December 26th, 2021 – Chosen For Growth

Sermon for Christmas I, 2021  Random Lake           12/26/21                      Theme: CHOSEN FOR GROWTH

Text: Luke 2:41-52, Colossians 3:12-17, Psalm 148, 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26

Introduction     Halleluiah!  It’s still Christmas—the start of the joyous season. The psalm selected for today—Psalm 148—shouts out our praise.

            Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise God in the heights…

            Praise the Lord, sun and moon; sing praise, all you shining stars…

Let them praise the name of the Lord, who commanded and they were created….

            The poet goes on to praise God for the sea and its creatures, the earth, fire, hail, snow and fog, tempestuous wind doing God’s will.  He’s quite exuberant, going on about animals, birds, mountains and hills—all praising the Lord.  The worshipper even praises God for “sovereigns of the earth and all people.”  He invites us all to join in such praise:

Young men and maidens, old and young together. Let them praise the name of the Lord, whose name only is exalted, whose splendor is over earth and heaven.

These words summon us to join the angel chorus that gave a private concert to the shepherds after announcing Jesus’ birth: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

            Well, how are you doing these couple of days after Christmas Eve?  Are you humming Christmas carols around the house?  Do you sense the lift of humanity after the Lord’s birth celebration?  Or are you just tuning into news and sports to break the boredom of the same old thing?

            The Lord is calling us to grow strong in faith and joy this season.  So, we have some Scripture readings to support the theme: CHOSEN TO GROW.

I           Luke’s account of Jesus when he was twelve years old is the only one we have in the New Testament of his growing-up time before launching his mission.  So, we study this text with some eagerness. 

            Every year Jesus’ family made the long trip to Jerusalem from their small town of Nazareth, in the north. They made the trip in a caravan of relatives and friends for safety and support.  When they arrived, it was an important seven or eight–day celebration.  What is puzzling is that Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ foster father, headed for home “assuming that Jesus was in the group of travelers.”  You and I know that assuming things often gets you into trouble.  After a day’s journey, the parents realized that Jesus was missing.  Really!  They lost track of the one announced by the angel as “the Son of God,” destined for great things.  Can you imagine the anxiety of Mary and Joseph over the three days when “the parents were lost?”

            Jesus, was found in the temple, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”  He had a growing awareness of his close relationship with his heavenly Father.  When Mary said, “Child, why have you treated us like this?  He answered, “Why were you searching for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  This little word, “must” occurs all through Luke’s Gospel.  Jesus went the way of obedience to God’s will.  “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”

            Jesus too was growing into his mission. He was God’s chosen one, destined to accomplish our salvation. But he had more growing to do. And a big part included going back to Nazareth and being an obedient son, until his time of maturity, after he had “increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”

            Those who know well the ancient scriptures, can see the parallels of Jesus’ origin and growth with the life of Samuel, the transformational figure in Israel’s history, which Jesus, the Christ came to fulfill.  Note, in the first reading for today, the boy Samuel is in the temple where his mother has promised to send him when he was born.  She and her husband went every year to Shiloh, the central place of worship.

II          That leads us to think of our role in God’s great plan for humanity.  In the second reading, we are addressed, as well as the Colossians,  “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility. meekness and patience.” In other words, put on virtues like clothing.

            I  invite you today to see yourselves as “holy and beloved,” for that is what you are, as people baptized in Christ Jesus.  You have shared in his resurrected life and are clothed in his forgiving grace.  You are loved by God.  And, we all are called to grow into what that means in our daily lives.  Paul’s words in Colossians gives you a pattern to follow.  I’m not going to explain compassion, kindness, humility and patience.  I think that we know what those words mean, however great the challenge it is to realize them in each of our situations.

            But the word “meekness” may not be a part of our vocabulary.  The Greek word underlying the translation “meekness” implies “confidence, obedience and courage.”   Jesus demonstrated meekness in the Gospel.  Meekness does not mean letting others walk over you.  It means being assertive as a strong servant of God, like Jesus, affirming the truth of who you are, and yet respecting others in their roles and responsibilities.  Jesus lived that way all the way to his last time in the temple, when he confronted the corrupt teachers and challenged the establishment.  He maintained his integrity all the way to the cross and open tomb.  He never gave in to pressure, because he was sure of the Father’s will.

            Therefore, as God’s chosen ones in Christ, we hear the encouraging words of the Apostle:

Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  [Note the “must” in there.]  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

            If it’s one thing that people crave today, it’s peace.  We are so weary of conflict and divisions so evident in our country, not to mention the threats of war and civil disturbance prompted by injustice and inequality of opportunity.

We need to work together, listen to the aspirations of others, and seek understanding and policies without which there can be no peace.

            But the Apostle Paul is promoting a deeper peace, the peace that is a gift—an attitude of oneness that only God can give, and has given in Christ.  It moves us to thankful living. Or as Paul advises:

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your heart sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.

            That is what we are here to do whenever we gather: sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, even if we have to hum along with others sounding the words.

IV         The last words of this section of Colossians may be the most helpful and actionable for us.  As God’s chosen ones, we can put them into practice in our own settings.  Hear them again:

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.

            Now, we can all use a little more practice of thanksgiving, I think.  It’s so easy to complain when one is not feeling well or when things are not going your way.  I’ve been practicing giving thanks every night before I go to sleep and most mornings.  But being thankful all day also helps when there are so many sources of discouragement in a time of rapid communication of problems. We need to grow in our practice of giving thanks every day.

Conclusion      Why not use the twelve days after Christmas as days to give thanks in word and deed to God?  I trust that it would make a big difference in our lives.  As Samuel and Jesus grew, we can too.  For we are CHOSEN FOR GROWTH.

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