preachinga sermon, based on Luke 2.41-52, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the Second Sunday after Christmas Day, January 3, 2016

Christmas Day. Nine days ago, yet already (at least it feels) long past. Annual celebrations don’t last. There’s the anticipatory build up, lengthening year to year. (I recall when we didn’t begin Christmas preparations until after Thanksgiving Day and in my formative years the Abernathys didn’t decorate the tree until Christmas Eve!) The great day arrives. We take time off and away from daily routine, gathering with family and friends, sharing in religious and communal rituals. Then the moment passes. We move on.

The 12-day Christmas season, always competing with the coming new year, gets lost with our figurative and literal turn of the calendar page. Poor Christmas. Unable to run its course before we’re back to life as we know and live it.

Nevertheless, this is day ten of the Christmas season. It’s not over yet! So, let’s continue to reflect on Jesus’ birth.

Oddly, our gospel passage isn’t about Jesus in the manger, but in the temple; the only biblical account of the “lost years” between his birth and adulthood.

Christ among the Doctors, Giotto di Bondone, 1304-06

A precocious child goes missing. His frantic parents, already having gone a day’s journey, return to Jerusalem and search for three days before finding their wayward son. A simple, sentimental, sweet story.

Or is it?

This pubescent episode in the Temple marks a transition between Christmas proclamations about Jesus from angels,[1] shepherds,[2] Simeon and the prophet Anna[3] and Jesus’ declaration about himself. His testimony makes this more than a sweet story.

Listen. An anxious, perhaps angry Mary scolds her son, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been searching for you!” Jesus replies, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” A provocative question and a declaration of vocation and obligation pointing to the subsequent chapters of his story.

Listen again…

Jesus inaugurates his public ministry: “I must proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom, for I was sent for this purpose.”[4]

Jesus describes his destiny to his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer, be killed, and on the third day be raised.”[5]

Jesus, so clear about his calling, repeated this passion prediction: “The Son of Man must endure much suffering”[6] and “must…be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”[7]

Jesus in the temple. A sweet story? No. This is a moment of transition between infancy and ministry. The adolescent Jesus stands on the threshold of that ministry, saying, “I must be in my Father’s house.” Again, a declaration of vocation and obligation. A vocation that obligated Jesus, in faithfulness to his cause, to suffer and die.

Today, we stand at the threshold of a new year. Typically, a time to make resolutions proclaiming our visions for personal growth and betterment. In keeping with this unsaccharine story of Jesus in the temple, I wonder. What’s our “must-statement” declaring our discerned life’s purpose, designated calling, chosen vocation, accepted obligation? It may be something already known or entirely new. Whatever it is, are we clear about what it is?

When we look in the mirror each morning, what is it that we say to ourselves, silently or aloud, that confirms anew our sense of our existence, our raison d’être, our commitments we have made and will attempt to honor, our direction in which we will walk that day, our objectives to which our words and deeds will point?

A word of caution. Mary and Joseph didn’t understand Jesus. His clarity – “I must!” – for them, was mystery. And I believe whenever we are clear about who we are and where we’re going, at times, there will be those, some near and dear, who don’t, won’t understand. Clarity, which makes bold the expression of conviction, often does not bring comfort. Nevertheless, the creation, the Creator, life itself beckons us to claim our calling, whether new or anew.

In 2016, what’s your “must”?

Illustration: Christ among the Doctors (of the Law), Giotto di Bondone, 1304-06


[1] Matthew 1.18-25; Luke 1.26-35, 2.9-14

[2] Luke 2.15-18

[3] Luke 2.25-33, 36-38

[4] Luke 4.43

[5] Luke 9.22

[6] Luke 17.25

[7] Luke 24.7

2 thoughts on “must!

  1. Thank you Paul for sharing the sermon you gave to your congregation at Epiphany. I took away several golden nuggets from it. You captured perfectly a parent’s worry when they can’t immediately locate their child, and then told us that there was more to the story if we just “listened” to hear that the story is much more about who we are to be in this life and what we must do. Jesus knew who he was to be and proclaimed that to his parents. How many of us know who and what we are to be at the age Jesus was in this story? One of the most important things I took from the sermon was the question, what MUST we all do and be in this coming year? I hope your congregation has a wonderful week of reflection because it’s an excellent question, and something we all should think about. As I reflect on this, I’ll be writing down what I believe my calling, and my MUST is this week. I’m fairly sure I know what it is, but it’s always great to write things down, and actually “claim it”.. because as you pointed out (paraphrasing), you want to see the real you and your life’s calling when you look at yourself in the mirror. Thanks again for sharing this wonderful sermon.


    • Thank you, Loretta. Several folk commented today that the sermon had stirred them to think or rethink their entries into this new year. I suppose if I had thought about what would I consider a useful, faithful response to the sermon, that would be it. Thank you for your response.


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