This Christmas season, we focused on the gospel of Luke. Uniquely, Luke gives us information about Jesus’ early life between his birth and baptism, which began his ministry. We have little information about this period and we’re curious about what it was like to parent young Jesus, to be in school with him, or to be his neighbor. In the late 1800s, scrolls containing the Gnostic Gospels were discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. The discoverers thought, at first, they’d discovered just such a historical resource, but it was ultimately determined to be fantastical. The gnostic gospel of Thomas tells fictional stories about how Jesus, as a child, created a sparrow from mud; and set a bear on his bullies. Even though these stories were fiction, they speak to a longing we have, as Christians, to learn as much as possible about Jesus. If we call ourselves Christians, shouldn’t knowing Christ better be the focus of all we do? There has been a recent enthusiasm for discovering the historical Jesus. Each new book presents a different facet or understanding, all of which is beneficial. You cannot understand Jesus without considering first century Judaism, which shaped all of Jesus’ teachings and experiences; or without understanding God’s relationship with Israel, as recounted in the Old Testament.
But we must be careful, in our seeking and studying, not to create an image of Jesus inconsistent with the gospel or one which is only a reflection of ourselves. For instance, just looking at his words, or just looking at his miracles, separating any piece provides an incomplete picture. This story from Luke 2 of how Jesus amazed his teachers and his parents is important. It shows that Jesus was different, even at the age of twelve. We are all amazed by children, how they learn and change but in this story Mary and Joseph are astounded by Jesus’ understanding. We could say He was a prodigy, or that He studied a lot, but there is something unique here that so amazed everyone that even the teachers of the law were amazed.
It’s the end of the year. We’ve finished with Jesus birth. Soon, in a few months, we will focus on his death. These are the two polarities of Jesus life which the church revolves around. There is so much more to the life of Jesus. He preached, taught, healed, called children to sit with him, fed thousands, calmed storms, and raised the dead. If we have created him in our image, if we feel too comfortable with the Jesus we’ve imagined, if we only call on him when we need something, if we put him on a shelf and take him down two days a week; then we need to be surprised. We need to turn fresh eyes on his story and let ourselves be surprised by his wisdom, his holiness, and his sacrifice.
I’ve thought a lot about what I want to say to the church at the end of the year, and it is this. In a world that is crazy and confusing, I think we need to be surprised by Jesus, both as individuals and as a church. Whatever you do, or whatever the church does this year; we should run everything through the filter of the person, ministry, life, and resurrection of Jesus. Don’t tell him what you will do, but allow him to tell us. Be surprised individually and cooperatively. Read the portraits in the gospels; hear the voice of Christ; hope that the Holy Spirit will guide us, encourage us, and remind us of his words (John 14:15-27). Let us allow ourselves to be surprised by what He does in our lives and in the world, and to be shaped in his image, rather than shaping him into ours.
“Why were you searching for me?” He asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:49
Rev. John Norman, Sermon given on December 30, 2018