What about a Teenage Christ? The First Sunday of Christmas, Shepherd by the Sea, Gualala, CA. December 30th 2012
The First Sunday of Christmas, Shepherd by the Sea, Gualala, CA. December 30th 2012
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 / Psalm 148 / 1 Col. 3:12-17 / Luke 2:41-52
What about a Teenage Christ?
It’s the Sixth Day of Christmas and the light of the Christ-child is still shining on us. Whereas most Americans usually crowd Christmas into Advent, we usually buy a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, and then let Christmas spill over into Epiphany. In our Puerto Rican congregation in Coney Island, New York, January 6th was the Day of the Three Kings and like the people of many Latin American countries, it was the day that everyone shared their gifts. The children bring shoeboxes full of straw for the camels of the Three Kings, who give them presents, like the Magi of old, who brought the Christ-child gold, frankincense, and myrrh. That seems to be a more biblical custom, don’t you think, than Santa Clause, our Father-God image?
But today we already have the story of the 12 year old Jesus brought to the temple again by his very devout parents, Mary and Joseph. They were very much into the religion that taught salvation by the law. We now follow their son, whom we also confess to be the Son of God, who brings us salvation by Jesus the Christ, this little boy. Thus for us the Ten Commandments are overshadowed by the Seven Beatitudes, for in them Jesus describes the new beings, who have become clothed in Christ, just like little Samuel, wearing that linen Ephod, that white robe his mother, Hannah made him each year. That’s why Christians also usually dress in white robes for baptism and devout Moslems also love to wear white robes.
But Christians put on Christ. We become clothed in the character of Christ, so that the wonderful words of our Colossians passage also describe us, just like the Beatitudes, when we live our lives in Christ as our way of salvation. Let’s hear the passage again:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all clothe yourself with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (1 Col. 3:12-17)
What a wonderful passage! Notice the way it moves from your personal body to the body of the community through the peace brought about by the rule of God! Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly! It needs to dwell in you so richly that God brings about the birth of Christ in you. Christ needs to be born in our hearts and then grow and mature in us so that we actually bear a family resemblance with the Christ of God, the way his followers are described in this Colossian’s passage, as well as in the Sermon on the Mount.
The law is about what we are not. What are we really? What good is it if we are not killers, adulterers, liars, thieves? What are we on the positive side of the law, when we are shaped by love? Thus our lives are not centered in the laws’ demands, but in the gracious promises of God, who overcomes our doleful old hearts and gives us loving, compassionate, forgiving, and thankful hearts ready to immerse ourselves ever more deeply in God’s Word and into the relationships with those who are the vessels of that Word.
Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had been to the temple in Jerusalem and now were on their way back to Nazareth, the families and relatives traveling together for protection from those who mugged and preyed on pilgrims. Nazareth was a very secular city and it did not even have a rabbi. When Jesus came back to the city during the time of his mature ministry, you may remember, he was not welcomed. They tried to throw him off a cliff!
So the journey to Jerusalem was a festival like Christmas, but they were returning to a secular, mostly Pagan, and violent Nazareth. (Not as violent as our society, of course. New York City is celebrating the fact that it had only 414 murders this year! There were only 598 murders in all of Canada last year. )
Meanwhile Mary and Joseph suddenly discovered that Jesus was missing on their return trip. The twelve year old Jesus had forgotten everything in his long Q and A session listening to and questioning the priests of the temple in Jerusalem. They were amazed at the boy’s understanding and his answers. Mind you that he also came from Nazareth, where the synagogue was not even worthy of a rabbi and where the family was probably hiding, so there was no one there to teach Jesus. That means God was directly revealing understanding to him, much the way St. Paul received his wonderful gospel purely by revelation.
At twelve years of age Jesus was missing on the return to Nazareth because he had to be in his Father’s House about his Father’s business. He had to be sharing and growing richly in the Word of God and in divine and human favor. But what can we make of a twelve year old Jesus, who would in one year become a teenage Jesus? The baby Jesus in his Christmas manger is all powerful. Who has more power than a baby anyway? The little bundle of love has both parents as big as they are completely wrapped around his or her little finger. They are there to fill its every need.
But what do you make of a 12 year old Christ, who is about to become a teenager? When the baby Christ is born – in us, he also grows up in us. But there are no stories about the teenage Christ in scripture. That could change if we became teenage Christs. Would we too sometimes want to be more adult that adults and more like children than a child? This age is certainly an in-between time; but we could also find ourselves there as well.
Perhaps it is necessary to step back, however and like Nicodemus, ask Jesus the question, “How can we be born again when we are old?” The new birth means filling ourselves with the expectancy of life, the life ahead of us, like that of a child. A cup in Starbucks reads: “When the old caterpillar comes to the end of the world, it finds itself a butterfly!” And we have to anticipate a wonderful life in heaven after this one! So the baby Jesus in us becomes a Christ-child, the 12 year old boy, and then the teenage Christ, with an incredible zest for life, never wanting to go to bed in order not to miss a moment for the mission for which we are heaven sent. So as old as we are we can open ourselves to the new wonders that life can bring, the new words that teenagers coin that express the wonder of their new experience. I think they coin most of the new words that are introduced into our lives. Being the time-machines that they are, they already explore the future, while still being right here with us. Like them, the Teenage Christ in us can have a new growth spurt, so that far from a journey to Nazareth, we can be on a pilgrimage growing into the embodiment of that passage in Colossians: singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with grateful hearts with the word of Christ living in us richly.
