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Sermon for Sunday 3 January 2021

First Reading: 1 Kings 3:4-15

4The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place. Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” 6And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. 7And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. 8And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. 9Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” 10It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. 13I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. 14And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.” 15And Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream. Then he came to Jerusalem and stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings, and made a feast for all his servants.

Psalm 119:97-104

97Oh, how I love your law! all the day long it is in my mind. 98Your commandment has made me wiser than my enemies, and it is always with me. 99I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my study. 100I am wiser than the elders, because I observe your commandments. 101I restrain my feet from every evil way, that I may keep your word. 102I do not shrink from your judgments, because you yourself have taught me. 103How sweet are your words to my taste! they are sweeter than honey to my mouth. 104Through your commandments I gain understanding; therefore I hate every lying way.

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:3-14

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Gospel: Luke 2:40-52

40The child {Jesus} grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. 41Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching 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. 48And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

Searching for Jesus

I must confess this morning, I’m a little concerned.  I’m worried that by my beginning this sermon with a reference to the popular Christmas song, The 12 Days of Christmas, I now have some of you singing that song in your head.  Well to help get your mind off that, I thought I’d add the meaning behind each gift.  But before I do that, how many knew there was a hidden meaning for each gift given?  In reality, this song is a Catechetical device to help us learn Christian facts. 

According to the website Snopes, 2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments, 3 French Hens = the gifts of Faith, Hope and Charity, 4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels, 5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, or the “Pentateuch.”  The 6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation, 7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit found in Isaiah 11:2-3 and also in our Epistle reading for today (Eph. 1:3-14).  The 8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes, 9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit found in Galatians 6.  The 10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments, 11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles, 12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed. And of course, the partridge in the pear tree represents Jesus Christ.  Do me a favor and set that aside and look that up later for future reference.

Now, for those who have been around when it’s time to change our sign out front, you know I concern myself with three things: 1) Whatever goes on the sign must be something that can be read at 55 miles per hour.  2) it needs to say something about what we believe and 3) we need to be careful about what we say so that it can’t be misunderstood or read in two different ways.  For those who read church signs, I bet you know why I concern myself with reason number 3.

Let me give you an example as a way of segueing into our gospel lesson for today.  One of my favorite pieces of irreverent humor concerns a sign outside a First United Methodist Church.  The sermon titles for the coming Sunday were listed: 11:00 a.m. “Jesus: Walking on the Water”; 7:00 p.m. “Searching for Jesus.”  I’ll let that sink in for a minute. 

Sometime back there was a news story concerning a 5-year-old Texas boy who was accidentally left behind at a Nashville, TN, service station.  Tyler Payne got out of the family station wagon to use the rest room, then couldn’t get out of the building because the bathroom door had become stuck.  Meanwhile, his family continued their journey to Texas from Tennessee where Tyler’s grandparents lived.  About two hours later, at a Wendy’s restaurant in Jackson, his parents, five brothers and a sister finally noticed he was missing.  

Back at the Nashville gas station, a woman heard Tyler screaming and opened the bathroom door for him.  As the employees at the service station tried to help him, he cried, “I want my mommy.”  “This is embarrassing, but I’m glad he’s safe,” the boy’s dad, Glenn Payne, said a few hours later.  “We’ve all had a scare this evening.”  Sobs turned to smiles when Tyler saw his family.  He showed his brothers and sister the teddy bears, coloring books and candy given him by detectives in Nashville’s Metro Youth Guidance Center while he waited for his parents.

“I told you your parents would come back,” said Mary Brown, who was working at the service station and who comforted Tyler after he was found in the rest room.  Glenn said the family had spent Christmas with the in-laws in Knoxville.  They were on their way home to Weatherford, Texas, when they stopped at the service station to fuel up.  “We normally have a head count, but this time we didn’t,” the father admitted.  “We were tired.”  After leaving the service station, Kris drove while her husband and the children slept.

Kris said she was sick to her stomach when she found that her son was missing.  When the family was finally reunited, the boy hugged his mother and told her, “I’m never going to the bathroom again.”  I can only imagine the fear and embarrassment the parents must have felt after misplacing a child.  To be fair, honest mistakes can happen.  And as we read in our gospel lesson for today, it happened to Mary and Joseph.

