1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26, Psalm 148, Colossians 3:12-17
(watch here: https://youtu.be/BibqORtYOrg)
41Now every year [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When 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.” 49He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
How many of you like going to reunions? How many of you look forward to meeting up with people from your past? You were younger and your future was this unknown gift waiting to be opened. Some of you were laying the framework for your future life and the people you surrounded yourself with were helping you to reach your goals. Did they reach their own goals? Some of you were simply living in the present, enjoying life to the max, living free and carelessly. The people you surrounding yourself were of similar mindsets. They, too, just wanted to live life in the moment and not worry too much about their future either. Where are they now? Where has life taken them? There are also people from your past that you’re just curious to know where life has taken them. Reunions are a great way to bring us back together with our pasts—with who we were and how we viewed life back then. Depending on how well your own life has turned out, reunions can either be celebratory, revelatory, or simply dreaded.
In his book, Holy Sweat, Tim Hansel recalls the experience a close friend of his had with his own forty-year high school reunion.
For months he saved to take his wife back to the place and the people he’d left four decades before. The closer the time came for the reunion, the more excited he became, thinking of all the wonderful stories he would hear about the changes and the accomplishments these old friends would tell him.
One night before he left he even pulled out his old yearbooks, read the silly statements and the good wishes for the future that students write to each other. He wondered what ol’ Number 86 from his football team had done. He wondered if any others had encountered this Christ who had changed him so profoundly. He even tried to guess what some of his friends would look like, and what kind of jobs and families some of these special friends had.
The day came to leave and I drove them to the airport. Their energy was almost contagious. “I’ll pick you up on Sunday evening, and you can tell me all about it,” I said. “Have a great time.”
Sunday evening arrived. As I watched them get off the plane, my friend seemed almost despondent. I almost didn’t want to ask, but finally I said, “Well, how was the reunion?” “Tim,” the man said, “it was one of the saddest experiences of my life.” “Good grief,” I said, more than a little surprised. “What happened?” “It wasn’t what happened but what didn’t happen. It has been forty years, forty years—and they haven’t changed. They had simply gained weight, changed clothes, gotten jobs…but they hadn’t really changed. And what I experienced was maybe one of the most tragic things I could ever imagine about life. For reasons I can’t fully understand, it seems as though some people choose not to change.”
There was a long silence as we walked back to the car. On the drive home, he turned to me and said, “I never, never want that to be said of me, Tim. Life is too precious, too sacred, too important. If you ever see me go stagnant like that, I hope you give me a quick, swift kick where I need it—for Christ’s sake. I hope you’ll love me enough to challenge me to keep growing.”
Tim’s friend had a powerful revelation that speaks volumes to him and to us. Isn’t it disturbing to meet with people from our pasts only to find out that life hasn’t been too kind to them in the time since? Isn’t it even more disturbing to find out that their lives could have turned out better if only they had made different choices and changed themselves along the way? Sadly, people have a bad habit of ending their personal growth. They reach a certain point in their educational or professional careers and they simply stop developing. Sure, life has a way of interrupting our plans and have us grow in other ways than in the classroom or the workplace. But even then we’re growing. No, I’m talking about our bad habit of consciously avoiding personal growth. It is a tragedy to behold.
Our readings for today expose us to two people who resisted the temptation to stop growing. In our 1st reading, we are reminded of the great prophet, Samuel, and how his steady walk with the Lord. Recall that Samuel’s mom, Hannah, was a devoted believer with a strong faith. She didn’t have any children and prayed fervently to the Lord to bless her with children. The Lord hears her prayer and indeed blesses her with a child, Samuel. She lifts up a powerful song of praise and thanksgiving to God for such a blessing and vows to raise her child in humble service to God. We heard in our reading, “now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.” Samuel knew he was a blessing to his mother and honored his mother by honoring God. He grew in his relationship with God, deepening his faith and understanding of God. God rewards him by making him a great prophet revered by the people and kings alike.
Similarly, we heard in our gospel reading of how Jesus was raised in the temple and developed a strong relationship with God. It was such a strong relationship that he chose to abandon his earthly parents and stayed behind in the temple to be with his heavenly Father. Frantic, Mary and Joseph searched high and low for Jesus only to find him worshipping and praying in the temple. Mary’s devotion to God and her son was similar to Hannah’s and so it was only natural that the two sons were similar in their devotion as well. Both Hannah and Mary had unwavering faith in God and his blessings. Their sons had unwavering faith in God and his blessings. Again, we hear at the close of our passage, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” Jesus, too, resisted the temptation to stop growing in his faith and understanding of God.
We have been given these 2 examples of people who resisted temptation to stop growing to encourage us to resist the temptation as well. Just a few days ago, we celebrated the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We celebrated our entering into relationship with God through Jesus. We come to know God better through Jesus. We are thankful for the gift of Jesus and we show it by celebrating. It is a beginning, not only of our understanding of who Jesus is but of our relationship with God through Jesus. It is a beginning of faith in God. We hardly know anything about God through the baby Jesus. We must learn about Jesus. We must hear about his life, death, and resurrection. We must develop an ever-unfolding relationship with Jesus and God.
There are some among us who have been developing a relationship with God through Jesus for a long time now. There are some who are new to a relationship with Jesus this Christmas season. There are some who have abandoned a relationship with Jesus. No matter where we are in our relationship with Jesus, it is important to remember that revelations and personal growth in the relationship come over time. We grow in a relationship with Jesus. There will be a reunion one day when we look back at when we first entered into relationship with Jesus. We will be different than who we are today. We will have changed physically, mentally, and spiritually. If we stay in relationship with God, we, too, will “grow in stature and favor with the Lord” just as Samuel and Jesus had. As we set out on another year of walking with God, let us be mindful of our growing, especially our…growing in faith.
In the name the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.