January 1, 2012

New Directions

We’ve reached the end of this six-week blog-study of the story of the Nativity with reference to scripture (the Gospel of Luke) and snippets from Mary, My Love by Cynthia Davis. For Mary, Joseph and all the others called by God to be partners in the Nativity saga, the event meant a huge change in their plans. When we follow the One whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Day, our carefully laid ambitions and goals will probably change, too.


Ministry often takes new direction, whether we expect it to or not. It evolves and we must evolve with it. At the beginning, Mary and Joseph did all the ‘proper’ things for a newborn. At 8 days old, he was circumcised, “and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Luke 2:21) The image by Bartolo di Fredi is only one of many representations of this event. (January 1 is not just New Year’s Day, it is Holy Name Day, when many churches commemorate this event.) A month later, Mary and Joseph travel to the Temple for her purification and to present him “as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’” (Luke 2:23) Again their faith and calling are affirmed by Simeon and Anna, two elderly prophets living in the Temple precincts.

It is 12 years later that they are confronted with the fact that their part in Jesus’ life and indeed their call to ministry is changing. “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.” (Luke 2:41-52)

The young man’s question “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” must have caused Mary and Joseph to rethink their part in his life and what their call was going to be in the future. Luke tells us that again, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” Another translation says “she pondered them in her heart.” Part of her thinking must have been what direction her ministry would take, now that her son was growing up.

In Mary, My Love, Joseph comes to a sense of peace after they find Jesus in the Temple. The Temple leaders offer to allow Jesus to stay and learn from them. Joseph refuses (that’s not in the Bible, just in my book) and the family leaves together.

My heart was at peace. I knew that Jeshua was not called to the priesthood, but to something different.
“God will show you the way, my son,” I whispered, watching the young man laughing with his mother. “God will be with you. When the time is right, you will hear the call of your Father and know what to do.”
I felt surrounded by love and assurance that could only be from God. I no longer had any doubts that the Holy One of Israel was in control of my life and of my son’s destiny. He would grow up as the son of a simple carpenter until God made known to him the path of his life.
“God you did not steal my wife nor will you take my son. Your actions are hidden from men, but I believe you seek relationship with all people. Into your hands I commend my life.”
The boy and his mother walked ahead of me. I was overwhelmed with love for them. I hurried to join them.
“In the morning we will head for Nazareth,” I stated.
Mary smiled and hugged her son around the waist. “It will be nice to be home.”
Jeshua looked at his mother and then at me. “I will be glad to see my brothers and sisters. There will be work for us to do in the shop, won’t there Abba?”
I nodded and we walked together to Zechariah’s home.

Our call to ministry is organic. It is ever changing and growing and renewing. If we fight to keep it static, it will die and so will our call. The Old Testament Joseph (son of Jacob) tries to explain this to his brothers after Jacob’s death. “You meant evil against me; but God meant if for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive…” (Genesis 50:20) He understood that his youthful ambition to ‘lord it over’ his brothers was fulfilled, but in a way he never would have expected. In looking back Joseph could clearly see God’s hand at work in his life, even through the time as a slave and in prison.

Mary and Joseph must have finally understood that their part in Jesus’ life would change, too. “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.” Jesus also “increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” They watched him grow and mature into the man who would fulfill his own call as Messiah.

Has your ministry taken a new direction? How have you responded? Can you look objectively at the ministry and see that what seems a complete change, is really a natural outgrowth of the current ministry?

As the secular new year begins, I plan to take a minute (or longer) to consider where my ministry is and where my relationship with God is. Too often the busyness of the season and family and even work can get in the way of evaluating our call and our ministry. There is a saying the God can heal the most broken heart-but we have to give him the pieces. The poem by Ben Hildner* below (and right) reminds me of this.

PRAYER
Living Lord, Messiah, help me to be open to change and growth in my call and ministry. Let me not fear to go in new directions and to trust you to bring to fulfillment that which you start. AMEN
Next week, I’ll have a new series of meditations for Epiphany-which in the liturgical cycle is the season when we look at the ‘manifestation’ of Christ to the world.

*Broken Toys

As children bring their broken toys, with tears, for me to mend
I brought my broken dreams to God because he was my friend.
But then, instead of leaving Him in peace to work alone
I hung around and tried to help . . . with ways that were my own.
At last I snatched them back and cried, "How can You be so slow?"
"My child," He said. "What could I do? You never did let go."
--By Ben Hildner--

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