1 Samuel 2:18-20
Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy clothed with a linen ephod. And his mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord give you children by this woman for the petition she asked of the Lord.” So then they would return to their home.
Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man.
Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching 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.And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
Christmas time is over. Sure the Wise Men are on their way but the presents have been given, the tree may be down and the lights are being packed away.
Moving on! Santa has to make way for the New Year baby, whom some stores have already armed with a cupid’s bow in preparation for Valentine’s Day.
We are in the middle of our 12 Days of Christmas, which actually starts - not ends - on Christmas Day, culminating on the day we celebrate the arrival of the Magi from the East. Except if we are celebrating Christmas 2018, we will have to wait until January 6, 2021, for most scholars agree it took our Magi about two years from Jesus’ birth to actually meeting him. And even then, it is understood that Jesus was not born in December, but more likely in late August or early September. Human time is what we make it to be.
In our reading today, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus - and presumably his brothers and sisters - went to Jerusalem every year for the Jewish festival of Passover - remembering when the Jews were liberated from enslavement by the Egyptians.
The journey to Jerusalem from Nazareth was about 100 miles - a hundred difficult miles - and we can assume it was always walked. Very likely there was no donkey for Mary, despite what the Christmas cards show. If someone could afford a donkey, it would be used to carry supplies.
They made this walk - about a three day journey - happily, as part of their faith. And it wasn’t a matter of everyone jumping in the family truckster, with a McDonalds at every offramp. There were few, if any, facilities of any nature along the way.
The journey was not made alone. Everyone was going to Jerusalem, so it made sense for family members to join together and to travel with others making the trip, sometimes whole villages, gathering with other villages until there was a line of a thousand pilgrims along the road.
While the Bible does not say how long Joseph and family stayed in Jerusalem, the Passover feast usually lasts seven days. So it is safe to assume they were there a few days before heading home.
Now some parents think, “I could never leave my child behind.” And no right-thinking person does that intentionally. But I’ll tell you, when my Samantha was an infant in a carrier - you know, those things with the handles - I always put her on the hood of the car and never on the roof. Because sometimes we forget. I never had to get out of the car to get her off the hood, but safety first!
And if you don’t believe that a parent could leave a child behind after an event, I wish my Dad were still with us, so I could remind him of the time all of us went to football game at Stanford University in Palo Alto. They were halfway home to Redwood City before my Dad said, “Sing louder, Jimmy, I can’t hear you!” That’s because seven year old Jimmy was walking the ten miles home on El Camino Real, the main highway between San Francisco and San Jose. I would have gotten home eventually, but they did turn around and got me.
So it does happen. And in our story, Jesus’ parents searched for him for three days. When they found him, Mary said, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
There is no record of what Joseph said.
Every year they did this. Not by our Gregorian calendar but by the Jewish calendar, which marks off the days in a fairly similar fashion to the calendar we use today.
While we recognize the dates on our Gregorian calendar - the calendar we all use to mark today as December 30, 2018 - as BC or AD - Before Christ or Anno Domini, which is Latin “In the year of our Lord,” the Jewish calendar, on the other hand, begins with the date of the creation of the earth and a variety of natural and mathematical circumstances, making today’s date 22 Tevet 5779.
To be sure, most Jews don’t believe the world is 5779 years old. The religious defense for this is that the first six days of creation could have lasted millions of our years - especially since “day” wasn’t even created until halfway through the process in Genesis.
Time, as I said, is a man-made construct. Certainly “God’s Time” is unknowable. However, there is the story of the man who spoke to God and asked, “God one minute to you is like a million years to me, isn’t it?
God sad, “Yes, my child. That is correct.”
“And one dollar to you is like a million dollars to me, isn’t it?”
“Yes, you are right.”
“God, can I have a dollar.”
God paused, smiled and said, “Sure. Just give me a minute.”
In our discussion of time, we need to remember that Time - Upper Case “T” Time - was created by God. Everything since then has been a result of man-made science of one sort or another to mark the time.
Literally, the first words of our Bible - “In the beginning…” deal with time.
