Sermon: Growth in God’s Favor

December 30, 2018
First Sunday After Christmas Day
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Luke 2:41-52

Growth in God’s Favor

The Spirit of Christmas
Merry Christmas again! Traditionally, the Sundays after Christmas are considered “low” Sundays in our Christian calendar because people tend to take a much needed rest after the Christmas season. But I want to remind you that God our Lord doesn’t have any vacation from God’s own works to sustain, move, and save the world, and God always wants to meet with us all year round, even on “low Sunday” like today. Therefore, even in the midst of our rest, we should be faithful enough to worship and praise the Lord who is always present in our everyday lives.

Tomorrow is the last day of the calendar year. Yet we know in the church calendar that we began a new year already on December 2nd, as we celebrated the first Sunday of Advent. We are now ready to have a new beginning. When we have a beginning of something, we know it will move towards an ending, and that ending brings us a new beginning. Somehow beginnings and endings seem to blend. For example, when somebody has a graduation ceremony from their school, the service is called a commencement. When our beloved ones die, we say they enter into a new life in heaven. Throughout our life we experience other endings that lead to the possibilities of new beginnings. We recently lost a brother in our church who passed away just a few days ago; Lenny now enters into eternal peace in God’s kingdom.

Today’s Scriptures are about beginnings and endings, turning points of life. When I meditated on them, I was caught by the descriptions of two young boys, Samuel and Jesus, whose lives later underwent radical change to save the world around them. But in today’s passages, they both were still little boys who were on the process to adulthood. Between their ending of boyhood and the beginning of adulthood are there growth for their lives: “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people” (v. 26); “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (v. 52).

Yes, today’s lesson is about growing up but it is not only Jesus and Samuel’s growing up. It is about you and me growing up. Growing up is not about how old we are. It is about moving into deeper and more authentic relationships with God and people living around us.

Jesus’ childhood
The New Testament provides very little information about Jesus as a child. In today’s reading, he was only twelve years old but described as an “exceptional child.” Jesus accompanied his parents, Mary and Joseph, to Jerusalem for the annual festival of Passover: “Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover” (v. 41).

When the festival ended, and they started to return home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem (v. 43). It was after a day’s trip that Mary and Joseph realized that their son Jesus was not with the family group. They just lost the track of their son. I bet this must be parents’ worst nightmare. Shocked, Mary and Joseph immediately went back to Jerusalem to find him, and it took another couple of days to do so. When they did find him, Jesus was still in the Temple sitting among the Jewish teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All the teachers who heard him were so amazed at his knowledge about the Scriptures (v. 47).

When Mary and Joseph 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” (v. 48). However, Jesus responded simply, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (v. 49). I suspect if any of our parents got an answer like this from their child after being missing for three days, they probably would be very angry with him or her.

But this doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t care of his parents’ worry. The story continues to say that he returned with his parents and “was obedient to them” (v. 51). As he liked to sit in the Temple to study and honor God’s Word, the boy Jesus also honored his parents with all his heart. In the end of this story concerning the boyhood of Jesus, Luke’s Gospel concludes that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (v. 52).

Searching for Jesus
What can we learn from the story of Jesus’ missing? What does this have to do with our growth, which is the theme of today’s lesson? Let us notice something else.

First, Jesus continued to stay in the Temple… After the festival was over, Mary and Joseph were traveling away from the Temple but Jesus never left the Temple, which is considered the house of God or the presence of God: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house” (v. 49). It tells us that the boy Jesus grew up in the presence of the Lord. From the early age in his life, he liked to spend his time being with God, studying Scripture, praying to God, and serving in the Temple. At this transitional period, Jesus was developing his own relationship with God in God’s house.

Second, Jesus also grew up in favor of his parents and neighboring people as well as in favors of God. He was nurtured in deep care and love by his parents. As he received much love from them, he also loved and honored his parents. In the early period in his life, he learned how to respect people living around them. As a result, Jesus grew up in both divine and human favor.

Finally, let us consider Mary and Joseph and learn from what they did when they thought they lost Jesus. (Actually, Jesus wasn’t lost at all. He was right where he was supposed to be. In our spiritual interpretation of this passage, we can understand it is actually Mary and Joseph who were turning away from God.) When they realized they didn’t have Jesus in their journey, they turned around to find him. Based on their reaction, I invite you to consider where you are on your ongoing journey. Maybe you’re just starting out. Maybe you’ve been journeying with Jesus for years, but somehow your relationship with God has grown stale. Maybe you even don’t know where you are going and what you are doing for this new year… The Good News is that Jesus is right where he’s supposed to be: in this room, just waiting for you to find him. Search for Jesus by turning your life around and you will find God. This is the lesson we can learn from Mary and Joseph from this reading.

Our growth in the presence of the Lord
Yes, what we need at the turn of the year is “growth.” On this “low” Sunday, we must commit ourselves to a “high” spirituality. We must be faithful enough to submit ourselves to the presence of God through our daily meditation and prayer, through our radical hospitality and welcome, and through our faithful service in God who gives his servants the power to change the world.

As we keep the birth of Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our Lord in our hearts, may God be always with us in favor and grace and help us to grow and empower our service for the sake of God and for the sake of people in 2019. Amen.