Sermon for First Sunday of Christmas 2021

Sermon Luke 2.41-52

Thomas, Richard and Harold were three brothers who over the course of their careers had all done extremely well for themselves.

When they met up at Christmas they were talking about the gifts that they had bought for their elderly mother.

Thomas, the eldest and most successful, told his brothers, “I have built a big house for our mother. Four reception rooms, seven bedrooms – each of them en-suite – and even an indoor pool and sauna”

Richard, the middle child told his brothers, “I sent her a classic Rolls Royce Silver Phantom – I tracked down the actual car that she and our father had used on their wedding day.”

Harold, the third and youngest brother, smiled and said, “I’ve got you both beaten. Now you know how much our mum enjoys reading the Bible – but of course her eyesight is failing and she finds it very difficult to see even large print editions. Well, I have sent her a most remarkable parrot that recites the entire Bible. It took senior clerics in the church twelve years to teach him. He’s one of a kind. Our mother just has to name the chapter and verse, and the parrot recites it.”

A short while later the mother of these men sent out her letters of thanks.

“Dear Tom,” she wrote to the eldest, “Thank you for the house you have built for me, it is very beautiful, but I have to say is too huge. I live in only one room, but I still have to keep the whole house clean!”

“Dear Dick,” she wrote to her second child, “What a beautiful car you have given me, but my dear, I am too old to drive very far now. I stay at home most of the time, so I rarely use it, but don’t worry, it’s nice and safe under a cover in the garage.”

The mother wrote to her youngest and favourite son, “Dear Harry, my darling boy. You have the good sense to know what your Mother needs and likes.
The chicken was Dee-licious!”

As parents, relatives, teachers, guardians, and friends of children we are quite rightly concerned for their well-being. It is our duty (and our joy – most of the time) to protect and teach them, nurture and nourish their lives and ensure that they grow up healthy and feeling loved. We all need someone to guide and guard our growing up, because growing up is hard work.

Growing up means establishing our identity and figuring out our place in the world. It involves creating relationships, setting priorities and making decisions. We choose values and beliefs that structure our lives and along the way we sometimes make mistakes – we can get lost and we can backtrack on decisions that we make. At some point, growing up means moving out, away from your family and finding a new home. This may be a geographical move, but it most certainly involves psychological and spiritual moves too.

So it is no surprise that Mary would be in a panic when she discovers that Jesus is not with the group of travellers that we hear about in our gospel this morning. With great anxiety she and Joseph search for him. Three days later the one who was lost has been found and Mary’s first words are, “Child, why have you treated us like this?” What I really hear is, “Where have you been young man? Your father and I did not survive angel visits, birth in a manger and live like refugees in Egypt only to have you get lost in Jerusalem.” But Jesus isn’t the one who is lost. He knows who he is and where he belongs. Mary and Joseph are the ones who are lost.

Today’s gospel is a story about growing up, but it is not Jesus’ growing up. It is about Mary and Joseph growing up – it is about you and me growing up. Growing up is not about how old we are, it is really about moving into deeper and more authentic relationships with God, our world, each other and our very selves.

Jesus is the one who grows us up. He is the one who will grow up Mary and Joseph. Children have a way of doing that to their parents. They challenge us to look at our world, our lives and ourselves in new, different and sometimes painful ways. That is exactly what Jesus’ question to Mary does. She had put herself and Joseph at the centre of Jesus’ world and his question was about to undo that.

“Why were you searching for me?” he asks. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus is telling Mary she should have known where he was. It is as if he is saying, “Remember, the angel told you I would be the Son of God. Remember that night in Bethlehem – angels praising God, shepherds glorifying God. Remember the three men from the East, their gifts, and adoration. Remember Joseph’s dreams that guided us to Egypt and back. Where else could I be but here?” Jesus has put the Father at the centre of his world and asks Mary and us to do the same – to move to the Father’s home.

Real, authentic growth almost always involves letting go. Mary’s move to the Father’s house, her growing up, means that she will have to let go of her “boy”. Jesus was born of Mary, but he is the Father’s Son. He is with her but does not belong to her. She can give him love but not her thoughts or ways. He is about the Father’s business. Ultimately, she must strive to be like him and not make him like her.

Jesus has moved from Mary and Joseph’s home to the Father’s home. This is not a rejection of his earthly parents but a re-prioritising of relationships. It is what he would ask of Simon, Andrew, James and John. “Follow me” would be the invitation for them to leave their homes, their nets, their fathers and move to a different place, live a different life, see with different eyes. It is today what he asks of you and me.

Growing up spiritually involves leaving our comfort zone, letting go of what is safe and familiar and moving to a bigger place, to the Father’s place. This letting go is a necessary detachment if we are to grow in the love and likeness of Christ. It means we must leave our own little homes.

We all live in many different homes. Some of us live in homes of fear, anger and prejudice. Some in homes of grief and sorrow. Some o fus in homes in which we have been told or convinced that we don’t matter, that we are not enough, unacceptable or unloveable. Homes in which we have been or continue to be hurt or wounded. Homes in which we have hurt or wounded another. Homes of indifference and apathy. Homes of sin and guilt. Homes of gossip, envy or pride.

Every one of us could name the different homes in which we live, homes that keep our life small, our visions narrow and our world empty. The problem is that sometimes we have become too comfortable in these homes and they are not what God offers us. We may have to pass through them, but we do not have to stay there.

Jesus says that there is not only another home for us but invites, guides and grows us up into that home. It is a place he knows well. It is the Father’s home in which we can know ourselves and each other to be his beloved children, created in his image and called to be like him. It is a place where your seat at the banquet is already set. It is a home in which we live in rooms of mercy, forgiveness, joy, love, beauty, generosity and compassion.

Leaving home does not necessarily mean leaving our physical or geographical home though sometimes it might. It does mean examining and re-prioritising the values, beliefs and relationships that establish our identity and give our life meaning and significance.

It means letting go of an identity that is limited to our biological family, our job, community reputation, ethnic group, or political party and trusting that who we are is who we are in God. It means that we stop relating to one another by comparison, competition and judgment and begin relating through love, self-surrender and vulnerability. It means that we let go of fear about the future and discover that God is here in the present and that all shall be well. We stop ruminating on past guilt, regrets and sins and accept the mercy and forgiveness of God and each other. We see our life not in opposition to others but as intimately related to and dependent upon others.

So I wonder what are the little homes in which you live? How do they bound up your life, stifled your growth and keep you from the Father’s home? What might you have to leave behind in order to grow up and move to a better place? Those can be hard questions, painful questions. But ultimately they are questions founded on love.

“Child, why have you treated us like this?

“Because I love you. I love you enough to grow you up, to find you when you are lost and to bring you with me into the Father’s home.”

Fr Simon

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