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December 27, 2004
Wisdom, Stature, Favor

When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
Matthew 2:45-52

Whatever may have been the case on Christmas Eve, all is not calm and bright on this particular morning, the only glimpse we have of the child Jesus in the four gospels. He leaves his parents without permission, disappearing for hours into a crowd of people and scaring them half to death. He answers back when his mother scolds him about it. Matthew must have reread this scene and felt a little uncomfortable with such domestic realism, because he hastens to assure us that Jesus was obedient from then on.

But I have my doubts. I'll bet he was a handful from the beginning, and that he stayed that way. Later on, we see his family at one of his public appearances, coming together to beg him to come home. They think he's crazy. They may have thought that for a while.

Truly God and truly human, he was, and we can't have one Jesus without the other. He grew up in the same stormy way we grow up. God gives him a mother and father for a reason: he needs to be raised by someone. Taught by someone. Protected by someone. Fed and clothed and nursed when he is ill. By someone. A Jesus who didn't get the chicken pox or the measles because he was God? I don't think so.

And yet, Matthew says, he grows in wisdom and in years, and in God's favor. He had a lot to learn, and he learned it. And God loved him through his growing. And so did other people.

People don't love you because you're perfect. Nobody ever says "I just adore Francine -- she's such a meticulous housekeeper." People may respect your brilliance, but they don't love you for it. We never qualify for love. Love just comes.

But what about that? If I can't qualify for love, if there's nothing I can do to get love and find love, will I never know the joy of love? Do I just sit and wait for love to find me? In these Christmas-card weeks of celebration and family and friends, those who find themselves alone have had a hard time. Everyone but me seems to have love in their lives. How do I get love in mine?

You get love by growing, in all the ways a person grows. You become more interested and more interesting. You grow in generosity and commitment to others, and the good of others brings you joy. You grow in self-awareness, which is a very different thing from self-absorption. You grow in moral courage and personal empathy. All these things give you joy, and all of them attract the joy of other people. Their joy and, in varying degrees, their love.

How do you get love? Let God grow you, in wisdom in stature. Become all that you can be, in every way you can. Do this for your own sake, and to the glory of the one who made you, and not in an anxious project of tailoring yourself to attract a sweetheart. The joy growth brings will be yours, and the love you need -- which may not be the love you think you need at all -- will come to you in God's own time.

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a
Matthew 2:1-12 or Luke 2:41-52 or Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
Psalm 84

And here is the ERD meditation:

How to Bless Those in Sudden Need

Now after the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and flee...
Matthew 2:13

In Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Tamil Nadu, Bangladesh --- a dream is exactly what it must have seemed like. A terrible dream: one moment the sun is shining and people are walking on the beach, and the next moment a wall of water carries everything away: cars, houses, people. Every time we turn on the radio, the toll of the dead grows -- it is fourteen thousand as I write this, and will be many more by the time you read it.

It happened while it was night here -- we heard about it in the morning, and began to pray. The people of Episcopal Relief and Development heard about it in the morning, too, and some of them went to work on a Sunday, making early plans and the first calls to implement them, beginning to marshal resources and the means of deploying them with local partners. Familiarity with disaster has made ERD efficient: they know what to do and how best to do it.

Many were killed, but many more survived -- huddled, still, on hilltops that were now islands in the churning water. Helicopters roam the terrible landscape, plucking the living from their precarious perches and taking them to safety. There will be a need for medical teams and supplies, for food, for emergency shelter.

The Christmas tree needs watering. The trash collection is tomorrow; don't forget to put out the bags of discarded Christmas wrapping. See if you can find the receipt for the sweater that is too large and send it back for a smaller one. Try to stay away from the cookies. Go from task to task in your warm, dry house.

And keep those who fled from this sudden disaster in your prayers, and those who were unable to flee. Do not allow the enormity of it to numb you -- those who must live through it need your engagement. Let your first act of charity in the New Year be a remembrance of these thousands, and let ERD be the means by which you bless those who need a blessing right now.
To make a donation to ERD's disaster relief, visit or call 1-800-334-7626, ext 5219.
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