There are two sets of readings for today (different versions of the lectionary) and I had written on the one we didn’t use before I realized my mistake! So this will be a bit disjointed, but I didn’t want to lose what I’d thought about this afternoon.
The beginning of the Gospel of John is a text of mystery: the sentences don’t entirely make sense. But the central point, that God came and lived among us. From him we have received “grace upon grace”, “grace and truth”. But this grace is only possible because, as John puts it, “the Word became flesh”. In the midst of the mystery of John’s text is Jesus’ humanity.
Christmas is, like Easter, a time when we are confronted with Jesus’ humanity. But at Christmas, we also see Christ as part of a family, connected to parents and neighbors. It is not accidental that most of the readings that make me giggle focus on this part of Jesus’ life. The Gospel of Luke today pushes us twelve years ahead from where we were yesterday. You can read it several ways: the gospel presents this as a sign of Jesus’ precocious wisdom, though his ministry is 18 years away.
I read this account from the perspective of Mary and Joseph. It’s hard to be a parent to God’s son, and the rules are not at all clear. They are evidently a pious family, heading to Jerusalem every year for Passover. This time, we have a slightly rebellious tween staying behind to ask questions and engage with the teachers in Jerusalem. His parents are worried: they had traveled a whole day from Jerusalem, and have to go back to find him. It takes three days to find him. Most parents I know would be extremely anxious about this. You can hear Jesus’ response, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house” as a sign of piety, but I’ve known enough 12 year olds in my life to hear it also as the voice of a child trying to claim independence, even if not quite ready for it. Like most 12 year olds, Jesus knows more than his parents.
Our secular Christmas celebrations are all happy and celebratory, but Jesus’ death is never far away in our readings. For the feast of Holy Innocents on Tuesday, we learn of Joseph, Mary and Jesus fleeing as refugees to Egypt, while all the children under two in Bethlehem were slaughtered. The gifts of the wise men include myrrh, used to anoint the dead. And today’s reading takes place at Passover in Jerusalem, the time of year and the place where Jesus will be killed by the Roman state. We are not allowed to forget pain and sorrow while we celebrate.
One of my favorite prayers comes from Evening Prayer II
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.Book of Common Prayer, p. 124
Many years ago, this was prayed for me when I told my reading group that I was engaged. We always hope we can shield the joyous. But we cannot do so forever. We celebrate, as we do at Christmas. This year we are reminded, maybe more vividly than in other years, and that death is a part of life.