Archive for December, 2020

Luke 4:22-30

December 16, 2020

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”

 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. Luke 4:22-30

Christmas must be coming soon – I got an email this morning telling me that the presents that I ordered for our grandchildren will be arriving on Thursday. Pressure!!! I know that it is better to give than to receive but I feel a lot of pressure when it comes to what we give. We want them to like, appreciate, and use the gifts we give. The pressure comes because I know how people are – even kids have an innate sense of FAIRNESS.

FAIRNESS defined as “No one else better get a better deal than me or it’s not fair!”

At some point we all need to come to grips with the reality that, as God continues to create the world, “fairness” doesn’t seem to be a high priority. Diversity, yes. Abundance, yes. Interconnectedness, yes. Interdependence, yes. Fairness, no.

We don’t like that. We fight against it. We team up against one another. Someone buys up all the toilet paper. We decide some people, places, and things are better than others. Over against all of that, God calls us to work for justice, for equity (which is different than equality.) And if that means that Elijah was sent to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon, or that Naaman the Syrian would be cured of his leprosy, so be it.

That is what enraged the crowd. They didn’t want to hear that THEIR God did good things for THOSE people. Especially when they were all convinced that God ought to do more for THEM!

Somehow the message didn’t get through. The initial promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 couldn’t be more clear. They were blessed (which isn’t fair) so that, through them, all the nations of the world would be blessed (whether or not that’s fair.) But somehow along the way, that message got lost. Kind of like “All men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” sounded great but, right off the bat, didn’t include Native Americans or enslaved people.

Along comes Jesus. He isn’t bringing something new but he is intent on bringing what he has to all people. ALL means ALL. His hometown was willing to shut him down right from the start, to throw him off a cliff. But there is another way to shut him down – and that is to co-opt his message. To change it. To soften it. To qualify it. To add lots of “but what about?’s” to it.

But that crowd couldn’t shut him down. We ought not either.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, the reach of your love knows no ending. The good news of your love is grounded in justice, in equity, in reconciliation, in peace. May we too be filled with the Spirit that guided and protected you as we continue to seek the world as you created it to be, each doing our little parts as we are willing and able. In Jesus’ name.


Luke 4:14-21

December 15, 2020

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.

The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:14-21

Jesus, fresh from the wilderness, heads home.

This movement – from wilderness back home – is a recurrent theme in the Hebrew scriptures. It is a reversal from the creation story where Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise into the wilderness. Abraham travels through the wilderness to a new home. The people journey through the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land. The refugees from Babylon begin the long walk home once freed by the victory of the Persians. In fact, most of the Hebrew scriptures were written before/during/after such tumultuous times. Especially, like the words that Jesus today recites from Isaiah, after the Babylonian Exile.

Jesus, digging deeply into the origins of this promise/hope, tells the people that “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus announces that the time for liberation has come. This is his purpose. This is his job description. If you want to know what Jesus was always about, start here.

What would constitute good news to the poor? How about enough food to eat, a place to live, clothes to wear, an education for their children, anything beyond the constant stress and worry about barely holding on to life.

Release to the captives? A legal system that goes beyond laws and reaches for justice for all.

Recovery of sight to the blind? A health care system available to everyone for the physically ill and an intellectual environment focused on facts, on truth, for those who refuse to see.

Let the oppressed go free? A shared life based on seeking the common good rather than protecting a privileged life dependent on the subservience of a poorly treated underclass.

The fulfillment that Jesus seeks is not a pie-in-the-sky spirituality unmoored from the daily lives of people. It is just the opposite. It is a new relationship among people who, together, covenant to live within the boundaries of the will of God for freedom, liberation, justice, and peace for all people.

Tomorrow we will find out how this vision goes over with the folks from Jesus’ hometown.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you know that the wilderness is wherever people struggle to hold on to life. The wilderness within – hunger, homelessness, addiction, constant war, physical illness, hopelessness, despair – weighs upon us. We pray for continued vigilance and willingness to seek freedom for all. Guide us on the journey from the wilderness back home. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 4:1-13

December 14, 2020

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. Luke 4:1-13

Today is a big day as the first shipments for the coronavirus vaccine begin arriving around the country. We have a long way to go to get back to a new normal and that, we hope, begins today. 2020 has felt like life in the wilderness and no one has felt that more than those who continue to suffer, those who have lost loved ones, and those who live in fear of being the next one to go.

