The radio has already stopped playing Christmas music, but the church is just getting started.
We're only two turtle doves in to this twelve day season, yet even with a weekend full of services and another next Sunday, the glorious abundance of Christmas music means we might not get to sing your favorite carol this year.
Alas, one of the classic holiday hymns that didn't make the cut was from the spiritual brotherhood Wham!:
Last Christmas I gave you my heart; the very next day, you gave it away.
Christmas can go south in a hurry.
Perhaps that explains why the church designates December 26 as the commemoration of Deacon Stephen, the first Christian martyr, whose faith led him to die a gruesome death similar to that of Jesus.
It will be followed up in two days by The Holy Innocents, the babies of Bethlehem slaughtered by Herod's heavies in the panicked search for his newborn rival, the King of the Jews sought by the magi.
The church follows Matthew's lead in realizing that Christmas has explosive implications, that
God's arrival in this myopic, greedy, power-addicted world will not be welcome.
In a more subtle but equally clear-eyed, buzzkill way, Luke also foreshadows the dangers ahead.
Like the tree is already in the seed, the cross is already in Christmas.
Today's story can be read as an overture of the whole gospel: a fraught journey to Jerusalem for Passover at which Jesus goes missing for three days.
Great anxiety gives way to greater amazement and stunned misunderstanding as Jesus, somehow alive, opens eyes and hearts with his unrivaled grasp of God's word.
Ever since, his church—theoretically if not actually—has found him in his Father's house and then traveled with him back out into the world each week.
Sometimes we even treasure holy moments in our heart and grow in wisdom, too.
But getting there, getting all the way to Easter in Luke and in life, is a long slog.
There is so much conflict and resistance and struggle along the way.
There is the external pressure from the callous political world to navigate.
There is also the internal pressure, the religious resistance, the demons within as deadly as the devils without.
Jesus' family misunderstands him; his spiritual community conspires against him; his disciple sells him out; his best friend denies him; his circle of trust abandons him.
What the popular "Left Behind" series seemed to miss was that it was Jesus who gets left behind.
Yet through it all, he remains in his Father's house, or more accurately translated, I must be about my Father's business.
Through all the anxiety and misunderstanding and misdirection and retraced steps of our story, Jesus keeps his eyes on God's mission.
He will do his Father's business in Jerusalem.
He will die and rise to break the cycles of death and violent revenge.
He will muscle through the divine agenda of forgiveness and fresh starts for this wayward world.
He will carry through to the end of the story, and he invites us: Come, follow me.
Follow me into the wonder of the word.
Follow me into the teeth of trouble.
Follow me to the cross and grave, the dark doorway to glory.
Follow me on love's long, treacherous, terrifying trek into the world.
Follow me into misunderstanding and fear.
Follow me through the pandemic and political despair and public incivility and self- absorbed inhumanity that seem to have no end.
Follow me into inflation and anxiety and someone else's war.
Follow me into cancer wards and nursing homes and places squeezed in the iron grip of sorrow.
Follow me into the rejection of the good news when it means great joy for the wrong people.
Follow me into the graveyard where the man with the battalion of demons is exiled.
Follow me into the funeral parade for the widow's son.
Follow me into the leper colony and the tax collector's home.
Follow me into the company of criminals and prostitutes and others you try to keep away from your children.