Joseph, Mary and the family had been at the Passover celebration in Jerusalem.  Jesus, twelve years old by this time, was of course with them.  As Luke explains, they were part of a large group of family and friends traveling together.  It really isn’t that surprising that they were a full day’s journey away from Jerusalem before they realized that Jesus was missing.  Afterall, they were traveling with people they trusted, and at 12 years of age, Jesus would have been considered an adult.  However, when they realized He wasn’t among the group, they turned back to find their wayward son.  And so, the search for Jesus began.  Three days from now, we will celebrate Epiphany.  

Epiphany, according to at least one tradition, was when the Wise Men found the newborn king.  The coming of the Maji didn’t occur on Christmas Day, but twelve days after Christmas, therefore Epiphany.  This is where the tradition of the Twelve Days of Christmas that we sing about comes from.  The Oriental kings came seeking and found the newborn King of the Jews.  How many times have you seen on signs the motto, “The wise still seek him today.”  With this being the case, the first question we should be asking is, is Jesus missing from your family?  

Based on what we see around us today, Jesus is evidently missing from a great many families.  Recently one of the talk show hosts went around Los Angeles asking people what it is that we celebrate at Christmas.  Did you know that only one 1 in 12 interviewed on the streets that day said that it was the birth of Jesus?  1 in 12!  Our world is in desperate need of the saving news of Jesus’ coming.  As an article in NEWSWEEK pointed out sometime back, the upheaval is evident everywhere in our culture.  

Young girls, barely in their teens, are having babies.  Affluent Yuppies prize their BMWs, careers, and material wealth more than children.  Rich and poor children alike blot their minds with drugs.  People casually move in with each other and out again.  One third of all children born in the past decade will probably live in a step-family before they’re 18.  And according to one report, some 40 percent of children today are born out of wedlock; (ifstudies.org), and many of those were born to a teenage mother.  The greater majority of these children will live in poverty.  It would be difficult for me to paint a bleaker picture.  The problem is, Jesus is missing at least in part of the family.  People simply don’t know the real reason for Christmas

In one of Tennessee Williams’ plays, a mentally challenged woman is in her garden.  She’s sitting at a card table working a jigsaw puzzle.  She’s tense and her hands are shaking.  She tries to force pieces of the puzzle together that don’t fit.  Some of the pieces fall off the table.  Pain and the frustration are evident in the woman’s face.  She cries to her daughter, “The pieces don’t fit together!  The pieces don’t fit together!”

Williams could have easily been describing the person who seeks to live to themselves instead of living for God.  The pieces will not and cannot fit together.  How can they?  Without Jesus there’s only emptiness where there should be meaning and purpose.  Is Christ missing from our family or from our life?  That’s the first question.  The second question we need to ask this morning is, if Jesus isn’t present in the lives and households of those around us, isn’t it time we help them find Him?

You and I are aware of our need for a Savior.  We know the emptiness, the loneliness, the fear of a life without God at the center.  Because we know the emptiness of a God-less life, we’re called to share that information with everyone who needs to hear the true story.  According to an old legend, when the Magi were following the star of Bethlehem, they came to the house of a certain woman.  They said to her, “Come with us!  We’ve seen His star in the east, and we are going to worship Him.”

“Oh,” she said, “I would love to go.  I heard that He would be coming one day, and I’ve been looking forward to it.  But I can’t go right now.  I must set my house in order; then I will follow you and find Him.”  But when her work was done, the wise men were out of sight, the star shone no more in the heavens, and she never saw Jesus.  Luke records a similar incident in chapter 9 when one of Jesus’ disciples tells Him, “first let me go and bury my father, then I will come and follow you” (vs. 59).  The lesson here is clear.  When it comes to following Jesus, there is no reason or excuse good enough to delay our responding to His call.

