YEAR C, FIRST AFTER CHRISTMAS

 

Luke 2: 41-52                          (Sermon 1: “Growing Pains”)

Colossians 3:12-17

1 Samuel 2: 18-20 & 26

Psalm 148

                                    ( Galations 4:4. Sermon  2: “For the New year”)

 

PREPARATION

 

We are here

in the name of Christ Jesus.

We are together in this house of prayer

because Christ has come among us;

trailing clouds of glory, from God who is our home.”

 

The love and happiness of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

And also with you.

 

            OR—

 

Give thanks to God through the Lord Jesus.

In whatever you do, in speaking or serving, do it all in his name.

 

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all.

And also with you.

 

Let us praise the Lord.

Young men and women together,

the elderly and little children.

 

Praise the Lord from the heavens,

praise God in the highest heights.

Give praise all you angels,

give praise you heavenly hosts!

 

PRAYER

 

God our holy Friend, with wonder and joy we come before you. We come from the aftermath of Christmas celebrations, contented though weary, relaxed and thankful. Please do not allow the glory of Bethlehem to slowly fade from our focus, but let it illuminate all our worship, home life, and service in the wider world. In the name of your holy Son.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

r

Come let us return unto the Lord, who always has mercy and will abundantly pardon. Let us pray.

 

Most loving God, we admit to you and to each other, that we are beings in whom light and darkness are uncomfortably mixed.

 

We are beings of cleverness yet foolishness,

            faith yet much unrest,

            strength yet frailty,

            compassion yet self interest.

We want to be close to you yet we ignore you,

            we praise you yet defy you,

            we serve you yet evade you,

            we love you yet deny you.

 

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

 

God of liberation and healing, through your grace in Christ Jesus, we ask to be cleansed and made young in the Spirit once again.

Amen!

 

ABSOLUTION

 

God hears our prayer. Those who come without reserve shall never be turned away.

            “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,

            the peace to which you are called as one body,

            and be thankful.”

Amen!

            “Be patient with one another,

            forgiving one another as the Lord has forgiven you.”

Amen!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

My Home And Family

 

Please bless my brother/sister

even when we fight,

bless my bedroom

where I feel safe at night.

 

God bless my mum

and bless my dad –

even when I’m naughty

and they get mad.

 

Please bless my pets

and each wild kangaroo,

bless birds in our garden,

and don’t forget the zoo.

 

Bless each of my friends

and my teachers at school,

Please even bless the bullies

who think they are so cool.

 

And now please bless me too,

and keep me close to you.

Amen.

 

COMING OF AGE

 

He was not thoughtless,

            but in the year

            of his bar mitzvah

he went missing,

            while parents with fear

            went anxiously looking.

 

He was not thoughtless;

            a greater kin

            had caught him up;

his search was on

            among the big questions

            priests founder in.

 

He was not thoughtless,

            but was on track

            for that Divine

Friday of squander

            when all heaven

            would weep in wonder.

                                    From ‘Beyond Words’

                                    ©  B D Prewer @ Joint Board of Christian Education

 

COLLECT

 

Holy and most amazing God, when you threw in your lot with us in a stable at Bethlehem, you scattered the darkness and filled your people with new light and joy.

Please continue to fill us with your light, that by deed, word and abundant good humour, we may share your incarnate glory with those around us.

In the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Inspirer.

 Amen.

 

SERMON 1: GROWING PAINS

 

Luke 2: 52

Hebrews 5: 8-9

 

And Jesus grew in both height and wisdom, held in high regard by God and people. Luke 2:52

 

Son though he was, Jesus learned obedience in the school of suffering, and being made complete, he became the source of eternal liberation to all who obey him. Hebrews 5: 8-9

 

How did Jesus, whom we call the Christ, come to be the uniquely good person that he was?

            So compassionate yet so resolute, so wise yet so simple,

                        so loving yet so resolute when toughness was needed,

                        so holy yet so approachable? 

 

            How was it that the son of Mary

                        stands at the pinnacle of all that is best in humanity?

 

COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS

 

Much of popularist Christian attitudes assume¾

 

That Jesus in the manger was already perfectly and omnisciently Divine. That from his conception he was ‘programmed’ to live the holy life without flaw.

 

Such folk assume that his heavenly origin and destiny meant that he was incapable of being anything else but the perfect person. We see this in so many paintings of crib scenes, where the baby Christ pronounces blessings on his worshippers, every inch like a infant Pope; magnifico! You hear it also in prayers and hymns. “The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.” “And through all his wondrous childhood, he would honour and obey.”

