Sermon for Christmas 1 by Rev Canon Charles Royden
The boy Jesus - Luke Chapter 2
So the scene is set as we go forward twelve years from the birth stories today and read in Luke the story of Jesus in the Temple. Our text this week is the only episode recorded in the Gospels from the childhood of Jesus between about two years of age and the beginning of his public ministry at about the age of thirty.
The Jewish bar mitzvah ceremony may not have existed in Jesus’ day, however at twelve years old Jesus is becoming a man. The Gospel reading recoded by Luke shows Jesus’ family in the company of other devout Jews travelling to Jerusalem to the Temple fulfilling the requirement of the Law during the Feast of Passover.
As his parents bring the child Jesus on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Jesus finds himself in the great Temple and in the midst of teachers. Without his parents knowledge, when they leave Jesus stays behind in Jerusalem. Its only when they can’t find Him among their friends and family they search the whole caravan, eventually returning to Jerusalem to look for him there. They find him in the Temple with a group of adults discussing matters with them and impressing with his intellect.
Whilst this is the only incident which tells us what happened to Jesus between birth and the time of his public ministry, nevertheless there are lots of things which we can piece together about how Jesus was brought up.
His parents Joseph and Mary were devout Jews who had Jesus circumcised (2:21). Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph go to the Passover festival in Jerusalem "every year."
Jesus grew up in a poor family, we are told his parents made the poor offering of pigeons.
He grew up in Palestine which had been conquered and which was under military rule.
He came from a poor village of Nazareth which was despised even by his own people. It was not said that nothing good could come out of Nazareth !
Jesus job was as a carpenter (Greek word teknon Mark 6:3), and he was the son of a carpenter (Matthew 13:55). We translate this words as a carpenter, but think of Jesus as probably more of a builder than a trendy maker of bespoke wooden furniture. For people at the time manual labour was hard and there was no wealthy middle class at that time, there were rich people and very poor people who exploited them. The family into which Jesus was born had no land, Jesus was one of the poor ones who had to work hard to survive
Jesus also came from a large family, he had four brothers and al least two sisters. We read,
- 'and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us?' Matt 14:53
- Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” Mark 6:3
So Jesus was a poor Mediterranean Jewish peasant from a large family, and it is not surprising that he grew wanting to see the tables turned - literally. It is not surprising that somebody like Jesus with an overriding sense of fairness became a radical critic of the prevailing social economic conditions of his day.
The picture Jesus had been presented with as he was growing up was that of a violent God,
- A God who, like Herod indiscriminately killed the firstborn of his enemies (Ex 11:4-6).
- The Jewish God was not one to be trifled with, he could become angry and turn nasty, such as the occasion when he heard some Israelites complaining and he reacted like an executioner in killing the grumbling Israelites with fire (Num 11:33).
- In one disturbing incident when 42 children are making fun of Elisha the prophet by calling him ‘baldy head’ God sends two bears to maul the children. (2 Kings 2:23-24).
- In the story of Noah's ark, an angry God destroys all of humanity and animal life on the planet with a flood—excepting only Noah's immediate family and the animals on the ark. (Genesis 6:13, 7:23).
- In many instances God is shown to be on the side of the Jewish people as they conquer inhabitants of cities and commit acts of genocide as they steal their cities and land. It is not even enough to slaughter the troops, the women children and even animals are also all put to the sword (Joshua 6:21). When God orders Moses to avenge the Israelites on the Midianites, his army returns victorious but Moses is furious that his commanders have allowed the women and children to live. He orders the cold blooded killing of all the boys and women, only virgins were allowed to live as the spoils of war. It is all very characteristic of modern atrocities seen across the world.
It is important to understand this religious background into which Jesus born and educated. Jesus was radical in changing attitudes towards other people and God. Jesus taught that God’s people should be characterised by actions of non resistance. ‘Turn the other cheek’ Jesus said, ‘love your enemies’, ‘bless those who curse you’. Jesus claimed to know God better than anyone who had lived before, to the extent that he called God Father. This unique and intimate relationship provided him with extraordinary insight what God really wanted from his people and God was shown to be very different to what had been taught in the synagogues as Jesus grew up.