For far too long, the Christian faith has been marketed as the panacea for all bad things in life. Accept Jesus and your problems will go away. Walk in the Lord’s favor and you’ll get that promotion at work; you’ll achieve financial success and independence. Go see that faith healer holding the revival in that stadium and you will leave your crutches behind. I know I’m being a bit harsh here but I think you recognize some of this.

Few people are honest enough to tell you that the Christian faith might make your life more difficult. But that is what Jesus discovered as he left the Jordan river behind and found himself hungry and alone. Life got hard and the Tempter showed up with his promises.

The Tempter offered three things – you’ll get your material needs met, you’ll have power over others, and you’ll be assured of your personal security. Aren’t they the big ones that always seem to work?  

Jesus didn’t fight the temptations, he didn’t even fight with the Tempter, he met each temptation with faith. He stayed true to his center. He wasn’t looking for an easy way out. He didn’t seek to dominate others. He didn’t seek personal glory. He wasn’t peddling magic so he wasn’t swayed by magic. His trust in God was his pillars of fire and cloud.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from evil. You have freed us to be response-able; may we face our responsibilities today with courage, faith, and perseverance. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 3:23-38

December 11, 2020

Jesus was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli, son of Matthat, son of Levi, son of Melchi, son of Jannai, son of Joseph, son of Mattathias, son of Amos, son of Nahum, son of Esli, son of Naggai, son of Maath, son of Mattathias, son of Semein, son of Josech, son of Joda, son of Joanan, son of Rhesa, son of Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, son of Neri, son of Melchi, son of Addi, son of Cosam, son of Elmadam, son of Er, son of Joshua, son of Eliezer, son of Jorim, son of Matthat, son of Levi, son of Simeon, son of Judah, son of Joseph, son of Jonam, son of Eliakim, son of Melea, son of Menna, son of Mattatha, son of Nathan, son of David, son of Jesse, son of Obed, son of Boaz, son of Sala, son of Nahshon, son of Amminadab, son of Admin, son of Arni, son of Hezron, son of Perez, son of Judah, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, son of Terah, son of Nahor, son of Serug, son of Reu, son of Peleg, son of Eber, son of Shelah, son of Cainan, son of Arphaxad, son of Shem, son of Noah, son of Lamech, son of Methuselah, son of Enoch, son of Jared, son of Mahalaleel, son of Cainan, son of Enos, son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God. Luke 3:23-38

Yes, today’s reading is Luke’s genealogy of Jesus.

Contrary to all claims otherwise – which usually sound like “I tried to read the Bible but I couldn’t get through all the endless lists of names” – the Bible is not dominated by lists like this. But there are some of them and they are there for the same reason that has sold millions of genetic testing kits. We’re all interested in learning more about where and who we came from.

Kelley and I both took one of those tests. She discovered that her Cherokee ancestry, mixed in with the rest of her European cocktail, was a myth. It turns out that her grandma wasn’t actually a Cherokee Native American, she just grew up in Cherokee, OK. That’s different.

And I was surprised that my supposed 50% pure-bred Norwegian side was actually 63% Norwegian, diluted by 24% Swedish and 13% England/Wales/NW Europe. I guess the Vikings got around a bit.

What does Jesus’ genealogy tell us?

First, let’s note that Matthew includes a very different tracing of Jesus’ heritage. Luke begins (as was thought) with Joseph, Mary’s betrothed, and he traces Jesus all the way back to God. Matthew begins with Abraham and works his way forward to Jesus. Matthew also includes some scandalous names, including women, and wraps it up in a numerology bow with a series of three 14 generation periods. Luke does none of that.

Second, let’s also note that both of these genealogies were constructed by the authors in order to fit their purposes for writing. It isn’t just that they “made them up”, it is that they were each carefully crafted. For both writers, their purpose wasn’t to get the genealogy of Jesus “right”, it was to tell the Jesus story in such a way as to get US right.

Matthew wanted to establish Jesus’ Jewish bona fides; Luke wants his Gentile audience to know that Jesus’ roots reached back to God, to the very beginning of time, not just the beginning of the people of Israel. Jesus’ universal roots reinforce his universal reach.

