In between Christmas and New Year’s is a period into which we cram celebrations that generally incorporate years of family traditions. Some years we simply add new traditions to satisfy our current whims. When I look back on the season of Advent, it is only four weeks long, I realize that they represent hundreds of years of tradition in preparation for the arrival of the Promised Messiah. After all the preparations come to fruition, Christmas is over in 24 hours and then the liturgical calendar points us to Jesus’ dedication in the temple as a young child. According to Matthew’s gospel Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled to Egypt right after the birth to escape Herod’s wrath. Luke’s account tells us that on the eighth day after Jesus’ birth, the family went to the temple in Jerusalem to fulfill Jewish Law and to dedicate Jesus to the Lord. So, I wonder, how long was the family in Egypt and how old was Jesus when they went there for asylum? When did they come back or did they go to Egypt after Jesus was dedicated in the temple? Simeon, a righteous man, who had spent his entire lifetime anticipating the restoration of Israel, saw Jesus and believed that he represented God’s fulfillment of a promise—in the flesh. Jesus was salvation come to the earth for all people. Simeon said to Jesus’ mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition.”
Looking at an innocent baby, how can we perceive opposition and imagine all the hardships sprinkled between blessings that might come to them in their earthly lifetime? Simeon told Mary that “a sword would pierce her innermost being.” That could be misconstrued to be a curse upon an innocent child. To add to the emotional words of Simeon, the 84year old widow, Anna, a prophetess and representative of the tribe of Asher, approached Mary and Joseph and began to praise God, speaking about Jesus to everyone in the temple—looking forward to the redemption of Israel. After meeting all the traditional obligations, Mary, Joseph and Jesus went to Nazareth where Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, having God’s favor upon him all the time. At what point did Joseph and Mary take Jesus to Nazareth to raise him as the carpenter’s son?
Just after today’s reading, Jesus returns to the temple at twelve years old to challenge the authorities there. We do not know anything more about him until he is baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, after which he goes into the desert to be tempted by Satan, and then begins a three year ministry of love, hope, healing and forgiveness. Some of us would like to know more about what Jesus did during those “silent years” of his life. That is probably not going to happen. Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I cannot understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” We can extrapolate that to say, “Is is not the missing parts of Jesus’ story that bother me, it is the parts that are not missing.
Maybe the missing parts are intentional on God’s part. Maybe it is because the New Testament narratives were purposefully constructed to present only such information regarding Jesus as was relevant to the unfolding plan of redemption. What is reported is that two pious Israelites, steeped in Holy Scriptures, recognized Jesus to be the presence of the Lord’s Messiah. When Simeon takes Jesus into his arms, he realizes that he is literally holding God’s “salvation”. Anna recognizes that she is looking at the “redemption” of Jerusalem.
We are not current day Israelites, but heirs by faith. Like the ancient Israelites, we need to be saved from the things that separate us from God and others. If we cannot literally hold salvation in our arms, we can hold it in our hearts. If we are not looking for the redemption of Jerusalem per se, we are looking for the redemption of the parts of our lives that are not working. Jesus, the Bible tells us, is salvation and redemption for us.
The gaps in Jesus’ story leave room for our imaginations to work. The imagination, according to theologian Ignatius Loyola, can be a channel through which we interact with the living Christ. We can enter into the vision of God to see things from God’s perspective as God looks upon our turbulent world and to imagine God’s concern for us. Then—picture God, intervening by sending Jesus to us!
As we read the gospel accounts, we can picture Jesus speaking to folks of all stations in life: walking long distances on dusty roads, hungry and thirsty just like the people he served. We need to imagine the way he walks, his gestures, the look in his eyes and the expression on his face. We read the words he spoke and can hear them in our minds. All of our imaginings help fill in the scriptural gaps. Like the popular Christian recording, “I Can Only Imagine,” a completed world filled with peace and joy.
Jesus interacted with others and made life-changing decisions as he ministered to their needs. By reading these accounts, we can project ourselves into Jesus’ midst and have him spiritually fill our senses; to have the desire to walk in his footsteps. The person of Christ penetrates into place that the intellect does not touch. Jesus comes into our heads and engages our feelings, motivating us to action.
Whenever we ask ourselves, What Would Jesus Do? We might be applying our imagination to Jesus for purposes of deciding a course of action, rather than for experiencing him per se, but to reach a decision, we need to picture Jesus in our own setting. We are still looking for Jesus in the gaps.
As we begin a new calendar year, what will the year ahead hold in store for us? We have the saying that we need to walk a mile in someone’s shoes before we can draw some conclusions about their lifestyle and values. What would happen in the future if Jesus came to earth to walk in our shoes? We stand here at the end of a year, ready to start the next calendar. What will the year ahead be like? We cannot know in advance, but we can imagine already how Jesus will be with us in our ongoing story—even in its gaps.