Stepping Out: A Love Letter

Justin Thornburgh

North Shore Baptist Church

Luke 2: 41-52, Christmas 1C

December 30, 2012

 Stepping Out: A Love Letter

In today’s scripture we are confronted with a phrase that has captured my imagination. We are told that Mary treasured the events that have transpired in her heart. A similar phrase is used earlier after the shepherd has told the new parents of their miraculous encounter with God’s Army declaring Shalom, God’s true peace. “She held these thing in her heart.” This phrase literally from the Greek means that she held on to them, that she wanted to keep them in her heart so she could keep Jesus as hers. To remind her that he was her son. It was difficult for her to let him go. To let him about his True Parent’s work.

So, come into my imagination as we hear a letter a mother has written to her … to God’s son. 


My dear sweet boy,

We are waiting as you told us. I am with the others, in the upper room. We have just seen you taken in to the heavens. We watched you ascend into the clouds, and were brought back down to earth by two strangers reminding us that you will come back — you promise. You, my beloved baby boy. You who have caused me to worry, cry, fret, and yes, laugh. It took many years, but I have finally understood what you meant when all those years ago when you told me to let you go about your Heavenly Father’s work. And why, now, we wait.

That day when your father…your earthly father, Joseph and I found you, I was so angry. 

We had come to Jerusalem in a spirit of joy and celebration. We came with all of the others from Nazareth to celebrate passover at the temple. It was such a holy and communal celebration that we would let you run off to play with your friends and your goofy cousin, John, whom you only would get to see at festivals. The two of you would play synagogue with him as the screaming prophet (pretending to be the prophet Jeremiah using a broomstick across his shoulders instead of a yolk) and you as the wise rabbi. You both would make all of us adults laugh at your earnestness. Little did we know. You always had such a good time in the past and we knew that others would watch over you as we watched over theirs. We had a wonderful time, and then we began to head home, after the Sabbath.

But as night fell on that first day and we began to settle down for our meal, you were no where to be found. We asked Elizabeth and Zechariah if they had seen you. John said he hadn’t seen you at all this trip. “Yeshua, Yeshua bar Yoseph.” We ran though the smoke filled  encampment. Searching tents of family and strangers. “Yeshua, Jesus…come out now. It is time to eat.” Nothing. Our hearts began racing…tearing through my chest like a razor through stretched cotton. I thought about the words that the old priest Simeon said to me on the day you were circumcised, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Though I would learn much later what he really meant by this prophecy, I feared you had been taken from me. You my beautiful baby boy. I feared you wandered into the Roman quarter of the city, and they saw you – an unaccompanied boy – and they would take advantage of you, take you captive, make you a slave. You were big and strong for your age, you had the hands of a carpenters apprentice. You knew how to work, and you were always so obedient to elders that I was afraid you would be easily kidnapped. 

My breaths were so rapid that I began to see spots and my head began to throb. The pain in my throat trapped my sobs. Tears were pouring down my cheeks. “Yeshua. Come to your mother!” All I could do was scream your name. Joseph and I started making our way back to Jerusalem. When we arrived at the gate of the city we thought we would find you, but we had to search for three days before we heard about a boy who had been speaking with the elders on the steps of the temple all that time. “O, Elohim, let it be our boy,” I prayed. Thinking I was praying on behalf of Joseph and myself, but only later realizing the true meaning of my words.

There you were. “Jesus! Come here right now. Why have you done this?Why did you not leave with us? Why have you caused your father and I such grief?” 

I remember the look you gave me. You stared at me with a confused expression on your face. Pure innocence. “Why are you searching for me? Did you not know I would be in my father’s house?” When you said that the rage within me boiled. “Your father’s house is in Naze”…And then I realized what you were saying and at that moment I saw a tear in your eye as you came to us. When you wrapped your arms around me I felt a peace that only you could give me. I could tell you wanted to stay, but came with us so as not to disobey the commandment: honor your father and mother.

I held on to this for such a long time. I spent years trying to understand what it meant. What you meant. I struggled to keep a hold of you when all you wanted to do was God’s work. 

From the day of your birth when those thugs and rogues, the shepherds, came and told us that God’s very army had come to them to declare God’s peace being born in the person of my son…God’s son thorough me, to the day when you got angry at me for telling you to turn the water to wine. I have always struggled to remember that you are not just my son. You are not Joseph’s son. You are God come to live with us. You are God the Son. 

Jesus, light of my life, many things I have held on to.

I  held on to the way the gentile men came and offered you gifts. Gifts that I would take to your tomb to anoint you with. I held on to the way that God revealed God’s purpose through them, the stranger, the outsider.

I held on the the old Simeon told me, The words of hope “…my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory to your people Israel.” And I held on to the words of terror, “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”

I  held on to how you, always the obedient child, changed the water into wine in Cana so that my family would not be embarrassed. You, though, the time wasn’t right thought first about the role of hospitality and wanted to make sure that the host was not embarrassed.

I held on to the fear that shook my body as the elders chased you to the cliff’s edge after you spoke our God’s word in the synagogue. I never understood why you chose to do that in your own home town.You were their child, too…only you claimed to be God’s child in front of them. They were not ready to hear that. I was not ready.