 

In such piety you will find it very difficult to discover anything which suggests he ever slopped his food, soiled his diapers, or as he grew in to boyhood, that he ever dirtied or tore his clothing like every active child does.

 

What is more, as his mind develops, do we ever allow him to have doubts? Nor argue with his dad, or experience peer rivalry for food and drink (you know how it goes-- her piece of cake is bigger than mine)  nor be tempted to lie, manipulate, to break wind, to feel anger, or experience sexual longings? (especially that last one!)

 

Some excessive writings, both ancient and modern, make Jesus an obnoxious child prodigy, knowing all things and able to do all things. Something like a spiritual version of little Wolfie Mozart, dazzling his contemporaries with his omniscience and omnipotence! Especially the latter!

 

In the Gospel for today , we read again the story of Jesus, on the threshold of teenage years, going with his family to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. When the celebrations were over, Jesus went missing. His parents finally found him in the courtyard of the temple, questioning the rabbis and giving his own opinions.

 

Unfortunately this passage is also often interpreted as a case of the perfect young Jesus, using his infallible, complete knowledge to confound the wisest men of Israel. In some paintings on this subject, he is like an obnoxious young upstart, lecturing the elders about their errors and duties.

 

This distortion is even worse in some of the apocryphal literature from the second and third centuries. There you will encounter a self-righteous know-all, the terror of those rabbis who were given the task of teaching Jesus. Some did not survive their attempts to correct him. (Praise God that these piebald writings did not make it into the New Testament.)

 

THE PAIN OF GROWING

 

As I see it, Jesus had growing pains like the rest of us.

 

I take heart from the conclusion to today’s Gospel reading.

            And Jesus grew in both height and wisdom, held in high regard by God and people

 

With a sigh of relief, I get a picture of Jesus in the process of growing in body mind. I see a very special, indeed unique, young man on the way to becoming that magnificent person whose character , deeds and words, have enthralled the succeeding centuries.

 

I also want to place beside Luke’s comment about Jesus growing in body and mind, some comments from the letter to the Hebrews.  Now, I confess that Hebrews is not one of my favourite books in the New Testament. Yet it contains some absolute gems.  Such as this one from Chapter 5, verses 8 and 9.

 

             Son though he was, Jesus learned obedience in the school of suffering,

            and being made complete,

            he became the source of eternal liberation to all who obey him.

 

This informs me that Jesus, like the rest of us, came to fully be what he was through the complex and painful process of daily life, with its ups and downs. In his own life he also had to grow, to learn, and to mature. And some of the maturity came from suffering.

 

The thirty or so years between his birth and active ministry were not a “running on the one spot” by a perfect, spiritual athlete, waiting for the right date to perform. No way.  It was an essential part of the incarnation; the developing of the Son of God, the growing of Divine Love, enfleshed in humanity, for our salvation.

 

THE ESSENTIAL HUMANITY OF JESUS

 

I think we in the church live in constant danger of neglecting the essential humanity of Jesus, and thereby we lose the profound mystery of the incarnation of God, and the wondrous brotherliness of our Christ.

 

I have heard folk comment, when confronted with some of the tough challenges and complexities of life, “But of course Jesus had that big advantage over us; he was God’s Son.”

 

Not so! That is heresy. Christ Jesus was a true member of our race.  “He learnt obedience in the school of suffering and so became the source of eternal salvation.

 

Here is one of the ironies of my life as a minister of the Gospel: 

            It is very hard to get non-Christians to confront the fact that Jesus was Divine,

            yet it difficult to convince Christians that he was truly human.

 

One of the attractions of imaginative books about Jesus, like the recent “Joshua” series (and for an earlier generation the books by Lloyd Douglas) is that they underline the common humanity of Jesus.

 

They were/are read mainly by church goers who have been in danger of losing the down-to-earth reality of the incarnation: They warm our hearts be depicting a Christ who was one of us. Really one of our human mob.

 

I suspect the same goes for “The da Vinci Code,” when it comes to readers on the religious fringe. In terms of historical accuracy, the book is nonsense. Measured by literary standards, it is mediocre. But it portrays a Jesus who is human enough to fall in love, get married, and have kids. For many observers, this seems a great relief.

 

That things ever got to this point, underlines the failure of the church to celebrate our Lord’s humanity. As I commented a few minutes ago,

One of the ironies of my life as a minister of the Gospel is this: 

            It is very hard to get non-Christians to confront the fact that Jesus was Divine,

            yet it difficult to convince Christians that he was truly human.

           

We are missing the point unless we can affirm: In Jesus the human and the divine become beautifully and awesomely aligned.

