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Wednesday, December 23, 2009
BEYOND THE MANGER—THOUGHTS ON THE LECTIONARY PASSAGES FOR DECEMBER 27, 2009, THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS—BY JIM OGDEN

Lectionary Scriptures: I Samuel 2:18-20, 26, Psalm 148, Colossians 3:12-17, Luke 2:41-52

You almost got the wrong scriptures this week. Yesterday, after writing this week’s blog entry, I noticed that I had the scriptures for a year from now. Fortunately I hadn’t posted it yet.

Interestingly, the Psalm is the same. Psalm 148 calls the entire cosmos to praise God—sun and moon, sea monsters, snow and frost, mountains, fruit trees, creeping things and flying birds, kings and princes, all people, male and female, young and old. I suppose we could spend some time asking what it means for each of these, and all the others named in the Psalm, to praise God. With our concern for justice and peace, it might we worth asking what it might mean if kings and princes truly lived and governed in an attitude of praise. Is not passionately pursuing peace and justice a way of praising?

The Gospel reading skips us right over the birth stories. Jesus is twelve years old amazing the teachers in the temple with his understanding (2:46-47). We also see a very human side of Jesus. He has wandered off from his parents to do his own thing (2:43), throwing them into a panic as they have to go back to Jerusalem and find him (2:44-45). When Jesus’ parents find him, he asks if they don’t know that he must be about his Father’s business (2:48-49).

This could set us off on a discussion about who indeed is our father—the place of both human parents and a divine parent in the scheme of our lives. Even his parents didn’t understand what he was saying (2:50).

The fact that Jesus had parents, needed parents—parents who went through the usual panics and worries of parenthood—is perhaps what is most significant for us in this story. At the end of the story, he went home with his parents and “was obedient to them.” (Luke 2:51) The story tells us that, like any other child he grew. In the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, used as our pew Bibles, it says that he “increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” Here are a couple of other translations that are nearer what I learned in earlier years: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” (King James Version)—“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (New International Version).
They echo the words used to describe young Samuel in our reading from I Samuel, chapter 2. Verse 26 says, “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.” We won’t get into the story of Samuel and the particular occasion described. The point is that spirituality in our tradition is not a static thing. Even Jesus grew in wisdom. He didn’t have it all figured out from day one. Furthermore, growth, if one is faithful to ways of the God of love and justice, involves not only a mystical inward spiritual connection; growth is also measured in our relationships with one another as human beings. What does it mean to grow “in favor with God and man”—“in divine and human favor”? It’s a question worth pondering as we move away from the manger. Life and the possibilities of life don’t end in a manger. Christmas is but a symbol of beginning. Where are we going from here? How will we grow “in divine and human favor”?

The epistle reading from Colossians, chapter 3, may give us further perspective on the question. It is about putting on new clothes—“compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (vs. 12) “Above all,” it says, “clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” It talks about the peace of Christ and forgiveness, and thankfulness, and ends, in verse 17 (one of my favorites), with these words, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” A recipe for growing in favor with God and with those around us? Galatians 3:27 speaks of being “clothed . . . with Christ.”

With Christmas being a time when many think about what they are going to wear for church or for special occasions or even for family gatherings, perhaps we need to examine what is the true clothing of Christmas. What is the message of Christmas calling us to wear? When we have grown enough to climb out of the manger and dress ourselves, what are we going to put on? Will we notice that outfits of love and peace and justice—and a host of other virtues of relationship—have already been laid out for us?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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