Monday, 24 December 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 30 December 2018,
First Sunday of Christmas

William Holman Hunt, ‘The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple’ (1854-1860), Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 30 December 2018, is the First Sunday of Christmas.

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland for next Sunday are:

Readings: I Samuel 2: 18-20, 26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3: 12-17; Luke 2: 41-52.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

Paolo Veronese, ‘Christ among the Doctors’

Introduction to the Readings:

For many people in church, next Sunday’s Gospel story (Luke 2: 41-52) is likely to seem out of sequence and out of place in the Christmas cycle of Gospel stories.

Perhaps they are expecting another story traditionally associated with the Nativity, such as:

● the visit of the Shepherds and the naming of Jesus (Luke 2: 15-21, provided for Christmas I on 31 December 207 and for 1 January 2018 and 2019);

● the Presentation in the Temple and the encounter with Simeon and Anna (Luke 2: 22-40, the Presentation, 1 February 2019, with an option on Epiphany IV, 3 February 2019);

● the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2: 1-12, the Epiphany, 6 January 2019);

● or, perhaps the flight into Egypt (Matthew 2: 13-23).

So, people listening on Sunday morning may wonder how we are jumping from the story of Jesus’ birth in a stable in Bethlehem on Christmas Day to the story of the teenage Christ who is lost in the Temple on this first Sunday after Christmas?

What happened to the intervening years between the story of the stable and Jesus at the age of 12?

The missing years or silent years in the story of Christ have long been a puzzle. It is good to remember that Saint Mark and Saint John begin the story of Jesus with his baptism by Saint John the Baptist, while Saint Matthew skips from the return to Nazareth from Egypt to the baptism in the River Jordan.

Saint Luke is alone among the Gospel writers in telling us a story from the childhood or teen years, told in this moment of transition from childhood to adulthood.

This reading closes the introductory portion of Saint Luke’s Gospel, the ‘Christmas cycle’ that begins in Chapter 1, takes us through the conception and birth of both Saint John the Baptist and Jesus, the circumcision and naming of Jesus, and his presentation in the Temple.

This story completes the early identification of who Jesus is in Saint Luke’s Gospel. The Angel Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary that her child will be ‘holy’ and will be called the ‘Son of God’ (1: 35). At the presentation, he is identified as ‘holy’ in 2: 23. Now, in this episode, he is identified as God’s Son.

In the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading, parents living in a provincial town go to the Temple to worship and there they find their young sons ministering in the Temple.

In the story of Samuel, the young boy is in the Temple serving the Temple liturgy (as the Septuagint renders it), while in the Gospel the teenage Christ is among the teachers or the rabbis, debating, listening and answering.

But where do we find Christ, where do we seek him, where is God’s Temple? The Psalm (Psalm 148) is a call to praise God’s name, but also reminds us that God’s splendour is found throughout earth and heaven (verse 13) and in people (verse 14).

Samuel is clothed in boy-sized priestly robes made by his mother, perhaps the young Jesus has just donned the traditional prayer shawl for the first time as a teenager, which binds him to the Law.

In the epistle reading, Saint Paul tells us ‘above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.’ He too points us to the teaching Christ, as our guide and teacher.

When these parents returned home, Samuel ‘continued to grow both in stature and in favour with the Lord and with the people’ (I Samuel 2: 26), and in a similar way Jesus ‘increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour’ (Luke 2: 52).

How Hannah held her fears and her hopes in her heart may have many parallels with the experience of Mary who ‘treasured all these things in her heart’ (Luke 2: 51).

‘Christ Among the Doctors,’ 16th century, after Hieronymus Bosch, the Philadelphia Museum of Art

I Samuel 2: 18-20, 26:

Some weeks ago, on the Second Sunday before Advent (18 November 2018), we read how Hannah had prayed during her annual pilgrimage to the Temple, promising that if God granted her a son she would dedicate him to the Lord. After returning home, she gave birth a son Samuel. When he was about three or four, Hannah took Samuel to Eli to serve in the Temple.