All of this is yet another nail in the coffin of the very modern “literalist” way of reading and understanding the Bible. There is neither a need to argue that either Matthew or Luke are “right” or that there would be some value in homogenizing the lists. They are what they are. Both are arguments meant to establish that Jesus is who he is.

The good news isn’t just how far back the family line of Jesus extends but how far forward – you and I can rejoice that our names have been grafted onto his family tree, that we might assume our responsibility in honoring and furthering our family legacy.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, all of us “come from” different people, places, and times yet we can trace our lineage back to creation itself and forward to life with you forever. Thank you for our ancestors and bless us in keeping and furthering life for the sake of those yet to come. In Jesus’ name. Amen.  

Luke 3:21-23a

December 10, 2020

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. Luke 3:21-23a

Before offering some thoughts on how Luke tells us the story of Jesus’ baptism, it is interesting to look at how Mark and Matthew do it.

Look at these verses.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:9-11

Clearly here the focus is on John actually baptizing Jesus. The affirmation that Jesus hears seems to be for “his ears only.” Mark has already told us in the title of his book that Jesus is the Son of God; his baptism is the next step toward that reality being revealed to the world.

Now look at what Matthew does with the story:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17

Matthew adds a new line, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” This fits with Matthew’s intention to tell the Jesus story with special attention to what the faith will look like in the absence of the Torah, temple, and synagogue. Jesus becomes the new Moses.

Then we go back to Luke and what do we see? Just like everybody else, Jesus was baptized. Unlike the other synoptic gospels, where the focus is clearly on Jesus actually being baptized by John, Luke’s telling of the story comes across almost as an off-hand remark. What do we make of that?

Jesus was baptized just like everybody else. To Luke’s big question, “What about the Gentiles?” the baptism of Jesus becomes the entry point for Christian discipleship, freely available and open to anyone.

One other quick word: This is the passage that tells us that Jesus was 30 years old when he first began his public ministry. While that fits with Luke’s intention to write an orderly account, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus was actually 30 years old. It could just be a way to connect Jesus to Joseph (Genesis. 41-46), the priesthood (Numbers 4:3), David (2 Samuel 5:4), and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1) – all of whom began their godly work at 30 years of age.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, with water and your Word you continue to claim us and name us your own. By our baptisms, we are reborn into your story and given our place as witnesses to your presence in the world. May our lives bear witness to your love for all. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 3:15-20

December 9, 2020

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison. Luke 3:15-20

We don’t often realize this but it is true – no one, since the resurrection, follows Jesus directly. We all follow others who are following Jesus. If that were not the case, there wouldn’t be thousands of Christian denominations around the world. Instead, someone like Martin Luther had his ideas which were opposed by someone like John Calvin and suddenly you have Christ Presbyterian just down the street from Faith Lutheran. Like it or not, that’s the way it is.

And that is, in fact, the way it has always been.

Even in the very first century, church historians have long recognized the various strands within the Christian movement. John the Baptizer had his followers as did Peter, Mary Magdalene, and others. That is part of the reason why there were several different accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. Some of those accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) stood the test of time. They were quoted and re-quoted and supported by enough influential church leaders that they became the accepted books we read today. They too are the result of people following people who are following Jesus.

There is a great deal of mystery in all of this but you can well imagine that there was also a great deal of in-fighting and jockeying for position. Even from the very beginning. Knowing this, we ought to notice how clearly the gospel writers all (especially in John) emphasize John’s insistence that he was only a witness, a forerunner, to Jesus, the true Messiah.

We ought also notice the price that John paid. John was not self-serving. He did what he felt called by God to do. To announce the arrival of the Messiah. And to speak truth to power, even if such truth-telling ultimately cost him his life. (As it would also, in time, cost Jesus his life.)

Knowing that we follow others who are following Jesus ought to give us a sense of humility in our discipleship. No one is perfect. No one but God can see all sides of anything. We all have something valuable to share and we all have the ability (and the need) to learn from others. What we ought never do is cast our particular ideas into concrete. Hence the need to be continually reminded that faith is not certainty.