But what was going on before “the beginning”? Whether you are a “Big Bang” Scientist or a “Creationist” Theologian - the question is as unknowable as proving God’s existence.
Humans first ordered time in a very simple process - light and dark; day and night; awake and asleep. We don’t want to dismiss this concept too easily, however, Scientists agree that humankind originated in what we now call Tanzania, in Africa. Whether or not that is the home of the Garden of Eden, I leave for others. But Tanzanians - and others who live along the equator - have an unusual time accounting not experienced by the rest of us. Along the equator, the day is pretty evenly split throughout the year. There are 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. In fact, their “day” does not start at midnight, as ours does. It starts at 6:00 AM, when the light of day breaks. So five hours into the day for us is 5:00 AM and for Tanzanians it is 11:00 AM. Human time is what we say it is. If I tell you dinner is at 1800 hours but you can come as early as eight bells if you wish, would you know that we eat at 6:00 but cocktails begin at 4:00? As I said, human time is what we say it is.
Thousands of years after “Day and Night,” we began agriculture. Warmer times meant planting and when it began to cool, we harvested. Plant and grow and harvest time is all we needed for our survival. Scientists still don’t understand how a plant knows to send its roots down and its shoots upward, but in God’s infinite wisdom to protect us from starving to death, that is what they do. Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. And for millennia, that is all we knew and that is all we needed to know.
Until the railroads.
God created Time, with a Capital “T.” The railroads created “time,” as we know it. In order for the trains to run on time, the railroads had to make sure everyone was on the same time. So a train leaving New York at noon for the 3 and a half hour trip to Washington DC could be depended on to arrive at 3:30. And if there was a stop in Philadelphia, that trip took about an hour and 15 minutes, meaning it arrived at 1:15, railroad time and departed shortly thereafter. If you are on a different time, then you were out of luck, so it just made sense that everyone set their pocket watches and town square clocks to the trains.
That is human time and all the advancements that have taken place since the early 1300s.
But this is a sermon, not a lesson in horology - the study of time. And the Bible has lots to say about it.
We are familiar with the phrase “40 days and 40 nights” in relation to Noah’s time on the ark, Jesus’ time fasting in the desert and the 40 years the Jews wandered the desert. In these cases, the number 40 is not to be taken literally, but simply means “a long time,” not dissimilar to the phrase “a month of Sundays” or “once in a blue moon.”
Our Old Testament reading is Ecclesiastes 3, I asked Mere to copy and include it in your bulletin. It is a beautiful piece of poetry, probably better know to our generation by the song recorded in 1965 by The Byrds, “Turn, Turn, Turn.” Cathy Sapunor will share that song with us after the postlude. But since I chose not to pad the sermon, the abbreviated message from the reading is, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
In our New Testament, Jesus specifically addresses how we should spend our time. Reading Matthew 6, Jesus “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. if that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
But what about God’s time?
Nobody knows. No, seriously.
In Mark 13, Jesus, in speaking of the end times, the apocalypse, the time of Revelation, says, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house (Jesus is talking about Creator God) will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
Our Bible discusses time from its first to its last words. We know of “In the Beginning…”, the first words of the Bible, and just as important is Jesus’ Revelation to John, the final chapter of our Bible.
I will read to you an abridged version of Revelation 22: “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.”
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.”’
So I ask again, “What is God’s time?” Is it the unknowable “before the Beginning?” Is God’s time the Creation story? Is it the seasons of Ecclesiastes or the unknown time of Jesus’ return?
God’s time is NOW! NOW is the time to live God’s life, not in fear of an Apocalyptic retribution, that may occur tonight or in ten thousand years. God’s time is NOW and NOW is the time for God. The God who tells us to love and be loved, to worship Him and rejoice in the many blessings we are given, all from the graciousness of our Holy Spirit, Lord, and Savior.
Don’t wait. Don’t think it is too late. It is NOW. And if not NOW, then… NOW! For though the end times are promised, it is in the last line of the last book of our last Testament we want to forever keep in our heart, mind, body, and soul. Revelation 22, verse 21: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.”
Presented December 30, 2018 at Bethany Presbyterian Church