Some of you may have visited the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  Construction and renovations have continued on this magnificent structure for many decades.  The pace has been determined by the amount of money donated.  Proceeding on this basis of “building only according to available funds,” has resulted in some difficulties.  For example, radiant hot water heating was installed in the floor of one section.  This floor was left exposed to the elements awaiting the funds to complete the structure above it.  Four years later, the structure was completed.  Unfortunately, during those four years the concrete had eaten pinholes in the heating pipes and the pipes had to be dug up.  This wouldn’t have happened if there had been heat in the pipes.  The delay in taking action, and completing that section was a costly one.

The last words written in Sir Walter Scott’s diary were, “Tomorrow we shall . . . ”  But there was no tomorrow for him.  He died with good intentions, intensions that were never acted upon.  Every person I know has goals and dreams they long for, plans for, and even begin to reach for.  Yet many people fall short of their goals simply because they run out of time.  That’s why it’s important for us to take care of the really important things today.  Is Jesus missing from your life or from the lives of those around you?  When will we recenter God in our lives and/or share the news of Immanuel?  Tomorrow?  Next month?  Next year?  This brings us to the last question we need to ask.  Where can Jesus be found?  The answer is of course, everywhere.

There’s kind of a standing joke among the pastor’s about how people are sometimes asked, “Have you found Jesus?”  The joke part of this question is, I didn’t know Jesus was lost!  Jesus assures us that He stands at the door and knocks (Matt. 7:7).  We know that we cannot know God nor find Him without the help of the Holy Spirit.  We can’t find something until it’s revealed to us that something is missing.  The Holy Spirit works in people and through you and me to help people realize their need for God.  God isn’t lost, we were, and Jesus came to us to seek and save the lost.  This is the message of salvation and hope so many people need to hear.

According to news reports during Desert Storm, many young service men and women came to know Jesus in the Saudi Arabian desert.  On Christmas Eve, 1990, twenty-eight soldiers set aside their empty goals and aspirations and were welcomed into God’s family in the warm Saudi waters.  According to these same reports, many of the soldiers of Desert Shield were not only being baptized regularly, but were also praying, witnessing, making confession and reading the Bible.  After five months of waiting for war, more and more soldiers were turning to military chaplains, sharing their innermost worries about life, death and the families left behind.

“There are no atheists in fox-holes,” William Thomas Cummings, an American chaplain in the Pacific during World War II, declared “and the clergy representing almost 85 religious groups in Desert Storm say this seems to be true.  “In twenty-five years in the Army, I have never seen so much spirituality,” Col. Dave Peterson, chief to the nearly 1,000 chaplains for U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, said in a telephone interview from Riyadh.  One of the pastor’s on Tuesday shared a quote that I think is poignant. 

I’m not sure who said this, someone attributed it to Luther, but it’s very thought provoking: “The worst thing that can happen to a person is this life is baptism.”  Now hear me out here!  The worse thing that can happen to a person in this life is baptism, because in baptism we die to the old us and are raised anew in Christ.”  This means our goals and desires become His goals and desires.

We need to set our priorities in order and settle the vital issues of life before a time of crisis.  I know, church isn’t always the most exciting place to be.  A mother recently wrote in Reader’s Digest that she once asked her young son what was the highest number he had ever counted to.  He replied, “537.”  She asked, “Why did you stop there?”  He replied, “Church was over.”  I know that church isn’t as exciting, perhaps, as a football game or a NASCAR race.  But this is where we meet God and are strengthened, taught, and encouraged spiritually to go out and share the story of God’s love and mercy.  Church is where we identify our need for God and set our priorities.

Is Jesus missing from your life, from your family or from the lives of those around us?  Jesus isn’t the one missing.  He promised He would be at the door of our hearts knocking and would come to be with anyone who will let Him in.  The saying is true; those who are wise still seek Him.  But more than searching, it’s about remembering that in baptism, the old us was drown and we were raised anew in Jesus.  Our priorities and goals become His priorities and goals.  Don’t put off the important things of life for tomorrow.  Putting God at the center of our lives is priority one.  With that done, all the rest will fall into place.  And just as important as setting our priorities in order, we need to share the saving story of Jesus’ coming with those around us, so they too can come and find the King. 


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