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Readings: 1st Sunday of Christmas

14 December 2012


1 Samuel 2.18-20, 26; Colossians 3.12-17; Luke 2.41-end

Almighty God, who wonderfully created us in your own image and yet ore wonderfully restored us through your Son Jesus Christ: grant that, as he came to share in our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

FIVE days on, and normal life is partly restored. The sales are in full swing, public transport has restarted, and some offices have reopened.

Meanwhile, in our readings, several years have passed. With a brief but telling glance at the way Jesus was raised - piously, as not all Jewish women were like Mary, who made the annual arduous trek to Jerusalem for the Passover, since only men were required to do, and many of them did not - now we meet Jesus nearing the age (13) of recognition as an adult who could be counted among the ten men needed for there to be a synagogue, and who could recite Torah, the Law.

Theologically, in drawing parallels with Samuel and telling of his growth in wisdom and esteem as he stood on the cusp of manhood, Luke emphasises Jesus's humanity. He illustrates this with a story of Jesus's exploring his identity, testing his boundaries. This maturing boy was not entirely obedient to his parents, and went missing.

The description of the large caravan of people, walking in smaller groups, tells us how people travelled for safety, and of the trusting sense of wider community in which Jesus was raised. It also suggests that Mary and Joseph had not been on their own in Bethlehem, but could have had extended family with them. Come nightfall, there was panic; back in Jerusalem, the fact that Mary, not Joseph, told Jesus off gives a glimpse of a strong, no-nonsense, mother.

How did Jesus respond? At one level, it was with typical adolescent insouciance. Why on earth were they bothered? At another level, it indicates that something had clicked for him in a new way in Jerusalem: he was growing into awareness that God was his Father. In Judaism, God was not normally addressed as "Father", and yet Jesus called God his Father, and taught his disciples to do so.

We do not know how Jesus came to know this relationship, and heresies have been built from speculation; Luke simply mentions his remarkably astute questioning and understanding, contrasting with his parents' lack of understanding. Then Jesus got up, and went with his parents to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. Whatever being the Son of God meant, he expressed this in obedience to his parents, and, ultimately, learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5.8).

Lest we forget, as normal life resumes, the collect takes us into the glorious mysteries of what God has done in Jesus Christ: first creating us, then restoring us in the image of God, sharing our humanity, so that we may share the life of his divinity.

God's salvation is so much more than paying off any debt arising from our sin, or meeting the demands of the law. It restores humanity to what was originally intended: communion with God. Salvation is about life in its fullness, sharing God's life as he has shared ours in Jesus Christ.

There are consequences to this wonder, and the readings bring us back to earth. God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, are to live transformed lives, clothing themselves with love (was it love that enabled the 12-year-old, newly independent Jesus, who had discovered the intellectual and theological thrills of Jerusalem, to be obedient to his parents in the backwater of Nazareth?) and doing everything with thanksgiving to God in the name of Jesus.

Mary had already treasured what the shepherds told her in her heart; now she added to that treasure-store this more difficult experience of her son's growing away from the family, and yet being obedient to them. Years later, Jesus said: "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12.34), and perhaps he learned that, in part, from Mary.

Mary's experience reminds us that it is in the normality of life that we add to the treasures in our heart, and live in the light of them. One practical suggestion for the New Year is to buy a book in which to record what you wish to treasure in your heart - pictures, words, stories, photos, memories - and, like Mary, like Jesus, to live obediently in ordinary life where such treasures are created. Books like that used to be called commonplace books, with good reason.

The Revd Rosalind Brown is Canon Librarian of Durham Cathedral.

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