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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
December 30, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Luke 2:41-52
Christmas 1C

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: December 30, 2018 – Christmas 1C

Luke 2:41-52


Didn’t Mary Know?


              As you may have noticed, there’s been a lot of Christmas carol hate floating around social media. Two weeks ago, I told you about my friend’s “Worst Christmas Song” contest on Facebook. The social media hate has just seemed to ramp up, not just about perennial songs that people love to hate, like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, but about relatively innocuous songs like “The Little Drummer Boy”. One post read, “You know what this exhausted young mother and newborn baby could use right now? A drum solo!”


              For many pastors, though, there is a Christmas song that has a special place in a dark corner of their hearts – “Mary, Did You Know?”. Despite the love that many people have for that song, many pastors I know really, really dislike that song? Why? Not only because it sounds like “mansplaining” to Mary (you know, where a man who ‘knows better’ tries to enlighten the woman about what’s really happening), but because it seems to contradict Luke 1:26-38, where Gabriel tells Mary about the child she will have. “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.” Even before she was pregnant, Mary knew about the greatness of her son.


              But just because Mary did know, that doesn’t mean she didn’t grow in her understanding of what she knew. Like many things we learn, sometimes understanding – or “heart knowledge” – dawns slowly. I wonder if Mary and Joseph had to process just what greatness and divine Sonship meant. As Jesus grew “in years and wisdom”, as Luke puts it, it seems that Mary and Joseph also grew in understanding. Understanding about their enigmatic, exceptional child. Understanding about the mysterious ways in which God works.


              Today’s Gospel story such an example of a growth in understanding by Jesus’ mother and earthly father. It’s also the only story in the Bible about Jesus between infancy and the age he starts his ministry; about 30, according to Luke. In contrast to many of the wild stories that appeared in extra-biblical literature about Jesus’ childhood, this one is rather subdued. There are no miracles. No display of divine power. No, it’s about something rather mundane; something that seems to happen to every parent. It’s a story, that on the surface, is about a child getting lost.


              I remember what my father was like when I wandered off. I’d hear bellowing – “DAVID!” – and when he caught up to me I wasn’t sure if he would hug me or beat my butt red. (Sometimes it was both!) I imagine that was what Mary and Joseph were like when they finally caught up with Jesus. You can hear Mary’s exasperation, anger, and relief in her words, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Listen! Your father and I have been worried. We’ve been looking for you!”


              Jesus’ response isn’t a comforting one. If it were the response of a normal 12-year old, one might hear it as “back talk”. But it isn’t back talk. Just as Jesus is schooling the teachers in the Temple, he gently schools his parents with a rabbinical answer (A rabbinical answer is a question in response to a question.). “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?”


              Just as the disciples rarely understood the first time, his parents don’t understand here, either. In fact, imagine how Joseph must have felt. “Didn’t you know it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” Ouch. Again, if Jesus was a normal 12-year old, this might sound insulting. But it isn’t intended to be so. Jesus is reminding his parents of his true origin and the nature of his work on earth. His work will be his Father’s work – the work of bringing salvation to the world.


              To his parents’ credit, they don’t dismiss Jesus’ words as mere childhood affectation, even though they don’t understand them. Luke even tells us that Mary treasured every word. Jesus returns home with his parents and obeys them. Post-Easter, Mary would have remembered this anecdote about the boy Jesus, and understanding would have dawned. “Oh, THAT’s what he meant when he said, ‘Didn’t you know I must be in my Father’s house?’.”


              It’s like that with us. There is so much in our world that we do not understand. There is so much about God that we do not understand. We may have been privileged with good educators and good catechism teachers. We may have delved into the depths of Scripture, either alone or within study groups. We may have meditated on the Catechism or spent time in prayer on retreat. We may have spent a lifetime struggling to understand God’s ways in our world. And yet, there is so much more to God and God’s creation than we can possibly imagine. We believe, for instance, that God is a God of love. And yet, we don’t really get what that means, especially when catastrophic things happen. We believe that God is all-powerful. But we haven’t the faintest idea of what that really means, beyond wishes and hopes about what God might do. We believe that God knows everything. But we don’t know what impact that has, if any, on what we might do tomorrow, or what happened yesterday. We don’t know about lot of things in this world. And we know even less about God.


              And that’s okay. We don’t have to understand to have faith, thank God. Faith, as the 11th-century English saint Anselm put it, is always seeking understanding. Mary had faith when Gabriel told her that Jesus would be great, the Son of the Most High. She had faith that she would have a child, even though she didn’t have it in the usual way. And though she didn’t understand, perhaps, what greatness meant or what being Son of God meant at the time, she did grow in understanding because of her faith. And as her understanding grew, her faith grew, too. Remember that Mary is among the earliest members of the post-Easter church according to Luke’s second volume, the book of Acts. Mary certainly experienced more than her share of pain, more than her share of confusion, more than her share of fear. The prophet Simeon did tell her, after all, that a “sword” would pierce her own heart. That sword – of not knowing, not understanding, of suffering the loss of her son, the son that was supposed to be great and rule forever – must have been absolutely devastating.


              But Easter happened, and with Easter came understanding.


              Didn’t Mary know? Yes, she knew – and no, she didn’t understand the full implications of that knowledge. It’s like that with us. We still don’t know the full implications of our own faith in Jesus. But God is faithful. And just as Easter came to Mary and the church, we too will one day see the same risen Jesus that appeared at Easter. And with salvation will come understanding – an understanding that we can only begin to picture.


              Let us pray.


              Lord, though we don’t understand, we pray for renewed and increased faith. Remind us that as Jesus’ own mother needed time to understand what it meant for her son to be God’s Son, we too, are on a journey to understand more about you and your mysterious ways – ways that are always rooted in your love for creation. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.