 

TRUST THIS MYSTERY

 

This is the Mystery!

                                    Hold on to the Mystery.

 

                                     Or better, let the Mystery hold on to you.

 

Throughout all the year, with the special Christian festivals of Christmas, Epiphany,

Transfiguration, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost –

                                    for goodness sake don’t let go of the hand of the human Jesus.

                                    Only in the human hand do we find the Divine hand,

                                    and only in the Divine hand do we humans find our own divine destiny.

 

 

SERMON 2: FOR THE NEW YEAR

 

Galations 4:4

 

One text which has been tugging at my post-Christmas thoughts  during last week is not from today’s readings but from Galations 4/4

In the fullness of time, God sent his Son, born of a woman.

 

Here we have a thought that bridges Christmas and the New Year.

Paul in his letter to the Galatians speaks of the birth of Christ Jesus and the “fullness of time”

 

What do we know about the fullness of time? An odd phrase?

 

We know about other kinds of satisfying fullness; the fullness of a cup, a dinner plate, or a lake, a room or a crowded street, or the “G” [Melbourne Cricket ground] packed with 95,000 fans. But the fullness of time, or the fullness of a day? What’s that?

 

We are not talking about over-busy days; not packing every moment with hyper activity. No; it is more like an overflowing glass; “my cup overflows.”

 

Ezra Pound suggested that none of our times are fully enough to make us feel satisfied and replete:

            All the days are not full enough,

            and the nights are not full enough,

            and life slips by like a field mouse

            not shaking the grass.

 

Great, eh!  That  poignant truth: “life slips by like a field mouse,  not shaking the grass.”

 

The New year will offer us   8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes, 31,536,000 seconds. But will it have the quality of fullness in it?

 

WHAT IS TIME?

 

We know it is one of the things God created along with the universe, but for most of us it remains a mystery. Is it a fourth dimension? St Augustine, a profound philosopher wrote:

             What then  is time? If no one asks me, I think I know.

            But if I wish to explain it to another, I don’t know.”

 

Moreover,  what  is the clue to this “fullness of time” of which Paul wrote to the Galatians? Is it quality time? Frenetically busy  time? Overflowing time? Maybe ripe time?

 

            All the days are not full enough,

            and the nights are not full enough,

            and life slips by like a field mouse

            not shaking the grass.

 

SOME VIEWS ON TIME

 

1/  Less-than-real.

 

Some Greek philosophers regarded this life-in-time as shadowland. It is only a temporal reflection of the real. Only the eternal world is real. What we have here is illusion. Heaven and earth are incompatible.

 

Comment: If this is so then it is impossible that in “the fullness of time” the Divine could become incarnate; the Son “born of a woman.” What is more, no happening in time could ever carry the description “fullness”.

 

2/ Cyclic.

 

Everything repeats itself. Things are going nowhere. Time is a bondage-wheel of repetition As in Ecclesiastes: That which has been is that which shall be, and that which is done now ,shall be done again. There is nothing new under the sun.

 

Comment: On this view, “fullness” is not possible within time, no matter whatever kind of god becomes incarnate. The only fullness comes when one is set free from the cycle of time.

 

3/ Clock & calendar time:

 

This has dominated Western thought in recent centuries. Time is measured out in little bits. We even use the hackneyed phrase “at this point in time” as if time went in little jerks like the second hand on a watch, or as if each day on the calendar is a separate entity to be appropriated by acquisitive humans. In my questions about how many hours, minutes and seconds in the year 2004, I plugged into this common view of time.

 

Comment: Quantity tends to become important in this view. How can I live to be 100? Or can we genetically alter humanity so that we can attain 150 years! How much more of this clock/calendar time can we seize?  Recently, when a speaker was carrying on about this prospect, one elderly person with a twinkle in her eyes stage-whispered: “Boring! Boring! Boring!

 

WHAT ABOUT QUALITY?

 

Over the last couple of decades a new concern has emerged with what is called “quality time.” I know; the phrase has become over-worn and dog-eared! But I still reckon it shows a partial coming to our senses.

 

Ezra Pound hints at our hunger for a greater fullness.

            All the days are not full enough,

            and the nights are not full enough,

            and life slips by like a field mouse

            not shaking the grass.

 

The Bible declares something wonderfully better is available:

            In the fullness of time, God sent his Son, born of a woman.

 

In the Bible time is a gift of God, lovingly created , and it is filled with purpose and destiny. Time is an opportunity. The opportunity offers greater fullness.  And when time was ripe, God full-filled the possibility by sending his Son “born of a woman.”