How does personal growth into the full stature of Christ and social movement into the peaceful body of Christ ruled by God, take place? Like a little child hearing grown-ups speaking grown-up language all around him or her, we have to be like the boy Jesus listening to and questioning the mature and wise priests in the temple – for us mature and wise followers of the faith. This week I read some more of Michael Polanyi, a scholar, who was a scientist who became a sociologist and philosopher and a Christian, too. He writes, “The amazing deployment of the infant mind is stirred up by a veritable blaze of confidence sensing the hidden meanings of speech and other adult behavior and grasping these meanings.”  The way a child grows up to be a teenager and then an adult is a measure of the spiritual growth that is outstanding for us. Polanyi compares the child’s intellectual progress to the highest levels of creative achievement and notes that it is like the “self-transformation…entailed in a religious conversion.”
So the Christ born in our hearts has to become surrounded by the Word of God, language that we have to grow up to understand: all the meanings that surround us in the beloved community that Jesus proclaimed so that we continue the incarnation of Christ in ourselves and in the peaceful rule of his collective body, the church, so that we become real incarnations of Christ growing from rebirth to teenage to maturity into the full stature of our Lord proclaiming the peaceful rule of God to our society.
Our Lord Jesus faced the issue of violence head on: those who live by the sword die by the sword. Those who live by a Bushmaster semi-automatic assault rifle die by one. Jesus faced the issue of the mentally deranged head on: if only a modern day Christ had faced the demons in an Adam Lansa! Jesus faced them in Legion, rebuked them, let them enter a herd of pigs that stampeded off a cliff and drowned in the sea.
But for that we need Teenage Christs and the adult and mature incarnations of Christ. We have too many people incarnating cruelty, hatred,  selfishness, and Rambo-types slaughtering defenseless innocents! What do we make of all those asserting themselves by buying these assault weapons and doing target practice right after the carnage of those children and teachers? They have hardened hearts: that is the only concept that I can come up with.
It will take many a teenage Christ with growth spurts into maturity to dismantle our culture of violence. Looking at movie posters, almost every leading actor is depicted wielding a gun and sometimes an assault weapon one would have to be a weight-lifter even to hold. But look at the social backdrop of a nuclear arsenal, drone warfare, tomahawk missiles, etc. The more we base our lives and the order of our society on the threat of death, the less we base them on God’s promise of life, the abundant life that love brings. The threat of death is becoming bankrupt in the face of those dying to kill, even themselves. God’s peaceful rule is based on the promise of life. Communion means that where two or three are gathered together and become one in Christ, God is there to do wonders. We need to repent of our culture of violence; repent for such assault weapons, but as well as for SWAT teams kicking down doors in the middle of the night. It has grown so cold. When it comes to the beloved community Christ proclaimed, we are so far away we are not even warm! We need to repent and believe the Good News. Can’t we expect that world, and enter the beloved community based on the promises of God with the exuberant energy of teenage Christs?
We also need careful and wise negotiations by the leaders of our government. They could say, “We will stop the drone attacks if you stop your suicide bombers.” Russia and the USA could say: “We will drastically decrease our nuclear arsenal if you in Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea reduce yours as well and Iran stop in its hope to join the nuclear club.” It is still the arms race or the human race, because the hydrogen bombs we have in our arsenal today make the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like child’s play.
As teenage Christs we can certainly believe and witness to the beloved community and teach the nations how to forgive each other and make friends once again rather than threatening each other in such a drastic way. It is not all or nothing. We can grow by increments and approximations of justice.
And we can keep growing up in Christ. But we need to face the issues head on. In a movie about the Columbine massacre, a fellow was talking about it shaking his head in incomprehension while standing in front of a tomahawk missile in the Colorado factory there that was making them. Isn’t that the backdrop to the violence we are experiencing?
Jesus was able to bring good news to the poor, to be the healing presence of God for the sick, return a mentally deranged man to his right mind, open the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, let the lame walk, the paralyzed move, and the stultified grow again.
We too can incarnate the young and growing Christ. We need to be Teenage Christs as old as we are and bring the teenage, awkward and clumsy presence of God into our society. Let’s fill our time with the stories of the Teenage Christ that are not recorded in scripture! We need those stories in our time. They have to tell and be told about the beloved relationships and the beloved community that is to die for. We will end up on the cross, of course. But what a glorious resurrection! The cross is glory for you and glory for me. Amen.
 That is being merciful, humble, peace-loving, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. I would like to write “justice” but I wonder if that might not be taken for revenge, in the sense that it is often now used.
 Police Reported Crime Statistics in Canada. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2012001/article/11692-eng.htm
 Miachael Polanyi, “The Scientific Revolution, “ in Hugh C. White, ed., Christians in a Technological Era, (New York: Seabury Press, 1964), p. 40.
 A letter to the editor from Ann Ilton, Boca Raton, FL and dated Dec. 26, 2012 in the New York Times, December 28, 2012, page A20. Her letter influenced my sermon. She said that those who came to her and gathered around her and “offered loving solace were truly God incarnate, just as cruelty and cynicism are the opposite.” She continues: “It is a tough lesson to learn. However, when love surrounds you in its light, the darkness dissipates, and you can move on to the next phase of your life. You are not stultified by tragedy.”