A Brush with Greatness – December 31, 2006

I Samuel 2:18-21, Luke 2:41-52

December 31, 2006

“A brush with greatness.” That’s an expression that describes a chance encounter with someone famous, or someone the world thinks is a great person. David Letterman used to do a bit on his show where members of the audience members would tell of their chance meetings with famous people. He called that segment “A Brush with Greatness.”

Did you ever have one of them? Did anyone here ever shake hands with a president? Did anyone ever meet a celebrity in an airport? Maybe you saw a lot of TV cameras and reporters standing around one of the gates. Did anyone ever bump into someone famous in an unexpected place, like a Macdonald’s, or maybe in a rest room somewhere? I was in a Barnes and Noble in Topeka Kansas one time and Donald Sutherland came walking in. That was kind of surprising! Do you ever wonder about the guy who got hit by Gerald Ford’s golf ball? (And didn’t Spiro Agnew once hit someone with a tennis racquet?)

One time when I was in New York City, we stayed at the same hotel as the president. I didn’t know it till later, but as we approached the hotel, there were barricades, and Policemen everywhere, and the streets were lined with more police cars and motorcycles than you’ve ever seen, and who knows what else. And hey, I know I’m famous, but eventually I figured there must be someone else they were all waiting for!

I want you to think about this story from Luke. I think this one of those stories. I think there is a “brush with greatness” going on here. This is the only story the Bible tells us about Jesus as a child. This is about the time his family was in Jerusalem for the Passover. That was something every good Jew was expected to do at least once in their lifetime, and it was something Jesus’ parents did every year. But this time there was a problem. They had started on their return journey, and somewhere along the road, they realized Jesus wasn’t with them.

Of course, this wasn’t some terrible thing these parents did. They weren’t neglecting him, like someone who forgets and leaves a kid at the mall or something. They made these trips, these pilgrimages, in large groups. And when they realized Jesus wasn’t with them, they asked among their “kinsfolk and acquaintances.” There were many such people on this trip. And they assumed he was somewhere in this company.

However, that wasn’t the case. So they had to traveled back to Jerusalem where they finally found him – after three days! Can you imagine what that was like for these parents? Can you imagine how frantic they were? (“God, you gave us your son to raise – and we lost him!”) Of course one of the ideas behind this story was the nature of Jesus. For where did they finally find him? They found him in the Temple. He was speaking with the priests and the religious leaders, who were amazed at his understanding. Remember, he was twelve at the time. He told his parents, “Did you not know that I must be in God’s house?” Then again, what might we say about a boy who understood things that would amaze the priests, yet he didn’t seem to understand the worry he would cause parents when he failed to tell them where he was? What would we have said to this boy?

As I read this story again, I started to get the idea that this was a brush with greatness. Mary and Joseph found Jesus is in the temple speaking with the priests and scribes. And they were the celebrities in that society. They were both the religious leaders and the civil leaders. They the biggies. They were the ones people looked up to. Think about it. Who else were the “famous” people? Maybe the Romans. They were certainly the world leaders, but the people didn’t like them. They weren’t so much famous as “infamous.”

So here was a brush with greatness. But it was a brush with greatness on whose part? Was it a brush with greatness for Jesus? Or was it a brush with greatness for these priests, as they sat talking unknowingly with the Messiah? That’s the amazing part of this story. Because we see the big picture here, don’t we? It’s we who can read this and think, “if only they knew who it was they were talking to!”

Do you see how ironic this picture is? It makes me wonder how many people have had a “brush with greatness” and didn’t even realize it! How many have been near a famous person, and didn’t even know it? How many people have been childhood friends with future celebrities? Did you know that Bob Sagat from “Americas Funniest Home Videos” was in Patty and my graduating class at Abington? (Think about that when you’re shaking our hands later on!) How many people have had a brush with greatness and didn’t know it? And how many people have had a brush with greatness and didn’t care?

Here were these priests, talking with the Messiah, and they didn’t even know it. There they were having an encounter with God in a way they never imagined. Maybe they remembered that encounter years later when all the fervor arose around Jesus, maybe they didn’t. Remember that not all the priests were against Jesus at the end. He had a number of followers among the religious leaders!

As you think about that scene there in the Temple that day, I want you to think about the ways God touches us. Sometimes when God touches our lives we don’t even realize it. We look back and say, “Oh my word! I didn’t realize God was telling me something. Why didn’t I see it.” Then at other times, we have encounters with God when it’s inconvenient? Sometimes when God calls us, we are too busy or too preoccupied to respond so we turn the other way.

Do you ever find yourself doing that? Do you ever find yourself so wrapped up in your own world and your own concerns that you sweep the touch of God to the side? Your concerns couldn’t be more important, and God’s concerns couldn’t be farther from your mind.

Then think about those for whom that is the story of their lives? Life is going along just the way they want it to, so responding to the call or the touch of God’s spirit is inconvenient. They might even “go to church” from time to time, but don’t ask them to take any great “leaps of faith.” Don’t ask them for any involvement. If anything, they just want to be “background Christians.”

Then, there are some for whom life is not going so well. They could have such peace and fulfillment in their lives, if they would seek to follow God’s leading in their lives. But they’ve been fighting for control in a life out of control for so long, they just can’t ease the death grip they have on the reins of their lives.

Where do you fit into all this? We all have encounters with God. Sometimes they’re like this idea of a “Brush with Greatness,” where we have a chance (or not so chance) meeting with God. Do we notice when God touches us? Do we seek the touch of God, looking to the spiritual rather than just the physical part of life?

We are spiritual beings just as much as we are physical beings, if not more. And I believe the spiritual touches our lives all the time. It can be different for each person, and it often is. But what do we do with it? Do we brush it aside, thinking, “That’s not for me. I’m not that ‘religious’ a person.” “I don’t want to respond to God because he puts too many demands on people.”

There is such potential for our lives if we respond. We can have peace and strength and fulfillment knowing the one who created us and gave us life. But do we? Who will we be like in this story? Will we be like Mary and keep these things in our heart? Will we do something with our brushes with God. Or will we be like these priests? Will we think there’s something amazing about it all, but we ultimately do nothing about it?

Christmas is a “brush with God” for many. It is a time when the spiritual touches people’s lives and they think about “spiritual things” perhaps more than any other time of the year – people who wouldn’t ordinarily think of spiritual things. And I’m not just talking about people outside of the Church either. Too many people in the Church do only the physical things of faith. They do only the things that are “outwardly religious.” But the inward things, the heart things, the spiritual things, those they neglect, or even purposely avoid.

They could have such a wonderful fulfilling life in relationship with God himself, sharing life with him every day, not just brushing by him from time to time. But they hesitate. And there are probably a million reasons why.

How do we respond? How will we respond in the coming year? Let us resolve in this New Year to be in that relationship, and to rejoice in this life in the presence of God, seeking the touch of his spirit each day, growing in his love and his grace.


Eternal God, you touch our lives in so many ways. We encounter you even when we don’t realize it. Help us to see. Help us to ponder things in our heart, like Mary did. Help us to respond to you at those times. Help us to seek you more and to follow where you lead, no matter how difficult it may be. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.