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Sermon for Christmas 1 Year C growing in wisdom

December 12, 2015

ephod“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

In the name…..

Three things struck me about Samuel in my teens. First, the altar servers in my church belonged to an organisation called the Guild of Servants of the Sanctuary. We met monthly and sometimes sang The Guild Office to complicated plainsong. Because I had a good singing voice, I landed the role of ‘cantor’ and the oddest thing I had to sing came before the Magnificat: ‘Samuel ministered to the Lord, girded in a linen ephod’. I wondered, for a long time what an ephod was.

Secondly, because I was so active in my church, the clergy nicknamed me ‘Boy Samuel’.

Thirdly, there is the famous story of the call of Samuel in the middle of the night.

So what is an ephod? It depends who you listen to. One definition is: a sleeveless gown of knee length. Another, earthier one: a sort of jock strap.

In our first reading, about Samuel’s boyhood in the temple there’s a poignant reference to Hannah’s personal sacrifice. She has given her son to the temple. Every year she makes an ephod for him 1 Sam. 2:19 He will wear this throughout the following year, symbolic of his holy office as representative of God. Picture Hannah sewing all her love for her little boy into this garment.

She and her husband, Elkanah, bring it to him at the time of the yearly sacrifice. For Hannah it is a renewal of the sacrifice of her son to God. In the early Middles Ages, many parents gave children to monasteries. Why? Were they driven by economic necessity? Apparently not. According to Benedict’s Rule, parents were invited to donate a son to God, following the example of Hannah offering her son Samuel at the Temple. It was a sacrifice (oblatio), pure gift. In Samuel’s Image: Child Oblation in the Early Medieval West (Brill’s Studies in Intellectual History)

The ephod has been seen symbolise Samuel’s growth in faith and knowledge.

He didn’t start out with wisdom. He had to learn. Each year as he grows out of the linen robe, he is given a new and bigger one, symbol of his growing maturity as man of God:
Samuel had to grow.

Jesus had to grow. In our gospel reading, Jesus learned the way Jews learn, by endless question and answer. As it is said, ‘Where there are two Jews, there are three opinions.’ God’s son he might have been but he didn’t come to us fully mature.

The early church rejected that idea, which is why it rejected the so-called apocryphal gospels that sold like hot cakes in Borders – before it closed. The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Saviour has a version of today’s story: a skilful astronomer asked Jesus whether He had studied astronomy. Jesus answered him by explaining the number of the spheres, and of the heavenly bodies, their natures and operations; their opposition; their aspect, triangular, square, and sextile; their course, direct and retrograde; the twenty-fourths and sixtieths and other things beyond the reach of reason. Then he asked Jesus whether He had studied medicine. He, in reply, explained to him physics and metaphysics, the powers likewise and humours of the body, and the effects of the same; also the number of members and bones, of veins, arteries, and nerves; also the effect of heat and dryness, of cold and moisture, and what these give rise to; what was the operation of the soul upon the body, and its perceptions and powers; what was the operation of the faculty of speech, of anger, of desire; lastly, their conjunction and disjunction, and other things beyond the reach of any created intellect. Then the questioner rose up, and adored Jesus, and said: O Lord, from this time I will be thy disciple and slave. Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (1997). The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. VIII : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325

Luke’s uses Samuel’s story to frame his picture of the boyhood of Jesus. He says clearly that the boy Jesus also needed to grow in his understanding of God. At Christmas we believe that God can exist in a tiny baby. We know that God dwelled in the adult Jesus, busy with his ministry in Galilee. But what about the in-between? Can we, like Mary, treasure the way God works in a twelve year old, with zits and smelly feet?

Luke says that Jesus’s family went to the temple as was their custom. The Greek word here for custom is “ethos”. It’s the word our English word “ethics” comes from, but in Scripture it generally refers to a “habit” (think monk’s habit – clothing).

So that makes a connection to our Colossians reading. In today’s epistle, Paul urges us to “put on” compassion, kindness….’ Kids love to dress up. As bride, nurse, cowboy. Samuel dressed in an ephod, like the older priests. When, in today’s epistle, we “put on” the clothing, we “became” (if only for a time) the identity that the clothing represented.

All the stuff about ‘Christmas being for the children.’ Well, their growing up should concern us too. As for Jesus the hidden years are when the process of spiritual maturity is the most important. So that each can concern her own, unique vocation. accept his call and to serve in the world Jesus both served and saved.

Mystical experience is not the sole province of the adult world, but can be experienced by youth as well.  Eli (acting as a spiritual director for Samuel), recognizes this and counsels him on how to respond to God’s initiative. Adults have a responsibility towards youth. Parents and other adults play a key role in recognizing and nurturing the spiritual journeys of youth.  Mary and Joseph play a role in mentoring Jesus. The Jewish teachers answer his questions (which in Jewish tradition is the pathway toward wisdom) and critiquing his grasp of the faith in a positive way Luke 2:47.  People of every age need to put on ‘a bigger robe of learning’ throughout life, as they continue to grow – in favour both with God and humanity.

Do you still make New Year resolutions? Maybe they need to be less about shedding 10 pounds or getting the garage cleaned out and focus more on being in touch with God’s purposes for our lives. On being in touch with our young people

Let us pray: As we travel our spiritual path, inspire us with a youthful spirit and wonder. Teach us to listen for your voice in the prayers, questions, and gifts of younger sisters and brothers. Protect and guide all your children with your wisdom and grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

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