his parents and returned to Nazareth with them. That simple act of obedience was symbolic of his ongoing perfect obedience to his early parents — and to his heavenly Father. He went back to the family home and continued to grow up as a perfectly obedient twelve-year-old boy who was also the almighty Son of God, who deserves the obedience of all. What do you do with someone like that?
Isn’t the way to think about what to do with someone like that is to think about what Jesus did with someone like us? Think about what was going on there in the temple that day. What festival does Luke say was taking place? The Passover. What is going to happen at another Passover about twenty years down the line? This little boy Jesus is going to go through as a thirty-something-year-old man the very kinds of things he spoke about hundreds of years before in prophecy through Isaiah in our First Reading, when he said those hard to hear words, “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.” Is it possible that some of these very same people who were amazed at him as a twelve-year-old were among those who later said, “Away with him. Crucify him. We have no king but Caesar?” The all-knowing Son of God knew what lay ahead of him on that Passover down the line, but he also knew that what he would allow to happen to him would be for the glory of his Father in heaven to whom he was obedient and would be for the eternal good of people like you and me for whom he was being obedient, so that is why he could also say through Isaiah so long before those words we heard, “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.”
How humbling it has to be for us in the midst of these truly joyful days of celebration to have to confess to our Lord to our shame that we too have said in effect, “Away with him,” seeking to discard him in our words or actions like an unwanted Christmas gift we don’t know what to do with or we just don’t want to deal with, thinking it’s just not worth it to take up our cross and follow him, or maybe even wondering at times if the work he came to do is all that necessary and important to believe and confess before a world that in general likes the trappings of Christmas, but is totally tripped up by reason for it. How much we need to keep hearing – and we want to keep hearing — our Savior’s words that he spoke to his parents, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Yes, he returned to his family house in Nazareth, but he never stopped being in his Father’s house as he continued forward on his journey that would take him back to Jerusalem any number of times until that final time when he could say of the work he was sent to do, “It is finished.” What I mean by saying he continued to be in his Father’s house all along comes from the fact that literally, those words say, “Don’t you know that it is necessary for me to be among the things of my Father” – or as we sometimes say, “Don’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business” – my Father’s work. He never stopped doing his Father’s work. He never stopped being in his Father’s house – “among the things of his Father.”
So, while the Father’s business could very justifiably have kept Jesus from seeking after us, in love that can only be described as one of the many miracles of Christmas – that can only leave us even more astonished than the astonishment of Joseph and Mary, with our jaws wide open with Christmas joy – God has seen fit through Jesus to justify us – to say that to him we are just as holy as his Son Jesus is, since, as our Second Lesson from the Letter to the Hebrews told us, Jesus calls us his “brothers and sisters” – and all because, as those words also assured us, “he has made atonement for the sins of the people.”
During that Passover celebration in that twelfth year of our Savior’s life on earth, it must have been an awesome thing for young Jesus to know that the High Priest of the people was in the little room of the temple called the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies, sprinkling the blood of a lamb on the furnishings to atone for the sins of the people, fully realizing that in two decades that curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the regular worship area would be torn in two when he gave his life as the final Passover Lamb of sacrifice to make the once and for all time payment price of atonement for every single sin you and I have ever committed and will ever commit. That little boy in the temple courts was the very same man who as the Son of Man would die outside the city and as the Son of God would emerge in three days from that nearby tomb. Wouldn’t you love to know the questions young Jesus asked those teachers of the law? Wouldn’t it have been great to hear him direct their attention to the promises of God from of old that showed the love of their unbelievably patient and faithful God that said a Messiah was coming to assure them that any guilt of sin and the bitter reality of death would “pass over” them through bloodshed on their behalf? We don’t know the specific questions he asked that day or the specific answers he gave to their questions that day, but through what happened after that day there is no question at all about what to do with Jesus. All we need to think about day after day is what Jesus has done with me, because of what Jesus did for me. That’s the good news of great joy that shall be for all the people – that unto us a Savior has been born. He truly is Christ the Lord! Amen.