I don’t usually write out a sermon ahead of time, so the following is more or less what I preached last Sunday.
What’s your favorite childhood book or story? Perhaps it’s one that your mother or father read to you. Maybe it’s one that a grandparent or someone else special told you. One of my favorite books is The Monster at the End of this Book. The main character is Grover and the basic plot is that he wants to stop you from turning the pages because he’s heard there is a monster at the end of the book, on the last page, and he is afraid. I won’t say any more because I don’t want to spoil the ending for those of you who haven’t read it, but I would highly recommend it. It’s a great book. Another favorite that comes to mind is the book Love You Forever. A few years ago, my parents gave my siblings and me each copies of the book. It’s about a mother who loves her child. Throughout the book, she continues the refrain, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” It’s a sweet and tender book that I would also recommend. What’s yours?
Stories are terribly important. They have the power to influence our feelings and inform our thinking. They shape us because stories are like life. There’s a line in the Lord of the Rings trilogy when two of the hobbits are at a particularly perilous juncture, one turns to the other and asks something to this effect: “What kind of a story are we in?” That’s an important question because not only are stories like life, but life is also like a story. The one hobbit wants to know if their story is one that ends well or poorly for them. That’s a good question. Life is like a story because we don’t know what lies ahead or how the story ends. We simply have to continue living it and find out what happens next.
In Luke 2:41-52, we read the story of Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem with his parents for the annual feast of the Passover. It’s memorable episode for folks who’ve been raised hearing bible stories. Jesus, age 12 at the time, travels with his parents, Joseph and Mary, to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. When it’s time to leave, they don’t see him nearby but conclude that he is with the group (they made the pilgrimage with many others) and go on their way. A day into the journey, they realize he isn’t with the traveling group at all and return to Jerusalem in search of him. After three frantic days looking, they finally find him back at the Temple, which is where he had been all along. Apparently he had been spending time with the Jewish religious teachers, asking questions. Luke adds that everyone was impressed with the answers that Jesus gave too, so he seems to have done a little teaching himself. Mary lets him have it: “Why did you put us through this?!? Your father and I have been anxiously looking all over for you!” The preteen Jesus responds: “Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” Luke tells us that Jesus went home with them and was obedient to them. He also says that Jesus matured physically and mentally and increased in the favor of people and of God. In between these comments, Luke shares with us Mary’s perspective: “His mother treasured all these things in her heart” (v51 NRSV).
What did Mary have to treasure? This seems to have been a stressful situation for her. And it isn’t difficult for parents to appreciate Mary’s harried emotions having thought she’d lost her son. And when she finally finds Jesus in the Temple, he’s acting pretty nonchalant about the whole matter. Given the anxiety she experienced, what exactly was she treasuring? I imagine this business of treasuring on Mary’s part is something that happened with some measure of hindsight.
Well, for one thing, I don’t know a mother, a good one at least, who doesn’t get pretty excited when other folks are impressed with their child. Remember, everyone present was impressed with Jesus’ understanding and his answers. I imagine Mary’s heart swelling with pride to see folks impressed with her boy. My wife has told me, “If you and your siblings ever have self-esteem problems, it certainly is not your parents’ fault!” She’s right. They brag on us fiercely. Occasionally, it’s even warranted. I’m willing to bet that Mary treasured these people’s response to her son. I also imagine that Mary treasured Jesus’ growing devotion to God. Remember, he’s 100% human as well as 100% divine, which means that it’s pretty reasonable to think that he had to grow and mature. He was the incarnation of God from birth, but as a human being, he probably didn’t know it for a little while. Mary and Joseph were evidently devout people. They journeyed to Jerusalem for the Passover feast every year (vv41-42). She was probably happy to see that his relationship with God was strong, even if she had been upset about him staying behind. Finally, it seems to me that one of the joys of a parent is seeing their child discover their calling in life–what purpose God has for them. To see Jesus sitting among the religious teachers, listening and questioning, even speaking himself, must have been thrilling for Mary. She was certainly privy to the angel’s visit and she had written a song about the whole matter, knowing that he would be the Messiah (Luke 1), but how it would all work out was a mystery to her. To watch him teaching others about the nature and purpose of God, using his unique gifts and beginning to live into God’s calling for his life, would have to be exciting for Mary. I think Mary treasured seeing him express, at 12 years old, some measure of his calling from God.
In treasuring this episode in Jesus’ life, Mary showed that she was paying attention to his story. She knew something of what his life would hold, but not the specifics of how it would unfold. Treasuring these moments was an act of love. Treasuring these things was a way of valuing her son—who he was and who he was becoming. This is the story of a mother in the bible who treasured her child. It’s an attitude towards life and others that seems intuitive to mothers in particular. Of course, some folks have had mothers who were not like that at all and others feel as though they weren’t the mothers they wish they had been. But just the fact that we feel something is amiss when treasuring is absent or inconsistent seems verification that we presume treasuring to be a motherly trait. But it isn’t only for mothers; treasuring is something that all of us can and should do. This story in Luke, in part, seems to me an invitation to follow Mary’s lead. In treasuring the people around us and their unfolding stories, we offer the love of Christ. Don’t we feel loved when someone treasures us? Treasuring is a God-like activity and a gift to be shared. We don’t know precisely how each of our stories will unfold until we live them. But it is a great gift to have others enjoy the turning pages and treasure the unfolding plot. It’s a great gift to give as well.