Sermon for the first Sunday of Christmas – Year C

Colossians 3:12-17 and Luke 2:41-52

When I was 12 we were living in London. If I’d gone missing at that age I know I wouldn’t have been found in St Paul’s Cathedral discussing theology with the Dean and any other distinguished clergy who may have been around. I would not have been asking questions about the doctrine of the trinity or transubstantiation or the finer points of St Paul’s theology.

I had other much more pressing interests to attend to, to do with horses, football and boys although not necessarily in that order.

But Jesus, at the age of 12, is found in the temple in Jerusalem discussing religion with Jewish leaders.

Only three days ago we were celebrating his birth. Now we’re hearing about Jesus at the age of 12. What’s been happening in those years about which we know so very little? It would seem that Jesus has been developing a sense of who he is and of his special relationship with God. He has been acquiring knowledge and understanding of the scriptures and it seems now that he is enjoying this opportunity to learn from others and discuss his own ideas and ask questions.

Just as we know so little about his first twelve years, so too we have very little information about the next eighteen years until he is thirty. What was happening during those years? We are told that he grew in wisdom and I think that he used this time to work out his own interpretation of the Law until he had a solid foundation on which to build his public life and ministry.

I think the foundation that Jesus laid for himself was the summary of the law which we’ve been hearing during Advent and will hear again during Lent.

“Hear O Israel,
the Lord our God is the only Lord.
You shall love the Lord our God
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength”

“Love your neighbour as yourself”

“There is no other commandment greater than these”, says Jesus, “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” For Jesus, everything that God requires of us follows on from these commandments.

We have just celebrated the birth of new life and we are about to celebrate or at least notice the ending of this year and the beginning of the next. Perhaps this is a good time to reflect on new beginnings and new opportunities. Perhaps we sense an invitation from God to go back to basics and reflect on what it means to us to live out our faith in the world around us, or to pay attention to a particular area of our spiritual life.

Paul’s words which we heard earlier might give us a very good starting point for reflection. Paul too thought through his faith and what it meant to live it out in the world. His words may sound fairly straight forward and simple but they actually present a challenge to us to re-think how we relate to people.

It may sound simple to show compassion – but that means showing compassion to people we might think are suffering through their own fault or who have shown no compassion for others.

It may sound simple to be kind – but that means being kind to everyone, not just those who are grateful and appreciative.

It may sound simple to be patient – but that means being patient when every fibre of your being is screaming out for action or change.

It may sound simple to forgive each other – but it means forgiving even those people we said we could never forgive for what they’d done to us or to someone we love.

How do we clothe ourselves with love when we’re feeling thoroughly bad tempered and irritable?

How do we let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts when we’re so stressed out we’ve hardly got time to breathe never mind think or reflect?

To let the word of Christ dwell in us richly we need to read the word of Christ and think about it so that we take into our lives what we hear God saying to us through that word.

Going back to basics is not an easy option.

Living out the commandments is not an easy option.

Living the Christian faith requires commitment, discipline and a willingness to learn and grow.

It may sound daunting but we are not required to do this on our own. As we seek to put God firmly at the centre of our lives, as we learn to love others (and perhaps to love ourselves) we are in fellowship with others on the same journey, learning the same lessons and making the same mistakes. We can learn from each other, share with each other and encourage one another. Perhaps our greatest encouragement is the knowledge that, as Paul says, we are called by God as his beloved people.

We are called today by God. Wherever we are we can begin again, today, with a new start knowing also that we are God’s forgiven people.

Today is exciting. It’s a day of new beginnings. It’s the start of a new adventure. We can stay where we are, not wanting to risk the unknown. Or we can step forward, thinking, asking questions, exploring ideas, willing to change and grow in the knowledge that Emmanuel, God with us, is our companion on the journey.