Jesus wasn’t just against violence he was out to eradicate poverty. He said that rich people don’t go to heaven. He wanted the rich to give away their wealth and for people to have enough only for their needs, not to satisfy greed. This sharing of wealth was one of the things which has always excited socialists. Jesus healed the sick, fed the poor and wanted to create a new kind of society in which there would no longer be a great divide between the rich and the poor. He called this new transformed community ‘The Kingdom of God.’ Jesus had a vision in which society was compassionate and in which God was in charge. Jesus wanted a new spirituality but he expected that there would also be social and political change, of course he did, otherwise they would not have killed him.
The ministry of Jesus was full of compassion, especially for those who were despised because they were considered sinful or spiritually unclean. Jesus made a point of eating and drinking and spending his time with the prostitutes, the drinkers and tax collectors. Jesus was moved by compassion for the poor. We are told that, “He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)
The compassion Jesus felt led to acts of healing and sharing.
- Healing two blind men: “Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes.”(Matthew 20:34)
- Healing a leper: “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” (Mark 1:41)
- Raising the dead son of a widow: Jesus “saw her and his heart went out to her…Then he went up and touched the coffin.” (Luke 7:13)
- Feeding the hungry crowds: “I have compassion for these people; they have been with me for three days and have nothing to eat.” (Matthew 15:32)
What he did have in common with some of the big prophetic figures of the Jewish faith like Amos was a demand for justice. Compassion is when you help care for those in need, justice is when you try to correct systems which cause people to be in need. It is said that when you call for compassion they call you a saint, if you call for justice they will crucify you because you are then challenging those in power. Dom Helder Camara said “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
The story is told of a community on the sea coast. They care for sailors washed ashore from ships which have come to grief in stormy waters. That is compassion, however the community after a time decide that they must do something to stop the sailors coming aground and they build a lighthouse, that is compassion moved to justice.
With Jesus we have compassion which motivates all that he does. Time after a time we read that Jesus acted to feed people or touch people and heal people because he was moved by compassion. If he had just done this then no doubt he would have lived a much longer time. What shortened his life was his demand that systems be changed, especially the religious heart of Judiasm. It was such a shakeup that he spoke of the destruction of the Temple in a manner which would even today cause him to be arrested as a terrorist.
Christians today should be motivated by the compassion of Jesus, but of course we should be equally committed to Justice.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Christian teacher who fought against Nazi Germany. He said,
"Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear... Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now."
What kinds of things would Jesus be calling us to be concerned about?
As an example think about Jesus as a child and his upbringing we should be aware that today in the UK 1% of children are looked after in the care of Local Authorities. However being a looked after child is precarious because so many end up in the criminal justice system, it has been described as a stepping stone to custody. 1/3rd of boys and 51% of girls in custody either are in care of have been. These children are not in care because they are in some way bad, 2/3rds are in care because they have suffered abuse or neglect. This is a reason why we need to see more good foster care parents and those who are willing to adopt.
Abuse of children is extreme and commonplace and sadly it is only now that we are finding out that it always has been. Moreover one of the worst places for child abuse has been the very places where they should have received care, children’s homes, scouts, the church. It is right that the church is seeking to show a real lead in changing this. It is good to have compassion but we have to challenge the injustice and exploitation which we see around us.
Christmas is a time for people getting together for friends and families. It is a time to recognise the importance us that other have in our lives. This need not necessarily be the traditional models of family which are not automatically life enhancing and can be just as damaging as they can be beneficial. There are lots of children who have no mother and no father. There are more and more pressures being placed on families with both parents being forced to work longer and longer hours. This places burdens on family life and as a church will need to think how we offer the best support to parents who are having to go back to work earlier after giving birth.
Parents needs help and support in our culture which promotes sex and violence and is concentrated on materialism, where the logos on their clothes are more valued than the love in their hearts. We need to think as a society what we are doing in our schools as dedicated teachers prepare their lessons for the new school year but who belong to a profession which is very demoralised. Schools have been turned into competing businesses and we are all responsible for ensuring that children are raised in a nation that doesn't just talk about family values, but acts in ways that values families.