Today is the last day of the year 2000. The memories of the last year about preparing for Y2K and celebrating the new millennium are still vivid in our minds, but here we are already facing a new year. This year many joyful events and painful things happened to us individually and as a church. After I had a joyful but busy time with Christmas Eve services and a family gathering at home, I took some time to look back on my life during the past year. It was a very meaningful and joyful year to me. I married and have experienced the happiness of marriage that God creates and blesses. I was ordained as an Elder and began my third year of ministry in this church with you. However, there are some regrets, too, in my personal life and ministry. I could be a better wife, friend, and pastor if I gave more attention to God and to others.
As a church we have had many joyful and painful events. About twenty babies were born in our congregation. Seventeen youth were confirmed this year and keep growing in Christian faith. Many weddings were held here in this sanctuary. Many new members joined our church. Many people have been seriously sick, injured, and hospitalized. Many people lost loved ones. Many people are struggling with the tough issues of life. During the last two weeks I performed two memorial services for former members. I didn’t know what I should say to their families. It’s hard to speak meaningfully in the face of death’s finality.
When I reflected on all these things I opened the Bible to the book of Ecclesiastes. It says:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
I thought it is so right that there is a time for everything because God appoints for us different times of success and trial according to his purpose. We often become filled with anxiety because it’s harder to appreciate God’s sovereignty in times of trouble than in times of joy. And even then, as I once heard, not only painful events, such as losing a job, but also happy events, such as getting married, give us the same amount of stress and anxiety. It seems we are always experiencing some level of anxiety about our lives.
Today’s gospel reading is about the anxiety of raising children. It’s hard to believe that Jesus as a child gave his parents a big amount of stress and anxiety. We may think Jesus only did nice and kind things to his parents and siblings in his childhood. Some stories about Jesus, which have been transmitted outside of the Bible, say that Jesus performed miracles as a child. He had pity to dying animals. One day he held a dead bird in his hands and the bird became alive and flew away. But none of the gospels tells us about these miracle stories in his childhood.
The Gospel of Luke tells a story about the adolescent Jesus who is more like one of our youth. In Jesus’s time faithful Jews went to the Jerusalem temple three times a year. Jesus’s parents, Joseph and Mary, carefully observed the Jewish laws. When Jesus was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem as usual for the festival of the Passover. Moving at a pace of fifteen miles a day, their journey to Jerusalem would have taken four or five days. According to Jewish custom, a male child became a man and embraced the traditions of his ancestors at the age of thirteen. At twelve, therefore, Jesus was still a child.
When the festival was over and people started to return to their homes, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without telling his parents. Mary and Joseph just assumed that he was somewhere in a group with his relatives and friends. After one day’s journey, they started to look for him but they could not find him anywhere. They decided to return to Jerusalem to search for him.
If you have experienced losing something that is very significant to you, and you spend long hours searching for it, you may know how much it is painful and anxious. Imagine when Joseph and Mary lost their oldest Son Jesus among the crowded travelers. They didn’t know when, where, and how they would find Jesus. Three days later they found him in the Jerusalem temple. He was sitting with teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. When his parents saw him they were amazed but they were still anxious. Mary told him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
When I read this story again to prepare my sermon, the word “anxiety” spoke to my heart. On the journey of life, we are searching for many things but we don’t know when, where, and how we will find them. We are searching for happiness. We are searching for success. Perhaps we are even searching for fame. And we are most likely searching for love, respect, and belonging. Somehow, we believe that if we find them we will own them, as we think we own our food and clothes. That’s why we try hard to control everything in our lives. Control and ownership, we think, will bring us comfort and peace of mind. With Mary and Joseph we recognize that we can’t even control our own children.
When Mary was upset with Jesus for giving them great anxiety, Jesus answered her, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” This is God’s answer to all kinds of our anxiety. We are searching for many things in the wrong places and wrong time. Mary and Joseph thought Jesus belonged to them, and when they found out he was not there with them they began to anxiously search for him. Jesus taught them that he belonged to God, not to them, and that’s why he stayed in the temple.
As Mary and Joseph did we believe we own our children, house, car, job, and many other things. But everything we think we own belongs to God, not to us. We raise children, but we don’t own them. We make money and buy many things, but we don’t own them. Everyone and everything belongs to God.
Today’s Old Testament reading shows us another story that contrasts with Mary’s story. It is the story about Samuel. His mother Hanna didn’t have a child. She prayed to God, and God gave her a son, Samuel. She knew the child was from God and belonged to God. She brought him to the temple after she weaned him and dedicated him to God. She visited the temple once a year and brought him a little robe. That robe symbolized her dedication to God though her son Samuel. The difference in these stories between Mary’s anxiety and Hanna’s devotion as parents is that Hanna remembered her son belonged to God and dedicated him to God willingly.
As long as we remember that everything we think we own actually comes from God, our attitude toward becomes less anxious. We will dedicate our whole lives to God and let God use them for his purpose. How can we transform our lives from full of anxiety to confident dedication? Today’s opening Bible reading teaches us the lesson. It says that we are God’s chosen ones, who are holy and beloved. First, we need to believe God chooses us and we are holy and beloved by God. As his chosen people God asks us to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Second, God wants us to forgive each other and bind ourselves together with love. Third, we should be thankful and praise God for everything. Last, whatever we do, we should do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, and give thanks to God the Father through him.
On the last day of this year, we take time to think and plan for next year and for the future. I hope you don’t become overly anxious about anything. Dedicate your whole life to God. Be humble. Forgive and love each other. Do everything in the name of Jesus Christ and give thanks to God. Amen.”