We have yearly traditions. Things we do, year after year, to mark the passage of time. Christmas with Christmas trees, and stockings, and cookies and milk set out to Santa. New Years with a ball drop in Times Square where many have pilgrimaged to see it. Valentine’s Day cards. Independence Day fireworks. Trick or Treating for Halloween and carved pumpkins. These are all religious, secular, traditional and commercialized at the same time. This is because rituals have so much meaning! And mean something a little different to each person.
Ancient Israel had these yearly traditions too. One was going to the Temple in Jerusalem during Passover. Everyone who could would ban together, load up the donkeys and camels, and walk to the big city for the celebration. Back at home would be just those too old or sick to make it, too young, or those watching over the flocks this year. (Someone has to feed the sheep!) Everyone else, all the extended family, headed into the city for the party.
At big family reunions, you know how kids get lost. They run around from table to table, place to place, and you’re generally sure they’re okay because this is all family and no one has yelled out ‘MOMMY OF SUSIE! SUSIE NEEDS YOU!’ or something similar.
This is the big family tradition Luke describes to us. Pre-teen Jesus and all his extended family show up for the party at the temple. When its time to go home, Mary assumes Jesus is with Joseph. Joseph assumes Jesus is with Mary. Both then assume he’s off with family somewhere in this mess of people. And when they get home… and everyone is sorted out to their own houses… they realize there’s no Jesus. So back to the city they rush to look for their missing teen.
They find him in the Temple, after the party has ended, debating with the Rabbis and impressing them with his knowledge. The story transitions here from describing customs in ancient Israel, to… making a statement about Jesus.
Remember Luke is writing under Roman rule, and explaining to Roman-Jews and Gentile converts who Jesus is. They all know how Caesar came to power. Some remember it from personally lived history.
It began like this: At age of 12, the boy Augustus gave the funeral oration for his grandmother Julia Caesaris, the sister of Julius Caesar. Emperor Julius Caesar adopted his grand-nephew Augustus as his son. When Julius Caesar died, his adopted son Augustus named Julius a god, himself the Son of God, and took control of Rome through the Senate to rule over the known world. Now Augustus Caesar rules as Emperor with as much, if not more, power than his uncle / adopted-father.
Luke knows these facts. And he knows his audience does, too. He writes a new version of the Son of God.
Jesus was an exceptional child by the age of 12. He impressed adults with his speech qualities. Since Jesus is the son not of Joseph, but of ‘his father’ who lives in the Temple… Jesus is the Son of God. The Son of God grows into an exceptional leader who is appointed not by humans, but by God, to reign over the whole universe.
Luke is asserting Jesus is better than Augustus.
We don’t know if the story we read today did happened or not. The message is true, one way or the other, however – Jesus, not Caesar Augustus – reigns. Jesus, not Caesar Augustus, is divine. Jesus, not Caesar Augustus, is our savior.
Luke is so full of sedition! He writes and encourages his fellows to see not their God-King in Caesar… but in this Jesus fellow.
This Jesus… who is shown in story after story as better than Caesar… but opposite him in leadership style and qualities.
“Pax Romana” was the Peace of Rome. This peace was maintained with fear, and violence, and was the absence of conflict between nation states. Absence of conflict is not peace. Peace is an end of fear. Fear was how Rome ruled. People had to fear non-Romans to justify having authoritarian leaders. People had to fear Roman soldiers to keep from rebelling. People had to fear falling to the station of non-Romans to stay in line and not empathize with slaves, or foreigners. People had to fear for Rome to rule.
“Pax Christi” is the Peace of Christ. This is peace maintained through an end of fear. Conflict may still arise, but we will work through it together without resulting to violence. We may disagree, but we continue to love one another. We don’t fear. We don’t fear soldiers because we know our bodies are not our forever homes. We don’t fear falling in station because we voluntarily call ourselves slaves and the least. We don’t fear foreigners because we remember we are foreigners ourselves right now. We don’t fear mortal leaders because we have a heavenly leader. We reject the leadership of fear, for the leadership of Peace.
Which means we, like Luke, are pretty seditious and radical. We’re rebellious. We’re living in the world, but are not of it.
The letter to Collossians reminds us we are called to be the “people who embody compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace, and thanksgiving.” ((Frank L. Crouch.))
That’s quite the list! I think Mary would have just been happy if Jesus just told her where he was going instead of worrying her and Joseph sick for days.
But this awesome list is my New Years Resolution.
See, much like everyone going to the Temple for Passover or later, Hanukkah, we have the tradition of making goals for the new year. People set out New Year Resolutions. Big ones – this year I’ll win the lottery and lose 100 lbs! Small ones – this year I’ll remember my brother’s birthday and eat more carrots. And every year, whether big or small, most of us forget our resolutions by February.
Because change is hard! It really is. It doesn’t matter if we’re trying a big change or a little change, we habitually resist it.
A change that lasts must be practiced not just one month in twelve… but daily, until it becomes part of our nature instead of something we are purposefully reminding ourselves to do.
