The celebration of New Year’s Eve (Hogmany) is a big event in Scotland. However, this year it will be very much curtailed, as were our Christmas and Easter celebrations, along with the festivals of other faiths in 2020. It’s within this very different New Year that we read of Jesus’ family going up to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. While this was a big part of their religious observance within the Jewish faith, it was also a time to spend with family, and no doubt a break away from the usual chores and humdrum of life. It would be worth admitting within your worship, all that your community has missed out on as we enter a new year.
The gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus’ family somehow managed to leave him behind in Jerusalem, not realising that he wasn’t with them until they had travelled for a whole day. Can you imagine the fear and frustration they felt? It would take another day to return to Jerusalem before they could being searching for him. When they eventually found him he was in the Temple, talking with the religious teachers there. He was fine! Mary challenged him, as any exhausted and fraught mother would: wanting to hug him close and scream at him at the same time. “How could you do this to us?” Jesus, it seems, was unaware of the panic he had caused, and was unapologetic. You can almost hear his ‘tweenage’ voice saying, “Didn’t you know I would be here, in my Father’s house? Why is that not obvious to you?”
I’ve heard it reasoned that perhaps Joseph assumed that his twelve-year-old son was with the women and children, while Mary assumed he was with the men. Being a ‘tweenager’, it can be easy to fall between the categories of child and adult. In my tradition, twelve years old is about the age when most children leave the church. They have outgrown the activities and teaching we provide for children, and they are not prepared to sit through a service which is aimed at adults (who, to be fair, are likely much older than their parents). Preaching on this passage provides an opportunity for a child to hear that Jesus was just like them, and that there is a place for them in the church. You might ask how your congregation could engage with your children and young people, just as the temple teachers engaged with the twelve-year-old Jesus. Young people are often blamed for the ills of society. Perhaps like Jesus, the ‘tweenager’, they are not being wilfully disobedient, challenging, or immoral, but they simply have different priorities. You could determine to find out what these are.
A completely different tack would be to consider the importance of the temple in the birth narratives of Jesus Christ. Already within Luke’s gospel, we have met Zechariah, and then, Simeon and Anna, all of them in the temple in Jerusalem. After taking part in Passover, Jesus is later found in the temple which he considers to be his heavenly Father’s house. Not every person in your congregation will realise that Jesus was a Jew, brought up by two Jewish parents. However, for the writer of Luke’s gospel, this is hugely important to the reader’s understanding of Jesus’ identity and purpose. This may be an opportunity to provide some education for your congregation. The temple will appear again in Luke’s gospel. Jesus will teach there, and he will throw out the money lenders. The final verse of the gospel has his disciples return to Jerusalem where they worshipped in the temple.
For those in your congregation who are struggling with their own, and their families’ needs, during a global pandemic, it may be that they need simply to hear comforting words which can carry them through the day or week ahead. Perhaps the fact that Joseph and Mary didn’t expect to find Jesus in the temple, and were astonished by his understanding, provides a springboard to be able to encourage others that God is still able to surprise us in unexpected places and in unexpected ways. We hold onto this hope, as we travel into the new year.
Rev Dr Jean Kirkwood is a Church of Scotland parish minister working in the east of Scotland within two former mining villages. Her blog can be found at scottishpress.wordpress.com.
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