Luke 2:41-52 and Colossians 3:12-17
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
On Christmas Eve, we hear the story of the birth of Jesus. And what a story! There is much drama indeed. The characters are irresistible: wayward shepherds and singing angels, a pregnant Mary on a donkey and a silent but sturdy Joseph, a stern innkeeper and welcoming animals. . and later, majestic kings.
The plot is so far-fetched it has to be true: an angel delivers a message from God, a virgin conceives a son, a census sends Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, there is no room in the inn, the long-awaited Holy One of Israel is born in a stable, and laid in a manger among the straw and animals.
And there is much rejoicing and praising God!
Then, Luke tells of the baby’s circumcision and dedication at the Temple at 8 days old.
And finally, the Holy family returns to Nazareth.
The Christmas story is over. The curtain is closed. But, what happens behind the curtain?
In today’s Gospel lesson, Luke gives us a glimpse behind the curtain.
There we find Jesus is no longer a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger, no crying he makes. He is now 12 years old. And he and his parents travel to Jerusalem for the Passover. But, they lose track of Jesus. They search for him, but can’t find him anywhere. Finally they find him in the Temple. And his mother has some words for him: “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” Imagine, even Jesus was once a teenager who caused his parents anxiety. Jesus responds, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Imagine, even Jesus was once a teenager who knew everything.
No Christmas carols were written about this time in Jesus’ life. No irresistible characters.
No intriguing plot. No heartwarming story to tell again and again in story and song, poetry and pageant.
But, we’re told in the text, in those years behind the curtain, when no one was watching, Jesus “increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” And so, at the beginning of the next chapter, we find Jesus is 30 years old and ready to begin his ministry. Curtain!
Today is Dec. 30. Just one more day of this year. The curtain is about to close on 2018.
What has your year been like? What is your story? Who were the characters?
Was there conflict between them? Was there reconciliation?
What was the plot? Was there resolution?
Were there unexpected twists and turns—a job change, a move, a new relationship, new baby?
Were there unexpected set-backs—an ill body, an anxious mind, a grieved spirit, a broken heart?
What is the story of your 2018? Is it one for the memory books or one you are just as glad to forget?
Either way, the curtain is closing. And when it opens again, it will be a new year.
Next Sunday, along with the three wisemen, we will follow a star into a new year, onto a new path with great possibility.
But, for now, while the curtain is closed, while no one is looking, there is opportunity to reflect and reconsider, to reassess and recommit. There is time to confess where we went astray; ask forgiveness and offer restitution. There is time to let go of heavy burdens. There is time to be still and know that God is with us—even and especially in the unknown of this in between time. There is time to rehearse our new lines and get ready. Because the curtain will open again-- ready or not!
How do we get ready? In his letter to the Colossians, Paul gives this advice: As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. He goes on to talk about forgiving each other; clothing yourselves with love, letting the peace of Christ rule in your hearts; letting the word of Christ dwell in you; being thankful and singing songs of praise to God.
According to Paul, with a simple costume change, by putting on the things of Christ, we have a better chance of playing our part as a Christian.
By intentionally trying to put on compassion and kindness, it is easier to be compassionate and kind.
By putting on humility and meekness, it is easier for us to be humble and meek.
By putting on patience, we practice, until we become more patient.
By putting on love, we practice wearing it until it fits so well, we can’t take it off.
By letting the word of Christ dwell in us, it grows in us, until Christ’s words become our words.
Behind the curtain, we can make changes—in what we wear, what we say, what we do, who we are, how we live, who we love. We can change the way the story goes, or at least our part in it.
And we can pray—that when the curtain opens, the audience will be patient, even as we live into our new lines. But, most importantly, we can remember that even before the curtain opens, even before we speak a word, God has already called us chosen ones, holy and beloved.
If you have seen me in a Christmas Eve play as Sarah the Innkeeper, then you can appreciate more keenly my limited theatrical training and experience. My first experience in “acting” may tell you something. It was when I was about 8 or 9 years old. My oldest sister Susan was the director and I was the co-opted actor. The role: Glen Campbell: a one-man (woman) show. The story: Just sing and act out his Rhinestone Cowboy album. With limited props and meager costumes and a soft, sometimes on-key voice, the show began. “Like a rhinestone cowboy. . “ Pencils for sale, rings made from nails.” And on and on it painfully went. I don’t remember any other songs I sang that day (thankfully). But, I’ll never forget what happened at the end. When I finally finished struggling through every song on the album, the audience (now reduced to my parents) stood and clapped, as if I had just done something really good, as if my meager efforts had brought them great joy. As the curtain closed, I realized I had much to learn about performing, but I also realized that my parents had taught me something important about God’s ever-present grace and never-failing love.
Behind the curtain, there is opportunity to rehearse our lines, with compassion and kindness, humility and meekness, patience and love.
Behind the curtain, there is opportunity to make mistakes and start over and try again.
Behind the curtain, there is opportunity to grow with Christ in wisdom, in divine and human favor.
Behind the curtain, we can imagine getting it right.
Behind the curtain, we can imagine the story as we hope.
Behind the curtain, we can imagine the day when all the hard rehearsals are over, and when the curtain finally opens, even if no one is clapping, God will be there, full of grace and love, saying, “Well done, my beloved. Well done.”
Well, are you ready?
Just one more day of rehearsals. . .only one more day.
And then. . . ready or not. . .Curtain!