I think of all of this often whenever I go to work. Our Lutheran congregation sits right next door to a Jewish synagogue. They, unlike us, hire armed guards for protection every time they gather for worship. Their very real history of oppression, discrimination, and genocide includes the vicious anti-Jewish writings of Martin Luther. Though we have denounced those words, our own namesake contributed to a narrative that led to the Holocaust. We must see that it never happens again.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, John pointed beyond himself to you. May his humility and courage be our model lest we make everything about us, casting stones at others from inside the glass houses in which we live. Save us from the temptations to idolatry and the cults of personality which detract us from the truth. Baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 3:11-14

December 8, 2020

In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” Luke 3:11-14

The crowd asked John, “What then should we do?” So he told them.

Share what you have with others who don’t have what you have.

Don’t use a government position for self-enrichment.

Don’t abuse the power that wearing a uniform gives to you.

Can you imagine their reactions?

Some might say “SHARE WHAT WE HAVE WITH OTHERS WHO DON’T HAVE WHAT YOU HAVE? That’s SOCIALISM. Heck, that’s COMMUNISM!!! Why should I go to work every day and work my fingers to the bone while some other sad sack sits around watching Netflix while I give them the shirt off my back and the food I bought for MY family?”

Others might say “I’d like to live in a place and time where everyone has clothes to wear and food to eat. If sharing gets us there, we ought to do it.”


Others might say “Human community requires some form of governance and all forms of governance requires funding. The purpose of government is governing, not enriching those chosen to do that work. We need a fair taxation system and people with integrity to lead it.”


Others might say “I also support our troops and law enforcement. But I insist on accountability for those who abuse the power we entrust to them.”

Do you see the problem here?

It isn’t that John says anything revolutionary. All he does is point out what basic ethics look like. Doing the right things by people. Caring for the needs of others. He doesn’t tell anyone to do the impossible. Just do the next right thing.

So why the harsh reactivity? Not by the crowds who heard John speak but potentially by the people who read this devotion?

No, I don’t believe the United States was founded to be a “Christian nation” but I do think it is absolutely indisputable that it was founded on Christian principles (which are also shared by people from many different faith traditions, even those with no faith at all) – on coming together for the common good, on establishing laws and checks and balances which take human sinfulness seriously, on mutual sacrifice for mutual gain, on the freedom to accept personal responsibility to do our part. We’re still working on it. We would do well to work together.

And John’s admonitions to the crowd prove very timely places to start.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, working out what the common good looks like in our lives can seem so much more complicated than each of us doing our part, but we know we have to start there. At a time when people seem so deeply divided, call us back to the basics. Call us ever back to honoring you, to loving our neighbors, to doing the next right thing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 3:7-10

December 7, 2020

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” Luke 3:7-10

John has a quite a bit more to say in Luke’s telling of the story than the other gospels – and he begins by insulting his audience. I’ll admit, I’ve never opened a sermon by calling the congregation a brood of vipers…but then again, I’m not John and I hope they come back next week whereas John might never see them again.

Having gotten their attention, John tells them three things. 1) Bear fruits worthy of repentance, 2) Don’t use your religious heritage as a defense mechanism, and 3) You better be quick about it because God will get you if you don’t.

But an even bigger surprise is the reaction of the crowd. They don’t immediately reject him and his words. They don’t rise up (like will later happen when Jesus preaches in his hometown synagogue) and attempt to snuff John out. Instead, they simply ask, “What then should we do?”

Whether or not anyone actually proves willing to change their behaviors or not – we’ll see in the text tomorrow the sort of thing that John exhorts them to do – their question suggests a certain degree of open-mindedness that presents a stark contrast to much of what we see currently going on in our country.

We hear lots of name-calling, lots of labeling, lots of race-baiting (see #1 above.)

We hear lots of tribalism and echo-chamber-driven echoes (see #2 above.)

And we hear lots of doomsday forecasts of how life as we know it will end if the other side wins (see #3 above.)

What we don’t hear nearly enough of is the simple question, “What then should we do?” But that IS the question that holds the only real hope for moving anything forward in any kind of productive manner. After we have talked ourselves blue in the face, the only thing that really makes a difference in the real world is what we do.

My son got a new job last month. I’m proud of him and I hope it goes well. The odds of it going well are significantly increased if he actually shows up to work every day and does his job to the best of his ability.