Colossians gives us some new year resolutions to work on, and says this habit is for us in “whatever we do, in word or in deed,” Habits for daily living.
Paul writes to have Compassion. This is not sympathy and thinking ‘thank God I’m not like them,’ but rather, ‘there I go but for the Grace of God.’ Compassion is seeing every person as someone in whom Christ dwells. Would you cut Jesus off in traffic? Would you deny Jesus asylum from drug cartels? Would you tell Jesus its his own fault he’s poor? Compassion is looking at each person and seeing them as God sees them. Beloved.
And clothe yourselves with kindness. I think we understand this one. Kindness is being kind to others. Kindness is to walk about with gentle feet. You may have heard the Boy Scout’s saying of leaving a place better than you found it… so if you stay in a cabin, you leave it cleaner than when you arrived. This is kindness. Caring for others, walking lightly upon the earth, and having a warmth about you.
Our author ties kindness with humility. This is not humiliation! Don’t think scripture is ever asking you to be humiliated, ashamed, belittled. That is not kindness and compassion. Humility is not taking yourself too seriously. It is knowing you’re not the final authority on every subject, knowing you make mistakes, and knowing you’re not perfect. Humility is humbleness. Its the opposite not of pride, but of vanity. No one is sinning when they’re proud of their grandkids! Someone may be sinning if they shove those grandkids out of the way to be the center of attention. A vain person talks about themselves, praises themselves, and encourages other to talk about how great the vain person is. A humble person talks about themselves and others. Praises where praise is due. Encourages all people’s voices to be heard.
Along with humility, we’re told to wear gentleness. Gentleness is meekness, being mild. Don’t think of this one as “be a mat for people to walk upon” but as the difference among how you make your needs known. A gentle person says, “Jesus, why have you worried us?” A hard person says, “Jesus The Christ! I’m going to paddle you into next week!” A gentle person has the strength to control themselves. It used to be gentle was also attributed to people who are born of nobility. A gentle person is courteous, chivalrous, benevolent – the type of leader you want. We’re called to be nobility – the very children of God.
Gentleness is tied with Patience. Patience – we’re urged in Collosians. Patience I usually hear as being able to count to three when angry before responding. But patience is more than just that. It is being able to not have instant gratification. It’s great to eat all our Christmas chocolate. Patience says space that chocolate out so you don’t eat it in one sitting. Patience says teenagers and preteens are going to cause us fear and worry – regardless if it is 12 CE or 2018… 2019… CE. Patience knows we grow up, mature, and wisen. Patience is forbearance. Waiting. Tolerating. Not necessarily accepting… but willing to postpone our judgement and reaction.
Next, we’re told to forgive. We literally pray this every Sunday, and some of us pray it daily: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” God, forgive us, because we are forgiving others. God, we forgive others, because you forgave us.
Forgiveness is not forgetting, but its not expecting that person or persons to do more towards making things right. Forgiveness is needed. Sorely needed. We need others to forgive us when we try our best and still fail. We need to forgive others, when they mess up and repent, but can’t turn back the clock. We need forgiveness from God for all the sins we do and that over take us. We need to give forgiveness to all the people who harm us, and moved on oblivious or not caring we were hurt. Forgiveness is necessary to any relationship that lasts.
Over all these garments of Christianity, place on the cloak of Love. Clothe yourselves in love! Everyone knows a police officer because they see the woman or man in a uniform. Everyone knows who is a doctor because of wearing scrubs and a lab coat. Love is the clothes of Christians. Meeting someone who is very loving should immediately clue others that this person is a Christian. They will know us by our love!
Christians today are often NOT known by their love. They’re known for their hate of Gays, hate of women who have abortions, and intolerance or complete disregard for the concerns of the dreaded ‘Millennial’ and ‘Nones’ generation.
Love alone will fix this. Radical acts of love that counter the messages of hate. Radical acts of love that say each person is valued. Radical acts of love that welcome in the budding Rabbis, sit them in the middle of the temple, and really HEAR what they have to say. Acts of love that is impressed with the concerns and Christianity emerging from our next generation.
Acts of love, words of love, deeds of love, thoughts of love – that defy the way the world does things but herald the way God does things – that is our main clothing. Our outer garment. Our uniform over all these other clothes we’ve put on.
All of of this together leads to Peace. The real peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding. The peace that is the absence of fear, the tolerance of differences, the forgiveness of wrongs, the humility to admits wrongs, the compassion to see all sides of an argument, the kindness to stand with the gentle and the patience to try, try, and try again to live this Christian life. Peace is living with one another as we grow and change. Peace is not fearing tomorrow or today. Peace is knowing we rest securely in the love of God.
Peace is what I wish for you this New Years. As you go and do your yearly traditions – whatever they may be – may you go clothed in your uniform of Christian Love and be the messenger of peace. May your yearly, monthly, daily, hourly tradition be embodying Christ’s peace.