Here we are just two days after Christmas. Does it feel as if Christmas is already past and gone? Or are you lingering in the Christmas season, savouring its message of love and the sense of anticipation of good things still to come? This is an out-of-the-ordinary time of year, and for many of us our usual sense of time is disrupted and unsettled.
Already our gospel reading has us leaping forward 12 years on from Jesus' birth, so perhaps we could be excused for feeling a bit rushed, a bit breathless, maybe even a bit disoriented. This time of year is sometimes like that Christmas Day already past, and the New Year not yet here. We are in an in-between place, not yet ready to let go of Christmas, and not knowing what the New Year will require of us.
Today's gospel reading is sensitive to this sense of transition. The incident we read of takes place in the last year of Jesus' childhood. Next year he will have his bar mitzvah, that rite of passage that marks the beginning of the transition from childhood to manhood.
After all the preparation and anticipation of Jesus' birth, and the details of the stories in Luke and Matthew about people and events surrounding Jesus' birth, there is a big gap in the narratives. This short passage in Luke's gospel is the only glimpse we get into the life of Jesus between infancy and the beginning of his ministry when he is thirty years old. He has come to Jerusalem securely within the circle of family and community, to take part in the great festival of Passover, the ritual of communal remembrance and thanksgiving for God's deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. And Jesus lingers in the Temple, 'dwelling in the word' we might say, listening, questioning, reflecting. He is, we might say, exploring his heritage, and the working out of that cultural and religious heritage in Jesus' life becomes the expression of who he is.
In the dialogue between Jesus and his parents, there is a reminder that there are unseen things at work in their lives, and these too will be integrated into Jesus' understanding of who he is, and what his life's work will be.
Jesus' own words, his first words in Luke's gospel, give us an insight into the developing sense of identity and responsibility that Jesus is experiencing, and how his behaviour and priorities are shaped by these emerging forces in his life.
Why were you searching for me? He asks.
Didn't you know that I had to be in my Father's house? This developing sense of identity is grounded in a sense of belonging to God.
In another translation, one that sticks in my memory from my childhood hearing of this passage, Jesus' words are rendered as "Don't you know that I must be about my Father's business?" This would indicate that Jesus already feels a sense of purpose, and that too is grounded in his sense of identity as a child of God.
These two concepts are inextricably linked.
This child knows intuitively that it is in God's house that he will be shaped and nurtured for the purposes of carrying out God's business in the world. It is here in God's house that he will become the person God's business will require of him.
We all have a sense that 'we should be about our Father's business', but from time to time we need to take a break from business, and simply be in our Father's house, as Jesus was on this occasion.
This is where our sense of identity is developed, refined and strengthened. This is where we are shaped and nurtured. Here we can rest, and remember who we are, put our roots down and be grounded once more in a sense of belonging. Here we tap into our sense of identity as people that God has redeemed, people shaped and determined by their relationship with God.
We listen to the Scriptures and the gospels, we praise God in the ancient words of the psalms, and with the epistles; we explore what it means to live out the Good News of Jesus Christ, as we did with the Colossians passage a little earlier in the Children's Focus time. All of these things feed and strengthen us.
Here in our Father's house we are restored and healed, renewed for the journey, and equipped for the time that lies ahead, made ready to set our faces once again to the path that will take us about our Father's business.
We do not know what the coming year will require of us, and what joys or sorrows will unfold. As always, there will be challenges, trials, and times of grace.
After the episode described in today's reading, we hear nothing more of Jesus until he emerges as a mature adult, ready to answer the call of God on his life.
In this cameo portrait of the boy Jesus, Luke foreshadows Jesus the man. He is crafting the connection between Jesus and the Temple, the focus of worship and learning, the nexus between the people and God. When he is a man,
Jesus will return to the Temple. Then others will listen to him, question him, and reflect on what he teaches.
In the weeks between now and Easter, the lectionary leads us through the major events of Jesus' life, then to his death and resurrection. In the long season after Easter, the lectionary lessons are designed to help us unpack the content of Jesus' teaching, and reflect on how that teaching can be worked out in our own lives.
For now, just for a spell, let us remain with Jesus the boy, and his parents, in our Father's house. In our short sojourn within these 12 short verses, the writer assures us that things are right and proper in the family life of Jesus the boy, and sound foundations are being laid for the life and work of Jesus the man.
In our own lives too, it sometimes seems as if great periods of time go by without a clear sense of direction or purpose. As with the silent years of Jesus' life, it is in those times, just as much as in times of action and decision that we are shaped and matured. In the in between times, when we meditate and reflect within our Father's house we are made ready to respond to need or opportunity with a clear sense of being God's people in God's place and time. In our Father's house we become who we need to be to step out and, within the busyness of the world, go about our Father's business.
Let us keep alive the celebration of Christmas in our hearts, because Christ is in the world, God is with us, and in all that we do in Christ's name, we fulfil our heritage as true children of God. Great things have been done, and are still being done because of Christmas. Let us carry the light of Christ into the New Year, and continue, with joy and thanksgiving, to be about our Father's business.
,Prayer: God of all times and seasons, We thank you for your abiding Word and commit ourselves again to be your people. We pray for the ongoing work of your Spirit within us. Refreshed in mind and spirit by your grace and mercy to us, we thank you for the quiet in-between times that nourish our souls, and redeem us time and again to take our place as those who carry the Lord Jesus into the New Year, grounded and secure in you, Ancient of Days. Amen.