Infatuation.Xmas1C.2009

Christmas 1C, 2009
Luke 2:40-52

A Liturgy is also available

AN INFATUATION WITH THE POSSIBLE

End of a year.
End of a decade.

(National, international events here)

(Local events and names of people who have died, etc. can be entered here).

Just before Christmas this year the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper
released the results of their 'poll on faith', conducted by Nielsen
(SMH, 'News Review', 18-20 December 2009).

In the 'fair dinkum' department I have to say the poll wasn't that large - only 1000 people.
But perhaps it does give us a bit of a clue.  David Marr said:
"Belief for most Australians is about values far more than devotion.  It's belief without belonging"
(Marr 2009:1).

In general terms here are some of the results:
Belief in God - 68%;  Belief in life after death - 53%;  Belief in Heaven - 56%;  Belief in Hell - 38%;  Belief in the devil - 37%;  Belief in angels - 51%;  Belief in witches - 22%;  Belief in UFOs - 34%;  Belief in astrology - 41%;  Belief in psychic powers such as ESP - 49%;  Belief in miracles - 63%;  The Holy Book is the Word of God - 34%;  The Holy Book is literally true - 27%;  The teachings of my religion have only one interpretation - 21%;  Evolution - 42%;  There is - or seems to be - no God - 30%.

David Marr continues: "Belief is shrinking and disbelief is growing.  But slowly...  Those sceptics who believe time will, of its own accord, wipe Christianity out of this country are fooling themselves...  [However] sceptics can take this comfort: they now make up the biggest denomination, followed by Catholics and then Anglicans.  But this puts Australia only about midway in lists of the top 50 non-believing nations" (Marr 2009:1).

And here we are four days away from the end of yet another year “and we barely had the chance to celebrate Christmas, at least in the church!” (BEpperly. P&F Lectionary web site, 2006).

oo0oo

One of the great mysteries of life is the mystery of time.
Everything that happens to us,
happens to us in and through time.

Time, called a day, can weigh us down or raise us up.
Yet this day... this time, vanishes. This is an incredible fact.

When we look behind us,
we do not see our past standing there in a series of day shapes.
We can not wander back through the gallery of our past.
Our days have disappeared.
Our future time has not yet arrived.
The only ground of time is the present moment.

The time or years of childhood through youth to adulthood
seem implied by this morning’s storyteller’s words:
The child Jesus grew into a mature adult, filled with wisdom,
and God regarded him favourably...

That’s it!  Not much content.
No clues by which to judge how he progressed
from saying ‘mum’ and ‘dad-dad’
to pronouncing ‘messianic’ and ‘anthropomorphic’!

Or how many learned responses lead from his first cry
to the singing of a Willie Nelson country music classic!
Just plenty of gaps.
We are left to wonder or speculate.

And some of that contemporary speculation includes the suggestion that
"between the ages of twelve and thirty Jesus traveled into Asia and mastered the techniques of Buddhist meditation"
(PNancarrow. P&F Lectionary web site, 2009).

Yet that moment in time... that temple experience
can serve as a model for growing up and growing in wisdom.
One overseas colleague puts it like this:
“On the verge of adulthood, Jesus retreats to the temple for theological reflection and questioning...  (His) three days in the temple were a pivotal point in his spiritual evolution.  Jesus grew in spiritual stature by claiming his faith tradition faithfully and then extending its experiential and theological boundaries to new horizons”
(BEpperly. P&F Lectionary web site, 2006).

So let’s play with that comment in our imaginations for a moment.
The child Jesus grew into a mature adult, filled with wisdom,
and God regarded him favourably...

And to do so I want to be suggestive about a couple of words:
Grew
Wisdom

1. Grew
The biblical storytellers tell us very little
other than implying that Jesus managed to complete the
complex,
intricate,
mostly mysterious process of growing up.

From being a helpless baby he progressed to adulthood, where he was
capable of holding down a job, making and keeping friends,
theorising about the origins of things, separating fancy from fact,
getting angry without having to hurt others,
caring for others without needing to possess them
(Purdy 1993).

In him both nature and nurture did their necessary work.
“The child Jesus
grew into a mature adult, filled with wisdom,
and God regarded him favourably...”

2. Wisdom
And Jesus discovered that
a fool and his money are soon parted,
the love of money is the root of many evils,
you cannot tell a book by its cover.

He learned that power corrupts,
that an army marches on its stomach,
and if you would teach a hungry man,
first you had better feed him
(Purdy 1993).

He learned that sin and sickness
are not necessarily the two sides of the same coin,
that the devil can quote scripture,
and a smile sometimes is a mask for hate.

Through all this
“The child Jesus grew into a mature adult, filled with
wisdom, and God regarded him favourably...”

oo0oo

Our storyteller Luke is very sketchy on the detail.
Indeed, we have only the barest of fragments or outline.
We have to fill in that outline with what we know about childhood.

Because the only childhood truly accessible to us is our own.

To live life to the full
To love wastefully.
To be all that we can be... paraphrasing Bishop Jack Spong,
can be challenging and risky business.

Yet I am reminded of what I consider to be some more wise words,
by British theologian and (another) retired bishop, John Tinsley, when he
wrote in one of his pastoral letters about 20 years ago:
“A lot of our endeavour (as church) has gone into taking the risk out of faith... We try to create a hideout for faith where we can be
unpreturbed” (Tinsley 1990:438-39).

Our congregations can become hideouts for some of us.
For we can forget that we always live
on the edge of something new.

That’s the risk.
To live on the edge of something new.

How we meet that ‘risk’ or that ‘new’
is an important moment in time.

Let me return to my overseas colleague whose words I reckon, continue to be helpful:
“Growing in wisdom and stature calls us to take our faith seriously enough to study scripture, wrestle with traditional theological doctrines, explore new images of God, Christ, and salvation, and spend time in prayer, meditation, and service.  A growing faith is not accidental, but requires going to our own spiritual ‘temple’ regularly to listen, ask, and share. Even Jesus was unfinished and incomplete”
(B Epperly. P&F Lectionary web site, 2006).

So with all the will I can muster, I encourage you to greet
the new horizons in this coming year and in our own particular situations,
with an “infatuation with the possible”
(E Bloch, quoted in H Cox 1964:10)
without which our congregational and personal life
is just unthinkable.

And then maybe it can be said of us all:
These people... these congregations, grew into a mature adulthood,
filled with wisdom, and God regarded them favourably...

Notes:
Cox H. 1964. 
On Not Leaving it to the Snake
. New York. Macmillan
Purdy J C. 1993. 
God with a Human Face. Louisville. Westminster/John Knox.
Tinsley J. 1990.
Tell it slant. The Christian Gospel and its Communication. Bristol. Wyndham Hall Press.

rexae74@gmail.com