On this first Sunday after Christmas we have readings about two special children growing up in holiness: the little boy Samuel in the temple at Shiloh, and Jesus in the temple at Jerusalem.
And we’re meant to see and understand the connection between these two children.
Samuel had been born to Hannah, a woman who had been unable all through her marriage to conceive. She had come to the temple to pray for a child, and she’d promised God that if her prayer was granted she would dedicate the child to God, and bring him back to Eli the priest to raise him after he was weaned. This she did, and she and her husband made annual visits to see their child, bringing a new little robe that she’d made for him, year by year.
Samuel would experience the voice of God calling to him at a young age, and he would grow up to become a wise prophet and leader of Israel. The text from today’s reading says that the little boy grew “both in stature and in favour with the Lord and with the people.”
Luke echoes these words when he tells the story of the young Jesus visiting the temple in Jerusalem with his parents at age 12, and staying behind there. Like Samuel, he feels at home there. He describes it as his Father’s (God’s) house, where he has to be. And Luke concludes by saying that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.”
His parents may have been perturbed by losing their child in the big city, but the story is saying that Jesus is taking his place where he truly belongs – in the house of God, just like Samuel many years before. It’s showing his wisdom and understanding of the Scriptures, like Samuel and the great prophets of Israel.
It’s also a foreshadowing of the time when Jesus will leave his hometown permanently to go his own way and follow his calling. You could say it’s a coming of age story. It’s about growing up spiritually.
And it tells us something, too, about how we can grow up spiritually. We need to grow in our relationship with God until we feel at home with the Divine. It may take a long time, and some false starts, but finding a spiritual home, a church community, is an important part of growing up as a Christian. We need a place where we can belong and learn and grow. It doesn’t end after Sunday school or confirmation. We need a place where we can say, “This is my Father’s house, where I belong.” It doesn’t have to be perfect – it won’t be. But it has to be a place where you can learn and ask questions and feel safe and be with others who are on the same path.
We too need to grow in wisdom and “in divine and human favour.” That means becoming the sort of human beings we were each created to be, and living in more and more Christ-like ways. St Paul calls it living “in Christ.”
Paul’s letter to the Colossians spells out how we do that:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another. Forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven you. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”
May we all, in another year ahead, grow in our faith, grow in wisdom, grow in our awareness of Christ’s word and Spirit dwelling in us richly. And may we each help make this church the house of God where others can be welcomed and find their place. Amen.