I hope you all had a good Christmas Day and enjoyed the celebrations. Christmas is traditionally a time when families, including church families come together: there is the pre-Christmas visiting to deliver presents, many people travel long distances to be with their families at Christmas, and of course families and friends share a meal together on Christmas Day.
On Christmas Eve, while delivering presents to one of our neighbours, I asked their two children what they liked best about Christmas: I was expecting them to say the presents, the food or perhaps the Christmas Tree, but the eldest, aged 9 said: “I like the family spending time together.” I then went home and asked my daughters the same question and they said virtually the same thing: “I like us spending time together as a family.” On the face of it this was a somewhat curious thing to say because we live together as a family as do our neighbours, so I began to think about how much time we as families actually spend together and what spending time together really means.
When my children were very young they liked to watch the favourite children’s, in those days, videos of the time: The Teletubbies, The Tweenies and Peppa Pig. However, we also had a video called “Anytime Tales” which featured the story “Not Now, Bernard” based on a book by David McKee. Bernard was a little boy aged around 4 who was constantly trying to engage with his parents who were always busy. Every time he tried to speak to them they would say: “Not now, Bernard”. Bernard befriended a large monster who he met in the garden, but even when he told his parents the monster was going to eat him, he got the usual reply: “not now, Bernard.” The inevitable happened and little Bernard was gobbled up by the monster who then pretended to be Bernard. The parents were so wrapped up in what they were doing they didn’t even notice Bernard had been replaced by the monster despite the outrageous things the monster was doing.
None of us would dream of being so neglectful as Bernard’s parents, but the busyness of life can gobble up our time. Recent research claims that whereas success used to be measured by the amount of spare time a person had to pursue expensive hobbies and holidays, the status and success of a person is now being measured by how busy a person is, busyness being perceived as being more important and much sought after. An article in the magazine Christians Today claims many Christians are being sucked into this “cult of busyness” with the perception that the busier a person is doing God’s works the closer they are to God. The article points out that being excessively busy can mean we don’t have time for the really important things is life: God, family, friendships and rest.
Our readings today from Samuel and Luke have several things in common. They are both about families visiting the temple and their eldest sons being left behind in the temple. Samuel was left at the temple because his mother Hannah was desperate to have a child and promised God that if she had a baby she would dedicate the child to God, giving up her rights as a mother. So Samuel was sent to live in the temple to be brought up and taught by the priests how to live in God’s presence and how to dedicate his life to Him. Hannah however, did not abandon Samuel, we read today that she visited him each year and made him clothes.
Jesus was left behind in the temple at Jerusalem by mistake during the annual Passover festival. Mary and Joseph were not being neglectful, at that time it was customary for the men and women to travel separately. The women and children, being slower, would set off earlier and the men would set off later, eventually catching up with the women. It was more than likely that Mary thought Jesus was with Joseph and Joseph thought he was with Mary, something that can happen very easily when looking after children. We are told Jesus was 12 and that is a very significant age for a Jewish boy. At 12 they have their Bar Mitzvah, where they become a “son of the law”, a symbol of the passing of childhood into manhood. We see Jesus growing up, beginning to separate from his parents and to have an understanding of his own identity as the son of God as he describes the temple as his Father’s house. However, Jesus returns home to live with Mary and Joseph to resume ordinary life as a member of a family. Jesus being fully divine and fully human, son of God, son of Mary, needed to learn and experience what it means to be a human being, and live an ordinary life in the midst of a family.
There is an old Indian saying that in order to understand a man, you need to walk a mile in his moccasins. We come to God through Jesus who, in experiencing life as a human being, at times a very difficult and painful life, does not just understand our trials and tribulations but has actually experienced them. One who knows what human pain feels like and can therefore empathize with us.
Well we are now in the days leading up to the New Year. Perhaps for some a time for reflecting over the past year and for planning some New Year Resolutions or goals. Many resolutions seem to be personal based on self-improvement: going on a diet, joining a gym, enrolling in an evening class, etc etc. Perhaps this year some of us, myself included, may wish to look at how we spend our time in terms of our relationships with others to decide if we are making enough quality time for the important things in life: God, family, friendships and rest.
Perhaps a good starting point would be to reflect on the life of Jesus. Although Jesus worked hard, often wearing himself out to the point where he fell asleep, he still made time for his prayer routine, time to relax with his companions and friends, and time to fully engage with those whom he encountered.