 

The birth of Jesus ushers in the fullness of time, the plhrwma . This word pleroma carries the meaning of ripeness, utter satisfaction, overflowing-ness, completeness, rich fullness. It can be brim full water jars, full sails, a full cup of wine, or people overflowing with the Spirit.

 

Time provides the opportunity for this fullness; and such fullness takes possession of time in Christ Jesus, and through him the fullness becomes available to us.

 

This is “quality time” not measured by excessive eating and drinking, partying, attending entertainment extravaganzas, tourism, a varied “love life” (yuk!) , a 100 channels on your TV (yuk, yuk, yuk!) luxurious homes, getting your fists on to power or fame, and certainly not living to the over-ripe (you know what happens to over-ripe fruits!) age of 150!

 

Quality time is living in God’s love through Christ Jesus our Saviour. This is the pleroma, the fullness of time. An example of its fullness is simple: try measuring  30 years of Jesus’ life with that of tough billionaires who live to be 90 or 100.  Or try comparing the “time” of the late Mother Theresa with that of the late iron-ore magnate, Lang Hancock?

 

EMBRACING THE NEW YEAR

 

            All the days are not full enough,

            and the nights are not full enough,

            and life slips by like a field mouse

            not shaking the grass.

 

As we prepare to enter 2004, with its 31,536,000 seconds of clock time, will we be on about God’s quality time or societies’ pathetic diversions?  Loving fullness or frenetic frustration?

It will all be inadequate without Christ and the pleroma of his grace, in which we can chose to live, and move and have our being.

 

A brief story.

 

After the funeral of Tim, a dearly loved 11 year old child of the congregation, who had fought a battle with cancer and physically lost (note ‘physically” not spiritually) the grieving father, Paul, commented to me.  “The pain feels unbearable right now, but I know as I look back and treasure Tim’s life, I will see how much he helped us have quality time together. If he had lived to 70, the quality could not have been better.”

 

Fullness of life! God’s gift through Christ. Now that is what it is really about.

 

 

BRIEF THANKSGIVING

 

Generous God,

we thank you for the life of our Brother Jesus.

 

Child

with an inquiring mind.

Friend

with the laughing eyes.

Teacher

with a new story.

Physician

with the healing hands.

Priest

with the forgiving word.

Lord

with the wounded feet.

 

Thanks, for all Jesus was.

thanks, for all he is,

thanks, for all he will be

now and through all eternity!

  Ó B D Prewer 2012

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

            * for two voices or Leader and People.

 

Loving God, as we get ready welcome a new year, we pray for both the world at large and for the intimate world of our family, friends, church, neighbours and workmates..

 

For those for whom the New year will bring success, and those who will experience discouragement and failure.

Help us to use both success and failure for your glory, Lord Jesus

 

For those who in the coming year will enjoy good health and buoyant spirits, and those who will suffer, injury, disease, increasing handicap, or mental disability.

Help us enjoy the strong and encourage those who are weak, Lord Jesus..

 

For prominent people who govern nations, negotiate for peace, struggle against injustice, and counter terrorism; and for those many  people in the background who quietly go on loving their neighbours without receiving any recognition.

Help us to appreciate great gifts and to celebrate small ones, Lord Jesus.

 

For the folk who during  the coming year will rejoice in birth and growth, and for those who must endure decline, decay or be plunged into the anguish of sorrow.

Help us to laugh with the happy and to grieve with the sad, Lord Jesus.

 

For churches that will seem to flourish with new members and programmes, and those who will appear to shrink and struggle to maintain their mission.

Help us to walk humbly when strong and faithfully when weak, Lord Jesus.

 

Most patient and generous God, please continue to deal graciously with this congregation, and enable us as individuals and as a fellowship to serve you boldly in times of doubt and to go gently in times of confidence.

For the healing of the nations, the love of the least and lost, and to  the glory of your wonderful name, we so pray, God of unfailing love.

 Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

The world of time and space can never be big enough for the Holy One who has created it, redeemed it, and sustains it.

 

Yet by astounding grace, God the Holy One can live in the small hearts and minds of those who receive and share him.

 

Thanks be to God!

 

May God be a smooth path ahead of you,

a guiding star above you,

a sharp eye behind you,

today, tonight, and forever

Amen.

            ( From an old Celtic blessing)

 

            OR—

 

This is our mission for the New year.

            “You whom God has called, and named holy and much-loved,

            must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness,

            humility, gentleness and patience.”

 

            “And above all else we dress ourselves with love

            which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ will cover all your faults,

the love of God will provide for you through every moment,

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit will be with you all the way.

Amen!