In next Sunday’s reading (I Samuel 2: 18-20, 26), the child Samuel is now like a boy-priest in the Temple, wearing the linen ephod or apron, the light ceremonial garment of a priest, and ‘ministering before the Lord’ (verse 18). The Hebrew word used here, שָׁרַת (sharath), is used particularly for liturgical worship by the priests, and the Septuagint translation, καὶ Σαμουηλ ἦν λειτουργῶν ἐνώπιον κυρίου, tells us Samuel is serving the liturgy in the sight of God.

Hannah and her husband Elkanah continue to visit the Temple annually for the yearly sacrifice (verse 19), just as the Gospel reading tells us ‘every year the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover’ (Luke 2: 41).

Hannah’s ‘gift ... to the Lord’ (verse 20) is her son, and when she returns home, Samuel continues to grow in stature and in favour with both God and the people (verse 26).

‘Praise him, heaven of heavens, and you waters above the heavens’ (Psalm 148: 4) … winter skies at the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick, last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Psalm 148:

Psalm 148 is one of the five hallelujah psalms at the end of the Book of Psalms that call on us to ‘Praise the Lord.’ But this invitation is not just to us, it is an invitation to the heavens, the angels, the sun, the moon, the stars, the skies and the seas, the sea monsters, the forces of weather, the mountains, hills and trees, all animals and birds. It is an invitation to all rulers, the young and the old, and all people.

Colossians 3: 12-17:

Colossae was a city near Laodicea in Phrygia in what is now south-west Turkey, east of Ephesus. The city was known for its angel cult, but also had a significant Jewish population, although most of the Christians seem to have been Gentiles.

This letter gives descriptions of false teachings that were found in the churches in Colossae. The writer has already described the true Christian life. Now he tells them that because they are chosen by God, they are expected to live by the Christian virtues, including compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.

They are to be forgiving and, above all, to clothe themselves in love, ‘which binds everything together in perfect harmony’ (verse 14), and to let the peace of God rule in their hearts (verse 15).

James Tissot, ‘Jesus Among the Doctors’

Luke 2: 41-52:

I remember once when one we lost sight of one of our children on an evening out in Crete over 25 years ago. He was about three or four at the time and was missing only for a few moments. It may have been for only three or four minutes, but the fear and panic that struck us made it feel not like three or four minutes as we searched and shouted out his name, but like an eternity.

Temporary fears seemed to have everlasting consequences that we could not even bear to contemplate in our furtive search. I still remember the horror of that moment, it was so vivid and so real. When we found him, he knew where he was all the time, and could not grasp the enormity of our fears.

What was he doing, that he lost sight of us?

What were we doing that we lost sight of him?

Who did we blame? Did we ever thank those who helped our search?

Did that experience inhibit us in his later years when we should have let our sons have the freedom to grow and to mature?

Christ is no longer a child in this Gospel reading. But Joseph and Mary do not yet see him as an adult. I can fully identify with them in their panic and in their fear in this Gospel reading.

It was our pattern to go on holiday in Greece each summer, and we had felt safe, perhaps naively safe, wherever we were. Perhaps, because they went to Jerusalem for the Passover each year, Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary felt comfortable and relaxed as they moved through courts and the arcades of the Temple, and through the side streets and the market stalls of Jerusalem.

On the way home, if Jesus was regarded still a child, he might have travelled with the women in the caravan; if he was now seen as a man, he might have been expected to travel with the men in the caravan. Any family travelling through a modern airport on holidays today, with the Father taking some children through and the Mother taking others, understands completely what may have happened at that Passover.

If it is an experience you have forgotten, gone without out or have yet to go through, you can catch some of the flavour of the setting for this story by watching one of the all-time favourite Christmas movies, Home Alone (1990).

Because Jesus is no longer a child in this story, yet not yet a man, some people introduce this Gospel reading as though it tells the story of the teenage Christ’s Bar Mitzvah.

According to Jewish law, when a Jewish boy become 13 years old, he becomes accountable for his actions and become a bar mitzvah, literally ‘son of commandment,’ or subject Jewish law. However, Jewish historians point out that the modern method of celebrating becoming a bar mitzvah did not exist in the time of the Bible, Mishnah or Talmud. The Talmud gives 13 as the age at which a boy’s vows are legally binding, as a result of his being a man. But the term bar mitzvah as we now use it cannot be clearly traced earlier than the 14th century, and many sources indicate that the ceremonial observation of a bar mitzvah developed in the Middle Ages.

