Service for 26th December 2021 – Boxing Day
Picture Credit: Hurt Nicks / Pexels
The Rev’d James Church
Opening Music Good King Wenceslas
Introduction and Call To Worship
Merry Christmas! Good morning, and welcome to this Daily Devotions Service on the Feast of Stephen, my name is James Church and I’m a minister of the United Reformed Church based in Royal Leamington Spa. I’m husband to Sarah and daddy to Joseph, and pastor to Lillington Free Church and Radford Road Church. And it’s my pleasure to lead you in worship this morning.
It seems we have pressed fast forward in the life of Jesus this morning, because yesterday we were celebrating Christmas Day and the birth of Jesus in the town called Bethlehem, but today we are talking about the child Jesus in the City of Jerusalem at Passover.
Let us begin our service with these opening verses of Psalm 84 that speak powerfully of the desire to rest in the house and presence of God:
How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
Let us praise God this morning as we sing:
Hymn: Once in Royal David’s City
Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895) (alt.)
Once in royal David’s city
stood a lowly cattle shed,
where a mother laid her Baby
in a manger for his bed.
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little Child.
2 He came down
to earth from heaven
who is God and Lord of all,
and his shelter was a stable,
and his cradle was a stall.
With the poor and meek and lowly
lived on earth our Saviour holy.
3 Not in that poor lowly stable,
with the oxen standing by,
we shall see him; but in heaven,
set at God’s right hand on high,
where his children gather round,
bright like stars, with glory crowned.
Prayers of Adoration, Confession, and Assurance
Let us pray, Father God, we thank you that your presence is not limited by time or place, but that you are near to each one of us, forgive us when we forget this, and live our lives without reference to you and your love, help us now to be attentive your word and Spirit, as we open the scriptures together. In Jesus’ name we pray and trusting in the assurance he brings when he declares over us the forgiveness of sins. Amen.
The theme of both our texts this morning is the growth in maturity and faith of Samuel and Jesus. Much like our baby books that chart the weight, the height, the eye colour, the first smile and steps of a little baby. The Bible is interested in our growth and development, but it’s not so interested in the physical growth and development of Samuel and Jesus. But it’s interested above all in the spiritual growth and development of these children, so let’s listen to these readings now:
1 Samuel 2. 18-20, 26
Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy wearing a linen ephod. His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, ‘May the Lord repay you with children by this woman for the gift that she made to the Lord’; and then they would return to their home…Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favour with the Lord and with the people.
St Luke 2. 41-52
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 travellers, 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 favour.
Hymn: Who Would Think That What Was Needed
John L. Bell (b.1949) and Graham Maule (b.1958)
Who would think that
what was needed
to transform and save the earth
might not be a plan or army,
proud in purpose, proved in worth?
Who would think, despite derision,
that a child should lead the way?
God surprises earth with heaven,
coming here on Christmas Day.
2 Shepherds watch
and wise men wonder,
monarchs scorn and angels sing;
such a place as none would reckon
hosts a holy helpless thing.
Stable beasts & by-passed strangers
watch a baby laid in hay:
God surprises earth with heaven,
coming here on Christmas Day.
3 Centuries of skill and science
span the past from which we move,
yet experience questions whether,
with such progress, we improve.
While the human lot we ponder,
lest our hopes and humour fray,
God surprises earth with heaven,
coming here on Christmas Day.
This morning I want to talk to you about something we have all experienced and may have given, and that is parenting.
We will all have seen maybe in the lead up to Christmas a child bawling his eyes out in the supermarket because his mother has said, “no” and almost without fail will come the wail “why cant I have it”.
“Because I say so”, comes the reply. The universal appeal to parental authority. We all understand it, perhaps at times we have given it, but is this response good enough?
In the background to our Old Testament passage we have the tragic story of Eli and sons, his rebuke and warnings, and their continual disobedience. Contrast with the submission, growth and learning of Samuel the boy surrendered by his mother Hannah to the Lord’s service.
In the foreground of our New Testament passage this morning we have this altercation between Jesus and his mother Mary about his disobedience or at least apparent disregard for his parent’s understandable anxiety.
