“Time to Catch On!” (Luke 2:22-33 and Luke 2:41-52)
I think for the first time this Christmas I was struck by the images of quiet wonder & amazement in the stories about Jesus we read this time of the year. Maybe it’s because my celebrations were pared down from the usual, spending much more quiet time at home now, caring for my mother – missing all the evening concerts & dinner parties, the energizing buzz of frantic shopping, the sugar coating of Hallmark movies, and the endearing interruption of family phone calls. I didn’t get to do all I used to do, or all I wanted to do, but the basics turned out to be more than enough. And just maybe the new normal we’re living now will surprise me in time, as it continues to open up more spaces in my life for the kinds of treasures Jesus’ mother Mary carried in her heart — those to ponder later on when she had the time, to remember whenever her hope might dwindle, and to celebrate as God’s gift of a lifetime, those mysterious words about her son that she heard from angels & shepherds, kings & priests & prophets – words of promise that a child would lead us all into a peaceful kingdom.
Surely we remember the most familiar of Mary’s ponderings, from the classic reading of the Christmas story at our annual pageants. The shepherds arrive and tell everyone what the host of heaven’s angels had told them – and all the people are totally amazed, asking lots of loud questions with lots of body language, I bet – while Mary seems almost off to the side of center stage, keeping these miracles & visitors & proclamations safe inside her, maybe saved for the day when it might not seem real anymore. As quiet as she was, I do think, day after day in that stable, Mary was slowly catching on, that her son Jesus was truly extraordinary, though all new mothers think that, don’t they? But surely she’s remembering now what the angel Gabriel had told her last winter – that the Lord God was with her, a miracle in itself, and that her son would be a gift to the world, establishing a new community of love, which would endure forever & ever.
That’s the famous pondering that everyone knows, but have you ever noticed the other? 12 years of real life have passed, with more children & skinned knees & diapers & dishes, with more Scripture verses memorized, with more Roman taxes to pay. No more angels. And now Mary finds herself suddenly surprised by the growing independence of her first teenager, who took off on his own without telling a soul, so frightening & exasperating. He’d never done that before! He spoke beyond his years, both to the Elders in the temple, as well as his parents, but then Jesus had quickly realized that no one caught on yet – no one understood – not even his mother. They just didn’t recognize the Promised One like Simeon had all those years ago, the One to bring salvation & light. So Jesus relinquished his new-found freedom and returned home to await the right time, God’s time. Yet I think Mary must have felt at least that old, familiar brush of angel wings on the long walk home, for it seems she took the hint and again treasured in her heart all these new happenings, while Jesus continued to grow in body & in wisdom & in favor with God and all around him – growing even more faithful and hopeful that his time would come and that his message of love would catch on.
These stories are full of wonder. They amaze and astonish us beyond any easy belief, as the Savior of the world comes to be with us & one of us – in a womb, in a stable, in our arms, taking the time to experience humanity, growing as we do, yet already knowing the Spirit of the Lord within. So we, it seems, are the ones needing God’s gift of time to understand. We are the ones who must wait to see what unfolds. For if the Almighty had stepped in to save the world in the blink of an eye, what would we have done except step back and watch? Instead, God wants to engage us, to call us, to woo US into sharing such a steadfast & faithful love that truly is all powerful, stronger than death, a light to dispel the darkness, yet all the while born in our very human hearts & minds, taking the time we need to grow and to recognize Emmanuel = God with us & within us & surrounding us in the souls of all. For that will save the world. That’s a love we can share with each other – our children, our neighbors, our enemies – from generation to generation, throughout all time, with no supernatural powers from on high, but rather the daily, steady growth of faith & trust, of hope & promise, that God’s gift of steadfast love can & will make all things well.
Sometimes we may feel we’re out of time. Sometimes we may feel we’ve wasted the gift. But fear not. There are tidings of great joy for all people. For God does not measure our length of days, but rather our desire to reflect God’s loving ways. And life with God offers unending opportunities, so many different times to catch on, to understand what God intends for creation, as we see glimpses of heaven that surprise us with God’s nearness and as we stand in awe of them, amazed & astonished at them, cherishing the new life they inspire in us – a baby’s first smile, the sound of an opening prison door, a sincere apology, the surgeon’s good report, the colors of the setting sun, a prayer for peace.
There are 12 days of Christmas. We’re only halfway through the season. We still have time to ponder the mysteries of Christ’s love come down to earth and to trust the grace God gives us daily, as a gift to share – even if we don’t yet fully understand. For a new year lies ahead, rich with God’s promises of new beginnings & abundant with the blessings of all we will learn as we journey together. So let us be grateful. Let us sing with the angels, as we trust & hope & grow with God. Amen. Beecher Mathes