We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
Have you ever wondered what the week after Jesus’ birth was like for Mary and Joseph and the new born babe? The shepherds were gone, Bethlehem had most likely cleared out of the visiting masses, and the wise men had not yet arrived. There was not yet a rumor of danger to the infant and no immediate reason to move. According to Luke’s gospel account of the birth, Mary treasured all the many wonders that occurred, keeping them safely in her heart. Was it dawning on Mary and Joseph the incredible responsibility they now assumed? Think. Would you like to be given the responsibility for the care, safety, education and direction of the one true Son of God?
Modern day Christian believers sometimes miss the fact that Jesus was a product of his society, his culture, and his upbringing. The young man Jesus became owed much to his heritage and upbringing (yes, of course, his nature had much to do with it as well). Few of Jesus’ teachings were new to Jesus. It was his method of teaching, his audience, and his radical inclusiveness that made his messages so powerful and unforgettable. But, Jesus was a very Jewish teacher who had obviously been brought up right.
Joseph passes quickly from the story, while Mary makes infrequent appearances. We have virtually no sense of the home life of the parents of the Messiah, but it is not a far stretch to believe that normal parental anxieties, worries, concerns, and considerations were all greatly amplified. What ran through Mary and Joseph’s mind when they needed to discipline Jesus? If Jesus was fully human and fully divine, then he was fully a normal boy growing up with all the challenges that brings.
It is a shame we don’t have the stories of Jesus growing up (apart from the one incident in the temple when Jesus was twelve years old). It could be a great comfort to have insight into all the things that contributed to Jesus becoming the man he did. Even the nature of God, if ignored or abused, could have been channeled in a variety of different ways. It would be nice to better understand the influence Mary and Joseph had on Jesus.
In big and small ways, we all influence and affect others. Every choice we make in our relationships has immense potential power – for good or for ill. We speak often of the impact faith in Jesus Christ makes on our lives, but even the best of us fall short of living up to the standards we set for our discipleship. We need help. We need God. We need each other.
“Am I my brother’s (sister’s) keeper?” is the rhetorical question asked in scripture (the answer is “yes,” if you are wondering) that applies to each and every one of us. But what if we extended this thought to “and who is my child?” and looked at every other person on earth as someone we have a responsibility to and for? What if we defined our God-given vocation as receiving each new person as a beloved child, born of God, and entrusted to our care. Wouldn’t this impact the ways we talk to and treat each other? If I look at those I meet as my charge, my responsibility, my offspring, and my family, I will engage with them in very different ways.
At the new year, it is quite normal to look ahead, to think about the days to come, and to long for a better tomorrow. Wanting a nicer, safer, kinder future is a noble wish, but God expects so much more from us. It is not enough to want, to wish, or even to pray. We must act, and we must act together. We must treat one another as we would treat the blessed Christ child. And to the extent we are successful, God’s will is done, and the wondrous work of transforming the world occurs. How glorious it is when we face our future together! May you experience rich blessings in the New Year!
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).