—A Sermon by Robert W. Prim—
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 also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ 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.
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 travelers, 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 favor.
This is an appropriate bit of Scripture for the Sunday following Christmas. The shepherds, angels, and heavenly hosts are gone. Mary and Joseph now have a son to raise, religious obligations to keep, and important trips to make during the holiday season. This story of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus at the Temple brings us back to the day to day, week to week, year to year living into the faith.
While we are still in the Christmas Season — there are twelve days, you know, so let us give ourselves a break if we have not done all that we hoped we would; there is still a little time — yet, while we are still in the twelve days of Christmas and not too far removed from the partridge in the pear tree, ordinary time has already begun to settle into our days even now. The last of the sweetpotato casserole is soon to be re-heated and we will all be struggling to decide the contents of our next meal before too awful long.
It is as if the gospel writer knew — or, at least, the authors of the Lectionary readings for the Church year knew — that the presents would all be opened, the cookies tasted, the relatives beginning to pack their bags for the journey home if they have not gone already. It is as if the gospel writer knew, as almost any child knows, that the high of Christmas is hardly sustainable for more than a day. There is always the disappointment of waking up to needles only under the tree. And there may be the dawning realization that all the stuff we have ever wanted will leave us empty and inexplicably sad if the collection of stuff is where we have misplaced our hopes for a meaningful and joyful life.
The high theater of angels declaring good news of a great joy for all the people is over, and what is left is the more quite, nuanced drama of living deeper and deeper into the good and mysterious news of God’s love for the world in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.
Christmas is a powerful and glorious season. Christmas is a time when our innate sense of wonder and our sense of being deeply connected to one another and to God is allowed to come to the forefront of our minds and hearts.
- I bet more people look at stars during the Christmas season than during any other time in the year.
- I bet more of us allow ourselves to believe in God during Christmas, to believe that God is connected to the world, to believe that Jesus, somehow, is the embodiment of the Divine Word that flung the stars into their places and hung the moon in its orbit.
Christmas, with angels and hosts of heaven and seekers from the East and shepherds and the glory of the Lord shining round about them, lures us to believe the story about Jesus as Immanuel just might be true. We sit in the rocker by the lighted Christmas tree late at night and feel the mystery and truth of Mary’s child deep in our bones during this time of year.
But the season passes and the day is gone and quite quickly Christmas becomes a spirit we have little time to engage. Christmas wonder is replaced with the practical matters of who does what when and how does the garden grow and who will cook our supper tonight?
It is so much less fanciful, but what we have now after the worship services filled to overflowing is the call of Paul in his letter to the early church in Colossae; Paul admonished the followers of Jesus to: .. clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience … and above all clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. What we have now after the presents are unwrapped and the sky has grown quiet with angels is the harder work of living day by day into God’s mystery and grace and truth.
I would like to add one more garment to Paul’s list – compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, love – and I was reminded of this piece of clothing that befits the Christian life while listening to a radio story about monkeys – baboons to be exact.
Barbara Smuts spent years in the fields of East Africa studying baboons. What Professor Smuts was doing was following a small group of Gombe baboons on the eastern edge of Kenya. She would stay with them for 10 hours a day and seven days a week. She would follow and take notes. She did this for two years.
One day, she says, the whole noisy group was ambling back to its “sleeping trees” (baboons sleep off the ground, up on the limbs of trees or cliffs to keep away from predators) along the shore of a stream. “I followed them walking along this stream many, many times before and many times after,” she says, “but this time was different.”
All of a sudden, Smuts says, “without any signal perceptible to me,” every one of the baboons, the adults, the little ones, all thirty of them, stopped walking and sat down on the edge of pools of water. They not only stopped walking, they stopped talking. “Even the little kids, and you know kids are always making noises, but even they got quiet.”
The quiet was total. “I really wondered what was going on,” says Smuts. The baboons didn’t focus on any one thing. They all, or most of them, gazed down into the little pools of water right below them and hardly moved. There was no fidgeting, no touching or grooming, no discernible activity, just a communal “almost sacramental” contemplation. Professor Smuts called it a “sacred” quiet.
Then, after a short period of time, “again with no perceptible signal,” the troop came alive and resumed its noisy walk down stream.
Barbara Smuts is the only scientist ever to have described behavior like this among baboons. “Although I’ve spent years with baboons, I witnessed this only twice, both times at Gombe,” she writes, “ I have never heard another primatologist recount such an experience. I sometimes wonder if, on those two occasions, I was granted a glimpse of a dimension of baboon life they do not normally expose to people. These moments reminded me how little we know about the more-than-human world.”
The producer of the radio show with Professor Smuts, Robert Krulwich, asked the question for the listeners of the story: Is it possible that the baboons might have the capacity for a kind of group expression of wonder ro rapture or thanks?
(Source: NPR, December 22, 2009, “Holy Baboon! A ‘Mystical’ Moment in Africa” by Robert Krulwich)
On this first Sunday after a wonder-full Christmas, it is an interesting question about the baboons, but I think the more interesting question is why we human beings, who most assuredly do have the capacity for wonder, rapture, and thanksgiving, do not take more time to stop and gaze in the pool or to the sky. I think if we will clothe ourselves with “wonder” we will be more and more able to be the glorious creatures God has created us to be!
As Jesus was filled with wonder at the teaching of the elders, as Professor Smuts was filled with wonder at the behavior of the baboons, as the baboons seemingly were wonder-full at the pools of water – may we, too, clothe ourselves with wonder even and especially as we live day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year – may we pay attention to the glories that shine forth in this beautiful world God has created and in which we have been joyously placed.