Nevertheless, the age 12 has long been the time when young people go through rites of passage, such as confirmation, so the timing of this Gospel story will resonate in many families.

In his opening chapters, Saint Luke portrays Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary as a devout and righteous couple. They observe the religious rites and practices of Judaism, they have Jesus circumcised (2: 21), and they are then said to have acted ‘according to the law’ three times (verses 22, 24, 39).

In Sunday’s reading, Saint Luke tells us they go to the Passover festival in Jerusalem ‘every year.’ This emphasis on their participation is repeated in the next verse (42), and in many translations they are said to observe the ‘custom of the feast’ (KJV; see NIV); the significance of the word ἔθος (ethos), meaning not merely custom but usage prescribed by law, institute, prescription or rite, is lost in the NRSV translation.

With this emphasis on the family’s religious devotion, Saint Luke is saying the Jewish boy Jesus grew up in a thoroughly Jewish world.

The setting for this story is the festival of the Passover, celebrating the deliverance from slavery in Egypt and then regarded as the start of a new year. Every year, Joseph, Mary and Jesus go to Jerusalem for this festival (verse 41), and they are still doing this in the year he is a 12-year-old (verse 42).

When the eight-day festival ends, the people they have travelled with begin the long journey back home to Nazareth. The entourage in this caravan includes both ‘relatives and friends’ (verse 42), which makes it a safe group but also a large crowd. They have gone a full day, when Joseph and Mary realise he is missing. Perhaps they were about to have a meal together, perhaps they had the tents up or had arrived at a hostel or inn to stay the night.

They search for him there first of all before returning to Jerusalem. After three days, they find Jesus in the Temple, ‘sitting among the teachers’ (verse 46), the experts in Jewish law or rabbis. He not only listens and asks questions, but he also answers their questions.

This was the rabbinical style of teaching at the time. The rabbis used questions from the students to create discussion. It was customary for the teacher or rabbi to sit on low pillows or chairs as they taught, while their disciples or students sat on the ground or on mats around them.

This practice gives us the expression ‘to sit at his feet,’ a description used, for example, when Mary sits at the feet of Jesus (see Luke 10: 39) and when Saint Paul describes himself as someone who was educated ‘at the feet of Gamaliel’ (Acts 22: 3). A rabbinic saying attributed to the second century rabbi, Yose ben Yoezer, says, ‘Let your house be a meeting place for the rabbis, and cover yourself in the dust of their feet, and drink their words thirstily’ (Pirkei Avos 1: 4).

When Joseph and Mary find him, they are distraught as Mary asks, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety’ (verse 48).

In their eyes, Jesus is still a child.

Mary’s remark is a reproach. She identifies Jesus as a ‘child’ for whom she and his ‘father’ (Joseph) have been searching. Indeed, she prefaces her final reproach with ‘look’ or ‘behold,’ which is an intensification, and specifically oriented towards the pain Jesus has caused his parents.

Then, however, verse 49 marks a turning point in this Gospel. These are the first words Christ speaks in the Gospels. Until now, Joseph has been named as his father, but now Jesus refers to God as his Father.

The second sentence in Jesus’ reply in verse 49 is difficult. It is usually translated, as the NRSV does. ‘Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ The problem is that the word ‘house’ does not actually appear in the Greek text:

Οὐκ ᾔδειτε ὅτι ἐν τοῖς τοῦ πατρός μου δεῖ εἶναί με;

It is not entirely clear how the sentence should read. Literally, we have: ‘in the … of my Father it is necessary that I be.’ Something is missing in English which would be understood in Greek. The missing word could refer to ‘house,’ but it could also refer to ‘things’ or ‘business’ or ‘interests.’

One thing is clear, however. Jesus uses the word δεῖ (dei), which means a bounden duty or ‘it is necessary.’ Saint Luke uses the word in certain special cases: Jesus ‘must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God’ (4: 43); he ‘must undergo great suffering’ (9: 22). In this case, he ‘must’ be about ‘his father’s’ business, work, laws teaching, and he means God in this instance, not Joseph.

