Preacher: The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, Canon Precentor

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

I love the nativity story. In recent days we’ve heard it, read it, sung it, gazed at it. We’ve gathered with family and friends around that story and the presents and feasting we do to remember it. We belong in a world that celebrates Christmas – and yet doesn’t – but this world is no different from the one in which Christ was born. The point about the beautiful nativity scene, I think, is that woven there are images of God and images of earth. Angels and stars and wise men bearing gifts heavy with meaning, in the midst of a stable and sheep and cattle and a tired mother and father who gaze on their new born child. All in a stable as there was no room for them indoors. No, the world was no different then. And all this weaving of earthly things and heavenly things seems to tell us that then, and now, and at all times, God is deeply in love with this earthly place. And God will move heaven and earth to find us and tell us about that love. And God will keep searching for us, even when we seem deaf to his approach.

Yes, we belong in a world that celebrates Christmas and yet doesn’t – as at all times and in all places – God calls and creates and is born – and we barely see, we barely hear – for the struggle of being a human being can overwhelm us at times, all of us, even those of us who make the pilgrimage to church each week. But God keeps searching for us. The nativity story and all the stories of God are not laid to rest with the tree and the decorations as we tidy up for our summer holidays. Those stories hang in the air. They beckon to us, they whisper to us, and, just possibly, they might sustain us.

Jesus knew that. Even as a child.

The Gospel of Luke, our gospel for this liturgical year, spends much time on the Infancy Narratives, the stories of John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ birth. The Angel Gabriel has been busy. He visits Zechariah and he visits Mary and he announces two births, both of them surprising and demanding of faith. Faith is offered in different ways, canticles are sung by Mary when she meets Elizabeth, and by Zechariah when John is born. Both canticles point to a God who is turning the world upside down, who is bringing salvation to creation in unexpected ways. The second chapter of Luke, from which our gospel reading this morning comes, opens with a brief account of Jesus’ birth. And then the angel choir sings to the shepherds and they travel to the Bethlehem stable to see the child who they are told will be the Messiah and Saviour. The shepherds tell Mary and Joseph what they had been told about the child and “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (2.19) This was not to be the only time that Jesus’ mother found herself pondering, wondering about the child to whom she had given birth and about what her life would entail in her being his mother.

When Jesus is eight days old he is circumcised and named and at the appropriate time he is taken to the temple and prayers are said and offerings made. Again Mary finds herself reflecting in amazement about her son when Simeon and Anna make their pronouncements about Jesus.

Jesus, Luke tells us, “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.” (2:40) What does it look like, this being filled with wisdom? What signs are there even in his youth that he knows the ways of God? There is only one more thing we are told about Jesus’ childhood and that comes in the snippet of story we heard read this morning.

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. (2:41-3)

It is a typical scene between parents and their teenage child. The parents are anxious. This child, though, is pushing the boundaries in an unusual way.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents* saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ 49He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’* (2:46-49)

He knew about the stories, the scripture stories hanging in the air. He knew about spending time with them. Hearing them and wrestling with them. Asking questions of them and pondering and giving his own thoughts about them. He knew that the Temple, the house of God, was where he belonged and dwelling in the stories of scripture was where God is to be found. He knew about spending time with those who would do the same.

Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?

Even at the age of twelve, he knew where he belonged and where life was to be found. And God sent him to give us that same knowledge. The knowledge of salvation.

Zechariah, in his canticle which we know as the Benedictus, the song he sang when his son John was born, sang of John giving the people “knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” He beautifully sings on, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our way into the way of peace.” (1:77-79)

We belong in a world that celebrates Christmas – and yet doesn’t. But as at any time in history, the dawn from on high continues to break upon our world. On a world where peace seems to evade us. On a world where we are only just beginning to understand the peril which the planet which is our home is faced. On a world where we ordinary people find ourselves worrying about the ones we love dearly or the ones we miss. The dawn from on high breaks upon us in the life and the death and the resurrection of this one whose birth we remember this week. The dawn from on high breaks upon us in our living blessed by his spirit. The spirit of the one who knew, even as a child, that life is found in God’s house, treasuring the stories of that God, pondering them, letting them infuse his life.*