Christmas celebrates the birth of a child as a fresh, distinctive moment marking God’s entry into human affairs. The prophet Samuel is recalled as a child who matured in service to God and to the people, Israel, offering a point of reference for Jesus’ development. The distinctiveness of the moment calls for a cosmic celebration, a call that the words of Psalm 148—an ancient song of festivity—voice. Jesus’ young life, which the Gospel reading depicts, is both distinctive and exemplary: for the author of the Epistle to the Colossians, Jesus’ wisdom, stature, and grace model how believers should conduct themselves in the future.
The First Reading
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
Service, Blessing, and Growth
Samuel was a prophet destined for the court of Saul, Israel’s first king. Blessings from his mother and from God helped shape his early training. The Bible’s description of his development as a servant of the Lord offered the later gospel writer, Luke, a template for his picture of Jesus’ development.
Samuel was in service to the Lord, an apprentice outfitted with a linen ephod. His mother would make a little robe for him and bring it to him year by year, when she went up with her husband to make the annual sacrifice. Eli blessed Elkanah and his wife: “May the Lord grant you offspring with this woman in place of the one demanded by God’s requirement.” So they returned to their place…. And the apprentice, Samuel, continued to grow and do well both with God and with people.
All Creation Must Praise God, Lord of All Creation
The entire range of God’s cosmic creation owes God praise. In the Christmas season, the church can celebrate Jesus as the “horn” God has raised up for the people, giving fresh impetus to their praise.
- Praise Yah!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise God in the heights.
- Praise God, all God’s messengers;
praise God, all divine armies.
- Praise God, sun and moon;
praise God, all bright stars.
- Praise God, you highest heavens,
and you waters that are above the heavens.
- Let them praise the Lord’s name,
for God commanded and they were created.
- God established them for eternity;
God set their boundaries, which no one can violate.
- Praise God from the earth:
the sea monsters and all the ocean depths,
- fire and hail, snow and storm clouds,
the raging wind fulfilling God’s will;
- the mountains and all the hills,
fruit trees and all cedars;
- wild animals and all beasts,
creeping things and winged birds;
- kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all the land’s rulers.
- Young men and also young women,
the old along with the youth—
- let them praise the Lord’s name,
for God’s name alone is exalted.
God’s majesty is upon the earth and heaven!
- God has raised a horn for God’s people;
praise for all these faithful,
for the people of Israel, the people who are close to God.
The Second Reading
Forgiving as Christ Forgave Us
The Epistle to the Colossians stresses the feelings of affection that bind together those who share a common faith in Christ. Even though in this letter the author addresses those with whom he disagrees, as compared to earlier epistles, a greater sense of forbearance and compassion runs throughout.
As God’s chosen, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with empathy, mercy, goodness, humility, gentleness, patience. Go easy on one another and—when someone has a grievance against another—be gracious with each other. As the Lord has been gracious with you, you also ought to be gracious. Above all else, clothe yourselves with love, which is the unifying bond of mature perfection. The peace of the Anointed, into which you were called together into one body, should hold sway in your hearts: be grateful. Let the word of the Anointed dwell among you abundantly: teach and advise each other in all wisdom; sing psalms, festive songs, and spiritual praises with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And so, in whatever you do—in word or deed—do everything in the name of Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Jesus in the Temple as a Youth
Using the prophet Samuel as a model, Luke’s Gospel presents Jesus as naturally belonging close to God. He prefers to linger in Jerusalem when his parents depart after participating in the festival of Passover, and enters into discussion with teachers in the Temple. At the same time, Luke emphasizes that Jesus spent most of his youth in Nazareth with his family.
His parents traveled annually to Jerusalem on the festival of Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up according to the festival custom and completed its days; when they returned, the child Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, and his parents did not know. They reckoned he was elsewhere in the caravan, and traveled a day’s journey; they sought him out among the relatives and acquaintances. They did not find him and returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the holy place, sitting and listening in the midst of the teachers as well as interrogating them. All who heard him were beside themselves over his discernment and replies. His parents saw him and were overwhelmed and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you acted in this way with us? Look: Your father and I are worried sick looking for you!” He said to them, “Why was it that you sought me? Did you not know that it is necessary for me to be among those of my father?” And they did not understand the reply he gave them. And he went down with them and came into Nazareth, and he was respectful of them. His mother kept all the events together in her heart, and Jesus progressed in wisdom and stature and grace with God and with people.