I cannot help but be troubled by the fact that the only canonical account we have of Jesus as a child is one of him wandering off and talking back to his parents. And this is the perfect child, not the millions of not so perfect ones.
So, what is going on here and what can we learn from it?
It seems that at least one of the themes raised here is that of letting go of our children. Parenting is a process of letting go, but who are we letting go to, what or rather who will form the moral imagination and heart of our children. Who are we releasing them to?
Jesus is twelve years old here just a year before the age at which he would be considered responsible for his own spiritual development. In the life a Jewish boy this would be a time of intense mentoring as his father Joseph would explain the customs and rituals of their worship and their importance.
Though it’s not enough for a child to simply be shown they have to be allowed to do, to put into action their faith and learning, much as Jesus was here; or Samuel learnt to do in the Lord’s tabernacle. How do we enable young people not simply to listen to us and parrot back answers but to listen to the voice of God like Samuel or like Jesus to find their own voice and speak?
Well, if you are struggling to find this path, as parent or church, perhaps Sam Richard’s or your Synod Children’s and Youth Development Officer can talk with you about solutions that are right for your context. But there is no way to find this path without being willing to let go.
You may think Mary and Joseph had already let go of Jesus when they had journeyed one day out from Jerusalem assuming him to be with the wider family, but that perhaps misunderstands the role of the wider family and community in first century culture. Jesus in effect would have had dozens of parents and grandparents all cajoling him, guiding him, watching out for him.
And perhaps the fact that this incident seemed so shocking to his parents was an indication of how out of character this was for Jesus. Everyone just assumed he was with the family, until he wasn’t.
Perhaps you lost the kids yesterday? Where did you find them? Upstairs playing on their new toys, no doubt!
Well, Mary and Joseph couldn’t find Jesus anywhere. So, they turned back to Jerusalem searching all along the road. Back to the city. It takes three days of searching before they find him. In what seems to be the last place they thought to look.
There Jesus was in the temple, amazing the religious leaders of the day not only with his questions but with his answers. Now Jesus wasn’t superhuman, he was a boy like any other, but what he did have was a deep sensitivity to the Spirit of God, and eagerness to grow.
This is a child who has not only absorbed the religious instruction of his earthly father, but has appropriated it for himself, understood it, and seen what it points to.
Who seemingly as a child understood something of his own significance within it – as indicated by his own recognition that he was here in his Father’s house or about his Father’s business.
Jesus doesn’t only astound the religious professionals of the day though, he astonishes his parents too.
How and why? We might ask. Well, it cannot simply be his precociousness, that I should imagine they already knew. Perhaps it’s more that after they have spent three days of frantic searching, Jesus is so unfazed by it all.
A few days ago I was playing hide and go seek with my nieces. If I took thirty seconds too long to find them they were restless. But it took three days for Mary and Joseph to find Jesus and he doesn’t even bat an eyelid.
So at home was he, amongst those who loved God’s word, and in the place where God’s name was honoured. Oh for our children to feel such peace and welcome and belonging in our places of worship.
Mary’s words emphasise the worry Jesus actions have caused her and Joseph, Jesus earthly father: “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you”.
Jesus own words emphasise his recognition of his responsibility to his heavenly Father: “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s things”.
It’s not completely clear what Jesus is referring to here, whether he means his Father’s business or his Father’s house. What is obvious is the tension Jesus is feeling, between his relationship to his earthly parents and his heavenly Father. Today, children in many families face this same tension, between obeying and respecting parents and step parents, part of the answer is finding the way to put this tension into words, acknowledging those pressures, and learning to show each other extra grace.
The temptation when coming to our reading this morning, can be to see it simplistically as one being in the right the other in the wrong. Either Jesus is rude here, or his parents are negligent; but if we listen to them both – we learn.
There is a time for appealing to parental authority, but we must also make time to listen and learn.
Jesus listened to his parents and we are told in verse 51 that ‘Jesus went down to Nazareth and was obedient to them’.