Did you notice, however, that Saint Joseph remains silent throughout this narrative? He is one of the most enigmatic characters in the Gospel stories. He features in both Saint Matthew’s Gospel and in Saint Luke’s Gospel, but not in either Saint Mark’s or Saint John’s Gospel. And after Mary and Joseph return from Jerusalem to Nazareth with the Child Jesus, Saint Joseph disappears from the stage again.

Meanwhile, Mary and Joseph do not understand what Jesus says to them (verse 50). But, it is clear, things have changed radically and irreversibly. At the beginning of this story, Joseph and Mary do the action. They go to Jerusalem. They ‘went up.’ They ‘were returning.’ Yet, after the exchange between Mary and Jesus, it is Jesus who is the actor. ‘He went down with them’ to Nazareth.

Once they have found Jesus, they probably have to travel back north to Nazareth by themselves, which was much more dangerous than traveling with a caravan. This is a danger understood by everyone who first heard the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). Perhaps this too is a literary hint at the later dangers in the journey that Jesus makes to Jerusalem.

When the family returns to Nazareth, Jesus is obedient to his parents in everyday life. In spite of not understanding what has happened and what has been said, Mary ‘treasured all these things in her heart’ (verse 51) – just as she ‘treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’ after she heard the shepherds’ report of what the angels proclaimed (Luke 2: 19).

Saint Luke says that after this story, Jesus spent his years in Nazareth growing ‘in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour’ (verse 52). This is already said about him in the story of the Presentation (Candlemas): ‘The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him’ (Luke 2: 40). We might imagine he was apprenticed to Saint Joseph as a builder or carpenter, working in the family workshop, as depicted by the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais (1829-1896) in his painting Christ in the House of His Parents (1849-1850).

In the meantime, something has changed. Jesus is now on the way, on the path.

When we next meet him in this Gospel, he is at the Jordan, about to be baptised by Saint John the Baptist, which is the Gospel reading (Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22) for the First Sunday after the Epiphany (13 January 2019).

John Everett Millais, ‘Christ in the House of His Parents’ (‘The Carpenter’s Shop’)

Preaching on this Gospel reading

Theme 1:

Throughout this story, Joseph and Mary are said to be looking for or seeking Jesus (verses 44, 45, 48, 49). On the third occasion, they say they were searching for him in great anxiety or seeking him and sorrowing; they were seeking him and anticipating the worst.

This not only identifies Mary and Joseph with every parent in their sorrow and plight as they search for a lost or missing child, but it puts them in the same position as the rest of us. Mary’s question to Jesus is probably not unfamiliar in most families. Most parents have probably asked Mary’s question either out loud or silently to themselves.

But this also puts Mary and Joseph in the same position as the rest of us in the quest of faith. Later, ‘a great multitude of people’ also seek Jesus (6: 17-19). Later again, Jesus will also say that those who seek or search will find (11: 9) and that we are to seek or strive the Kingdom of God (12: 31). Still later in this Gospel, Jesus says he has come ‘to seek out and to save the lost’ (19: 10) – which is all of us, and not him.

Why were they seeking him? As his parents, they were, quite understandably, very worried. Saint Luke tells us they were seeking him out of a sense of fear and loss. In other words, Joseph and Mary thought Jesus was the one who was lost.

He Qi, ‘The Boy Jesus in the Temple,’ from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville

Theme 2:

Did you notice how Joseph and Mary search for Jesus for three days?

When early Christians heard this story in the context of the Passover (verses 41-42) and the phrase ‘after three days’ (verse 46), they would have thought immediately of the Passover when Christ was raised from the dead after three days. So, we should also read this story in the light of the Resurrection.

In the Resurrection, the new family of God supersedes our earthly family, the Temple becomes the place where Christ is at the centre. He is in dialogue with the tradition, yet with a new understanding.

There can be no true meaning in Christmas unless it looks forward to Easter.

Rod Borghese, ‘Jesus and Doctors’ … a challenging reworking of Albrecht Dürer’s ‘Jesus among the Doctors’

Theme 3:

Albrecht Dürer painting of this story, ‘Jesus among the Doctors,’ is a sad example of late mediaeval art stooping to anti-Semitic stereotypes in his depiction of the teachers or rabbis in the Temple.