We elected a bevy of new governmental leaders last month. Our expectation now (we hope) is that they roll up their sleeves and get about the work of governance. Regardless of their tribe, it is the work they do that finally matters most of all.

For far too long we have either located the Christian faith in our heads (what we believe) or our hearts (how we feel) while leaving the rest of our bodies behind. An integrated faith, a wholistic faith, is ultimately expressed in what we actually do on a daily basis.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, John is waking us up on a Monday morning. Forgive us for all the ways that we sidestep reality by our defensiveness, our closed minds, and our unwillingness to change. Guide us today, that we might know what we ought to do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 3:1-6

December 4, 2020

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” Luke 3:1-6

This Sunday will be the 2nd Sunday of Advent. Christians all over the world will hear the entrance of John the Baptizer onto the scene from the gospel according to Mark. Here is what Mark wrote:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

I want you to see them side by side, not because one version is “right” and the other “wrong”, but because this gives us an important insight into the intentions of each writer. Given that Luke wrote with a copy of Mark close at hand, we first notice what Mark had to say.

Mark’s key question, “What do we do with a Messiah who dies?” launches with a bold declaration of the “good news” of the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. The word translated “good news” was a technical term for news updates that would have been sent around the Roman empire from the Emperor (who had already proclaimed himself to be the son of god), usually telling of glorious military conquests. For Mark, Jesus will turn the world order upside down.

Luke’s key question, “What about the Gentiles?” begins by naming both the political leaders and the religious leaders in power. This grounds his story, his “orderly account” of Jesus, in history. But Luke adds words from Isaiah that Mark leaves out. “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” All flesh means all flesh. Luke is radically inclusive in his understanding of the seats at the table in the kingdom of God. Yes, Gentiles, there is plenty of room for you too!

And finally, notice this. Neither writer quotes Isaiah exactly. Both writers use what they need, and choose their words carefully, to tell us what they want us to hear. Here is the passage from Isaiah 40: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

These little clues are subtle but they are how we glean insights into the intentions of the writers. Today, Luke clearly wants us to see that this message from John, and the soon to be launched ministry of Jesus, is for all of us.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we ask that you continue to guide us through this season of Advent. Even as we wait for the good news of the vaccines just around the corner, ground us deeply in the hope that is ours in the good news of Jesus’ love for us and all people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 2:41-52

December 3, 2020

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.

Assuming 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. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

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.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.

Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. Luke 2:41-52

Did your parents ever tell a story about you that you wish they would just forget?

Did you ever get “lost” in the toy section and later got in trouble with your Mom?

Did you ever find yourself sitting at a table with older people, people who actually listened to what you had to say?

Today’s text is one of those stories that brings Jesus closer to me. I realize that it is included to check off several “Jesus is special” boxes…but it is the humanity of it that I love.

Theologically, Christians have always trusted the Bible verses that assure us that Jesus was “without sin.” I understand that. The mystery of the Trinity. But my sense is that, if we could hear the sound of Mary’s voice when she says, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety,” we might come away with a sense that, though he was sinless, at least Mary thought him capable of being naughty.

Once again, I keep going back to Luther’s line, “If Jesus is not God, he can’t help me. If Jesus is not human, he can’t know me.”

We should also note that the story suggests that Jesus learned from his mistake. He was obedient to his parents. That’s important. We have a commandment about that one. And it says that Jesus “increased in wisdom” – another down to earth way of saying that Jesus grew up just like the rest of us.

And finally, notice that this happened when Jesus was 12 years old. Right at the edge of the traditional age for a young man’s Bar Mitzvah. Christians today call that some form of “confirmation.” It is a strange, and I believe increasingly unhelpful, word. But we continue to use it even though our hymnal calls its concluding ceremony “Affirmation of Baptism.” Its meaning and purpose remains widely misunderstood. And its efficacy is increasingly suspect. But all of that is too much to address here.

I just want to point out that Jesus wouldn’t have gotten to Jerusalem without his parents.

(My answers to the opening three questions: yes, yes, yes or at least it seemed like they did which was good enough for me.)

Let us pray: Dear Lord, it is good news to read that you grew up, that you learned things along the way, that you increased in wisdom. May we all do the same. And may we all do the best we can as communities of faith to raise up young people who know and follow you in their lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.