December 30, 2018
First Sunday after Christmas
1 Samuel 2:18-20,26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52
One of the many wonderful books I have discovered at 10,000 Villages over the years is, ‘The World Needs Your Kid’; it emphasizes the importance of raising children to become global citizens: open to the guidance of God’s love – God’s plan - at home and beyond. The authors offer the reminder that generous acts of love and kindness have the power to change the world, and that through good teaching and being good examples ourselves, we have a responsibility to raise children accordingly. To a people of faith, this premise makes sense because we believe God creates humans so that we may become partners with God in taking care of the world: the earth and all of God’s creatures. (Malala Yousafzai is a particularly good modern day example: because of the good teaching and good personal examples of adults such as her parents, she is in the process of changing the world through promoting the importance of accessible education for girls all over the world.)
Today we hear two stories, each speaking of a God who works through a young boy so that the world may be changed, providing him with wise role models along the way. In the first, Samuel’s mother Hannah had suffered the pain of being childless. While many people today make a conscious, respected, and respectable choice to not have children, this was not something you’d see at that time in that culture. At that time, a woman’s primary purpose was to bear children, so to not fulfill this mandate would be to receive judgement and ridicule. But as we read this story within today’s context, we must be mindful of the many women who desperately want to have children, but are unable to because of issues with fertility. So, when reading and reflecting on this story we need to be sensitive to the many layers of pain associated with this delicate subject.
But, getting back to Samuel, and the circumstances surrounding his birth… Hannah prayed to God, asking to be given the gift of a child, and when this child arrives she names him Samuel, which means, “name of God” or “God has heard”, indicating the close affinity that he will have with God through the whole of his life. Dedicating him to God as a gesture of gratitude, she takes him to the priest at Shiloh, likely when he was about 3 years old.
Each year Hannah would make her son a linen ephod (robe) which served as a sign of her love and care for this long awaited child, as well as a symbol of the priestly ministry to which he was called. She offers the prayer on which the Song of Mary is later based and Samuel becomes a sort of full-time server in the temple where he grew up. I encourage you to look for Hannah’s prayer in your bibles (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Here you will see that this boy’s mother was a radical political figure; or at the very least, she understands the immense political and personal challenges that are required by God. Her prayer is that of one who understands that the new world God anticipates is one that is radically different than the one they currently know. And she understands that she has a responsibility to do whatever she needs to do to empower her son to fulfill his role in God’s new plan.
And indeed, he became a man of deep and abiding faith. It turns out that ‘The World Needed This Kid’, as he eventually became the leader who God used to fade out the era of the judges, and make way for the reign of kings. He became a ‘kingmaker,’ because it was he who anointed both Saul and David. When Samuel anointed David, he established the line to which Jesus belonged. So, this child, was raised with good teaching and good examples, and he became the person God created him to be.
The second story which speaks of a God who works through a young boy so that the world may be changed, is found in our Gospel for today. Here we find another child drawn to the teachings of elders in the faith; this time, Jesus, 12 years old, having escaped from his parents after Passover was finished. They discover he is missing after he’s gone one whole day, and it takes them three more days to find him.
If ever you’ve lost your child at the grocery store, or anywhere, you’ll know how frantic Jesus’ parents must have been. (This piece of the story could be seen as an indication of our current culture where so many have ‘lost’ a sense of the presence of God, and without even realizing it, are frantically searching to rediscover this presence… but that is for a whole different sermon.) In the end, Jesus’ parents do find him, safe and sound, in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. (This reinforces the larger tradition of wise persons seeking wisdom from a very young age.)
It is important to read this story alongside the earlier one involving the boy Samuel because the many similarities between the two help us understand what is going on. There are so many similarities. Both boys are presented to God, each mother wrapping her child in cloth – each year Hannah makes a robe for Samuel, while Mary wraps Jesus in warm cloth at the time of his birth. Hannah’s prayer, and Mary’s both praise God for his mighty deeds, and prayerfully anticipate a time when their boys will change the world. Both mothers are blessed by wise elders who anticipate the greatness that is to become known in their boys as they grow and mature.
If you want to focus on one particular similarity between the two stories, once again, read Hannah’s prayer, but read it alongside Mary’s prayer. You will find that both these women were radical in nature, and served as important, courageous, essential role models for their sons. There are too many parallels for this to be sheer coincidence.
So here’s the point: it is meant to draw attention to the role Jesus will play in introducing a new era in salvation history, in God’s relationship with God’s people. As Samuel the prophet was the key player in shifting Israel to become a nation under one single king (the kingdom of Israel), Jesus now moves the people into a new era, the Kingdom of God. I think it is safe to say, from a Christian perspective, that the world really needed this kid.
This week, as I was reading these two stories, I was particularly struck with two things. Number one, the importance of raising our children so that they may become the people God created them to be. Both Samuel and Jesus were well equipped to fulfill God’s plan for their lives. God actually provides everything our children need, both people and resources. They’re all there. Our job is to be attentive in recognizing who and what they need. A close reading of both Samuel and Jesus’ stories suggests that it took an entire village for them to receive what they needed to grow into the people God created them to be.
The second thing is more central to the Gospel message for today. Later in Jesus’ life, when he is told that his mother and brothers and sisters were looking for him he replied that his followers were his family. In short, his true family exists wherever people are following Jesus’ lead; wherever people are loving with the same quality of love that Jesus has for us.
Our reading from Colossians is about Christian behaviour. Notice that the details of good Christian behaviour to which the author refers all have implications for positive and nurturing relationships. The writer twice suggests that we must be clothed in this behaviour. (Interesting…) “Cloth yourselves,” he says, “with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience.” “Clothe yourselves,” he repeats, “with (harmonizing) love.” The true family exists where relationships are fostered in such a way.
Jesus has come, and ushered in a new brand of selfless, sacrificial love and, through this, ushered in the kingdom of God. The world needed him to do this important work. And the world needs our kids – our children – to continue Jesus’ important work. The world needs our children to change the world with the same brand of love that Jesus has ushered in: harmonizing love made manifest through compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience. We are called by God to pass on this quality of life to our children, our grandchildren, through necessary teaching, and above all, living our lives in ways that are good examples as they grow, and develop, and learn.