It is interesting to see how this prejudice is challenged and reversed by the Canadian artist Rod Borghese in his reworking of ‘Jesus and Doctors.’

By recalling that Jesus was raised in a faithful and traditional Jewish family, Saint Luke assures his readers that Jesus and the Church are truly rooted in Jewish tradition. Jesus and the Church do not reject Judaism. They interpret Jewish convictions in light of the eschatological turning of the ages.

This remains a challenge to and condemnation of anti-Semitism wherever it is found in the Church.

James Jankneght, ‘Jesus in the Temple’

Theme 4:

Is there a possibility that when Mary and Joseph thought they had found Jesus ‘in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions’ (verse 46) that they realised they had lost a child and found an adult?

As they panicked, like all parents they would have thought of the time their lost child was once a baby. In this case as they looked at their 12-year-old son, did they see the baby once ‘wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger’ (Luke 2: 12), rather than Jesus becoming the man, the Son of Man?

Perhaps Mary and Joseph, like so many parents in this predicament and with a growing child at this age, were struggling with letting Jesus grow up.

Sometimes we struggle with letting Jesus grow up. Would we prefer the Christ who comes to us in the now-romantic setting of the Christmas Crib, or the Christ who comes proclaiming the Kingdom of God and preaching its values?

Christ is no longer the baby in the manger. He is in his Father’s house and about his Father’s business. Things are changing for him, for Mary and Joseph, and for us.

We can hear that in his response to Mary, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’

Do we refuse to let our Jesus grow up?

Would we prefer to keep him small and helpless, instead of challenging and questioning us in our most sacred places.

Do we impose our needs, expectations, or emotional programmes on who Jesus is or what he does?

Where do we seek Jesus? Where are our false temples, and where are our false comforts that become our false gods?

Pinturicchio (Bernardino di Betto), ‘Christ Among the Doctors’ (1501), the Baglioni Chapel of St Mary Major, Spello, Italy

Luke 2: 41-52 (NRSVA):

41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ 49 He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.

James Tissot, ‘Jesus Found in the Temple,’ Brooklyn Museum

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical colour: White or Gold.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
through your Son Jesus Christ:
Grant that, as he came to share in our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Heavenly Father,
you have refreshed us with this heavenly sacrament.
As your Son came to live among us,
grant us grace to live our lives,
united in love and obedience,
as those who long to live with him in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional resources:

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9: 6)


You have given Jesus Christ your only Son
to be born of the Virgin Mary,
and through him you have given us power
to become the children of God:


Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one
all things earthly and heavenly,
fill you with his joy and peace:

Duccio di Buoninsegna ‘Disputation with the Doctors’

Suggested Hymns:

The hymns suggested for this Sunday in Sing to the Word (2000) edited by Bishop Edward Darling include:

I Samuel 2: 18-20, 26:

717, May the Lord bless you and keep you

Psalm 148:

682, All created things, bless the Lord
24, All creatures of our God and King
683, All people that on earth do dwell
711, All you heavens, bless the Lord (Surrexit Christus)
350, For the beauty of the earth
705, New songs of celebration render
708, O praise ye the Lord! Praise him in the height
366, Praise, my soul, the King of heaven
709, Praise the Lord! You heavens, adore him

Colossians 3: 12-17:

346, Angel voices ever singing
519, Come, all who look to Christ today
294, Come down, O Love divine
550, ‘Forgive our sins as we forgive’
454, Forth in the peace of Christ we go
300, Holy Spirit, truth divine
360, Let all the world in every corner sing
525, Let there be love shared among us
503, Make me a channel of your peace
636, May the mind of Christ my Saviour
361, Now thank we all our God
443, Sent forth by God’s blessing, our true faith confessing
369, Songs of praise the angels sang
601, Teach me, my God and King
374, When all thy mercies, O my God
458, When, in our music, God is glorified
476, Ye watchers and ye holy ones

Luke 2: 41-52:

347, Children of Jerusalem
453, Come to us, creative Spirit
632, I love to hear the story
651, Jesus, friend of little children
483, Jesus went to worship
177, Once in royal David’s city

Giotto di Bondone, ‘Christ Among the Doctors’

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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