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Thursday, December 27, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: I Samuel 2:18-20, 26, Psalm 148:1-14, Colosians 3:12-17, Luke 2:41-52

Good parenting means taking care of one’s children—seeing that they are fed, clothed, sheltered, loved, etc. Parental concern can, of course, be excessive, but it usually arises from good instincts. It’s also true that events intervene—via gunshot, health issues, war, famine, etc.—reminding parents that they cannot provide complete protection and security. In such situations, the anguish of parents is but another reminder of that deep caring connection which is the source of great pain when it is broken.

In two of this week’s lectionary readings, we see concerned parents. The parallels between Mary and Hannah (Samuel’s mother) and the birth of Jesus and Samuel have long been noted. The only parallel in these two readings is the concern of parents. In I Samuel, chapter 2, we see a mother who faithfully makes “a little robe” for her son each year and takes it to him where he is serving the priest Eli. (I Samuel 2:18-19)

I’m not sure kids always enjoy receiving articles of clothing as gifts. I grew up in a culture of hand-me-downs. Clothes went from my older cousins to me and then back to younger cousins. Yes, somehow we made them last that long. I remember one Christmas my parents splurged and got me a brand new suit to wear to church. Those were the days when we “dressed up” to go to church—not just for other people but because we thought it somehow showed respect for God. When I opened the suit, my first question was, “Whose was it?” I didn’t know that clothes could be brand new or that I might be the first owner of some article of clothing. I still think I look pretty “spiffy” in pictures I have of me in that suit.

The Gospel lesson tells about an outing taken by Jesus’ family when he was 12 years old. They went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. (Luke 2:41-42) Traveling as a group of relatives and friends, children running this way and that, Jesus’ parents are on their way home before they notice that Jesus is missing. In our day, they probably would have been immediately “blamed” for losing him, but they knew what it was to be a whole “village” taking care of their children. The highlight of the story is probably where they found him, “in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (vs. 46) It says, “And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (vs. 47)

I suppose some parents might identify with the experience of having a precocious kid whose understandings moves beyond them. “ . . . they did not understand what he said to them,” we are told. (vs. 49) This week perhaps we can just note the important role of parents in Jesus’ life, in the life of any child. I once titled a sermon on this text, “Jesus Had Parents.” The story notes that Jesus went back home with his parents and “was obedient to them.” (vs. 51) There is also the touching observation showing us that Mary was a proud parent. She “treasured” the experience of watching her child grow, holding those shared times “in her heart.” (vs. 51)

At the end of each child’s story----Samuel and Jesus—we see growth. “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.” (I Samuel 2:20) “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” (Luke 2:52) Isn’t that ultimately what parenting is about, encouraging and enabling our children to grow? Perhaps we can broaden it to talk about the role of adults and communities (including communities of believers) as they minister with and to children. Birth (and Christmas) is but a beginning. Notice that both children are described as growing in divine and human favor. Growing includes entering into fuller relationship with God and with those around us, learning how to get along in this world and in our connection with God—perhaps putting on new clothes with each passing season.

The epistle reading specifically talks about spiritual clothing. “ . . . clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience . . . Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12 & 14) Other verses spell out the details, speaking of forgiveness and peace and gratitude, ending with the admonition, “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.” (vss. 13 & 15-17) I once preached a sermon titled simply, “Whatever.” What a powerful all-inclusive word.

Rather than dwell on the details right now, though, I want to call attention to Paul’s simple declaration in Galatians 3:27—“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Is it possible that the clothes so neatly gift-wrapped under the tree are Christ himself? I’m not sure whether the clothes he offers are hand-me-downs or not. If that means used and worn, I suspect not. These are clothes that give us a brand new chance. But if it means that they are part of his very being passed on (handed down) to us, maybe hand-me-downs will serve us quite well. And if it means that they come from one who had tested their durability on all the highways and byways of life, that probably adds to the value of the gift. Maybe now he has even become like Hannah, seeking to cloth his children. Look where thinking about parenting and clothes has taken us.

The Psalm doesn’t seem to address the theme of our reflections—or does it? If we think of all creation as part of the clothing God provides for us, we are apt to burst into a song of praise like the one we have in Psalm 148. Maybe we need to look beyond the gifts under the tree and look heavenward, thinking of all nature as a gift for which to be grateful—at Christmas time and all year. As I read it, these verses repeat the word, “praise,” thirteen times. In the story of Jesus’ birth as told by Luke, we read, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’”

Praise God for parents and clothing, for all things great and small, for the sustaining beauty of nature, for love embodied in a child, and in all relationships human and divine!

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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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