I held on to the utter despair and grief I felt as you seem to have rejected your brothers and me as your family. We came to see you. To ask you to stop because you were making many enemies, and you said “my mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” What did this mean? I loved you with my whole being. With my whole heart. Why could you not say the same thing? 

I spent that night crying and steeling myself against my pierce soul. As I did, I recalled the words I sang when I learned of your impending birth, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my sprit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty ONe has done great things for me and holy is his name. God’s mercy is for those who fear him.” These words reminded me of the promise of the Saviour, to bring the mighty low, and lift the lowly; to fill the hungry and send the rich away empty. I began to join in those who followed you. I began to understand what it was you meant when you said your mother and brothers were those who hear the word of God and do it. You were freeing me to truly know what God was doing through you. I saw what happened when you send out the seventy . I saw God’s work being done. I saw you feed the thousands. I saw you heal and cure. Raise that woman’s son in Nain. I saw lives changed and transformed. I saw my life changed and transformed. And yet, as your mother, I still struggled to let go of you.

Jesus, I finally was able to let go when I saw that you let go of all that could make you the earthly ruler over us all. You had the followers and the power and the charisma to create a rebellion, but instead you let your self be handed over to be executed. My heart ripped open when Pilate announced the verdict. I melted to my knees, the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. I could no longer hold on to you, you were being executed for doing the work of God. This was my soul being pierced, and yet even in the horror and utter grief a lightness was filling me, the opening in my soul was filled with peace for I knew that God’s work could not be do finished. When you let out that scream and gasped your final words, I knew it was the powers of darkness that were finished. My holding on to you was finished.

Those days  after your death watching your friends, holding on to you, I saw all that I had been carrying. My hopes and dreams for you, my desire for little ones of yours running around, the need to be cared for now that you were gone; I saw these kinds of desires in the mournful faces of your friends. The sat, scared, terrified, that they would be taken. The women sang Kaddish for you. I sat, letting go of all the things I held in my heart.

As the women and I made our way to the cave where you were buried, I knew something was different. I had a feeling that the frankincense and myrrh that were gifted to you would not be used to anoint your body. When we saw the men and they told us the news of you abandoning the grave, I could do nothing but fall on my knees with my hands lifted in the air blessing Adonai for the great thing that was done. I ignited the perfumes as an offering pleasing to the Lord. You had let go the shackles of death. I had let go of all my fear and trepidation. You are the beloved Son of God, not mine but the worlds!

And now we wait, wait for your Holy Spirit to anoint us and send us out to do your work, o God the Son; for God is ever with us. God is taking the things we hold on to and transforming them for God’s plan, so we can do God’s work. We will step out and go where you send us. 

I love you, son of humanity. Son of God.

Mary, Child of God.


My dear North Shore Baptist Church,

I, too, have held much in my heart because of you. 

This sermon has been a difficult one to write because of it being the last time I might be in this pulpit. Two weeks before we leave on a sojourn to Indianapolis, were God has led us. Thinking about, praying about, this sermon, I have realized all that I have held in my heart.

I have held in my heart the gracious welcome I received in July of 2001. A welcome that made me feel at home amongst strangers. A welcome that, I learned, was rooted in the biblical understanding of hospitality – that we may be entertaining angels unaware.

I have held in my heart the deep and abiding friendships. The walks talking about theology and music with Tripp Hudgins. The times gathered around a meal table with friends, eating great food and drinking good wine. 

I have held in my heart the welcome you showed a Lutheran girl from Minnesota, and how you nurtured our relationship and prayed for us as we got married, struggled to have a child, and were blessed with our beautiful longed for child.

I have held in my heart the mentorship of pastors, teachers, colleagues who have unselfishly shared their wisdom with me. Who have allowed me to ask dumb questions. Who have opened their hearts to me.

I have held in my heart a church who is doing the work of God. A church powered by the Holy Sprit promised to those in the upper room by the risen Christ. I have held in my heart a church who marches when a school is on the verge of becoming a military academy; a church who welcomes, daily, those the world rejects; a church who cares from friends and stranger as beloved children of God; a church who opens its doors when a neighbor suffered a tragedy; a church who understands what it means to stand for justice and not just charity; a church who unhesitatingly opens its arms to refugees with the hope of being transformed by the blessing they bring.

All these things I have held in my heart, and now I let go; I give them to God. I remember and am fueled by them, but I, also, give them back to you so that you continue to do the work of God as you have for these last 107 years. I let go of them so that I may be opened to the moving of God’s Holy Spirit in my new ministry. 

Beloved friends, God has great things in store for you. You are the recipients of that promised Holy Spirit.  Just as Mary had to let go and I have had to let go; it is my prayer that you let go of any fear or uncertainty that may hinder you from doing God’s work. It is my prayer that you let go of those things from the past that may be laid as stumbling blocks for the future, but remember and cherish those that help tell the story of God’s work through you. It is my prayer that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirt fill you and bless you all your days. God will be with you. God will take what you hold on to and transform it. God has never abandoned you and never will. Step out and do God’s work.

Thanks be to God.


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