Now so far, I have skirted over an element of this encounter that seems incredible on the lips of the twelve-year-old Jesus, and that is the intimacy of the language he uses to describe God as his father. For first century Jews, God may have been the Father of Israel but to personalise this concept as Jesus does here would have seemed shocking. It’s no wonder his parents didn’t understand what he was saying. This statement perhaps overlooked on the lips of a child, would come to be viewed as dangerous on the lips of a thirty-three-year-old rabbi. A statement for which men would later look to kill him.
And in this memorable episode in Jesus’ upbringing, we are reminded of what Jesus came for, what Christmas is all about, and we begin to see the fulfilment of Simeon’s prophecy to Mary, “and a sword will pierce your own soul too”. As this incident foreshadows the loss of Jesus that she will watch later from the foot of the cross; a path Jesus will choose, when later he also chooses his Father’s will and walks in it.
May we, whether as parents or children, grow in grace daily, listen to one another well, and find the confidence, courage, and strength to walk before God our Father now and on into 2022. Amen.
Our next song or hymn wrestles with the responsibility of parenting it is Michael Card’s Joseph’s Song:
Hymn Joseph’s Song
© Michael Card 1982 Mole End Music.
How could it be
this baby in my arms,
sleeping now, so peacefully,
the Son of God, the angel said,
how could it be?
Lord, I know He’s not my own,
not of my flesh, not of my bone,
still Father let this baby be
the son of my love.
Father show me where I fit
into this plan of yours.
How can a man be father
to the Son of God?
Lord, for all my life
I’ve been a simple carpenter,
how can I raise a king?
How can I raise a king?
He looks so small;
his face and hands so fair,
and when he cries
the sun just seems to disappear,
and when he laughs it shines again
How could it be?
As we draw to the close of 2021 and look to what the New Year may bring, we offer our prayers for God’s world:
Lord God, as we have been thinking today about parenting, in the broadest sense of that term, we give thanks for parents, step-parents, grand-parents, godparents, uncles, aunts, teachers and mentors, all who have invested in young people. We pray that through their wisdom you may provide the encouragement and guidance they need to grow in faith and character.
Give us ears to hear and hearts to understand, and learn from our young people, recognising that you may be speaking to us through them. We pray especially for your grace upon our families that where there have been tensions you might bring reconciliation and peace.
As the busyness of Christmas passes, may the work of Christmas truly begin, as we seek to bring your light to the world; by caring for the sick, speaking up for the vulnerable, and protecting the precious creation you have entrusted to us. Let us turn regularly to you for fresh vision and strength, as we continue to walk in the steps of Jesus through whom we pray. Amen.
Now I know many listening give generously to support the work of their local Churches and this is also a part of our worship. ‘For where our treasure is, our hearts will be also.’ – Matthew 6:21
So let us offer these gifts to God in prayer now, ‘Thank you for all you have given us, Lord. And for the privilege of being able to partner with you as we give back to your Church and Kingdom work. Use it all for your glory. Amen’
Hymn What child is this?
W Chatterton Dix.
What Child is this,
who, laid to rest,
on Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet
with anthems sweet,
while shepherds watch
This, this is Christ, the King,
whom shepherds guard
and angels sing:
haste, haste to bring Him laud,
the Babe, the Son of Mary!
2 Why lies He in
such mean estate,
where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear:
for sinners here
the silent Word
3 So bring Him incense,
gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Let us receive the blessing of God, in whose family we belong,
God the Father keep you in His love,
God the Son guide you in his steps.
God the Spirit guard your heart and mind.
God, Father, Son and Spirit, remain with you now and always. Amen.
Closing Music Unto us a boy is born
Sources and Thanks
All liturgical material from the Rev’d James Church.
Thanks to Andy Braunston, Allan Smith, Carol Tubbs, Pam Carpenter, Sarah Wilmott and Graham Handscomb for reading the various spoken parts of the service.
Thanks also to the Revd. Allan Smith for producing our intro and outro music.
Once in Royal David’s City – Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895) (alt.) BBC Songs of Praise
Who Would Think That What Was Needed – John L. Bell (b.1949) and Graham Maule (b.1958) © WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow G2 3DH Scotland. Sung by the choir and people of Northallerton Methodist Church
Joseph’s Song – © Michael Card 1982 Mole End Music Unknown performer on Youtube
What child is this? – W Chatterton Dix sung by Charlotte Church