Sunday, December 27, 2009

Growing Up, Growing In, Growing Toward

(A sermon based on Luke 2:40-52 & Colossians 3:12-17 for the First Sunday after Christmas Day)

It feels like a bit of a leap forward, doesn’t it? Just two days ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus and now here we are reading a text about what he did when he was twelve years old. The fact is, though, that we know very little about what Jesus’ life was like from the time he was born until this episode. We have the stories about his birth, we have the note that he was circumcised when he was eight days old, we have the story about his parents taking him to the temple for his dedication when he was forty days old—and then nothing until the trip to Jerusalem when he was twelve (and nothing more after that until he begins his ministry).

The story of the trip to Jerusalem reminds us of something of which we very much need to be reminded: Jesus grew.

We forget sometimes that, while Jesus was the Son of God, he was also a human being who went through the same kinds of growth processes that any other human being goes through. For example, the story shows us how Jesus’ growing sense of his place and purpose and path in life led to some tension with his parents, which is the way that it so often goes between parents and children. The story offers us good role models for parents and for children in that situation, as Jesus’ parents called him to account for his actions but tried, although they could not fully understand their son, to make room for who he was and was becoming, and as the twelve-year-old Jesus, even as his sense of purpose and destiny increased, willingly submitted himself to the guidance and nurture of his parents.

How did Jesus grow? And what do the ways in which Jesus grew teach us about how we are to grow?

Jesus grew up. “The child grew and became strong” (2:40), Luke says about the years between Jesus’ infancy and adolescence; “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature (or years)” (2:52), he says of the years of his adolescence and young adulthood. So Jesus grew physically and he grew chronologically and as he grew he had to make changes and adjustments; as he grew he had to take on more and more of the responsibilities of the life that his Father intended for him to live. The age at which Jesus went to the temple was the age at which, in those times, he was considered ready to begin moving into adulthood.

We also have to grow up—and it is a privilege to do so. God has given us our lives and we have the privilege of taking full advantage of the lives given to us. As we grow, our responsibilities and our obligations and our privileges change and develop and we are to embrace them and to do so as Christians, as disciples of Christ. As we make our choices we need always to keep Christ foremost in our minds so that we do not careen carelessly from one stage of life to another. We have the blessing of God’s presence in our lives and we need to draw on it.

Jesus grew in. Luke also tells us that Jesus “increased in divine and human favor” (2:52), which is a way of saying that as he grew both his heavenly Father who sent him and the people in Nazareth who knew him saw evidence in him of a person growing in grace and they responded to that accordingly; they were pleased with what they saw in him, with the progress that he was making, in other words.

We also can and should grow in grace in a way that will make a difference not only to us but also to the people around us. In what will we grow if we are growing in grace? In what will we grow if we are growing in favor with God and with people? Paul in Colossians names some areas for us.

1. “Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
2. “Forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (3:13).
3. “Clothe yourselves with love” (3:14).
4. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (3:15).
5. “Be thankful” (3:15).
6. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (3:16).
7. “With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God” (3:16).
8. “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17).

How pleased would God be with us and how might the people around us notice if we are consistently growing in those ways?

Jesus grew toward. By that I mean that Jesus through his whole life grew toward being the person that his Father meant for him to be which involved living the kind of life that his Father meant for him to live. From its beginning Jesus’ life—all of his living, learning, and loving—was moving him toward the Cross of Calvary and toward the empty garden tomb.

Our lives are to be growing toward our being the kind of people that God means for us to be, too, and our lives are to be lives of the cross and of the empty tomb. We who are the saved, we who are the baptized, have been crucified with Christ and raised to new life in him. Every step we take is to be a step farther down the path of living the Christ-like life.

In an episode of the Dick van Dyke Show, comedy writer Buddy Sorrell, played by Morey Amsterdam, kept making excuses to leave work early or at odd times. Somehow Rob finds out that Buddy has been visiting his rabbi’s apartment at these odd times. He concludes that Buddy is misbehaving with the rabbi’s wife. As it turns out, he has been secretly taking instruction from his rabbi. It seems that Buddy had to start working as a child and never completed his bar mitzvah. That’s what he has been preparing to do, but he didn’t want anyone to know it. In the final segment of the episode, Buddy repeats the words, “Today I am a man.”

It’s never too late to grow. It’s never too late to start arriving.

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