Luke 2:41-52

When families get together over major holidays like Christmas, it’s not unusual to share stories about times when everyone was younger. We don’t tell them in chronological order, but rather as things from today trigger memories from times gone by. No one worries that one-minute we are talking about a child being born, the next moment we are remembering a scene from their adolescence, and then we bounce back to a time when they were a toddler. That’s helpful to remember over the next few weeks, because the lectionary readings bounce around like that. Just this past Thursday night we were celebrating the birth of the Christ child, and in today’s reading he is already a rather difficult 12-year-old boy. Next week we will be back to remembering that time when he was an infant or toddler, and the wise men came from afar, bearing gifts. So think of yourselves as a gathered family of faith, and get ready for some stories about how that baby Jesus grew.

Despite his mother having been told by an angel that her child would be the Messiah, in some ways Jesus seems to have grown up in very normal ways. He spent months in his mother’s womb like the rest of us, and as we mentioned on Christmas Eve, he probably had to learn to walk and talk like we did too. At least we aren’t told otherwise. Today’s story from Luke is a rare peek into a moment in his growth that seems to indicate he was pretty normal in some ways, and extremely extraordinary in others. Mary and Joseph seem taken by surprise by the extraordinary part, so maybe the years in between had been somewhat unexceptional, and the drama surrounding his birth seemed like an odd dream by now.

Every year, we are told, Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. Nothing out of the ordinary about that. It’s what dedicated Jews did. When he was 12, they went “as usual,” Luke says. Situation normal. When it was over, “Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.” Oops. That’s a little odd, but not really. Lots of 12-year-olds have minds of their own, and many of us at that age didn’t feel the need to let our parents know about everything we were doing. The fact that his parents didn’t know it isn’t all that odd either. They had traveled with a group of relatives and friends and neighbors who would have been an extended family really. So it would be easy to assume that someone else was walking with Jesus. But after a day’s journey they realize he is not with them. A whole day of walking! Think of how tired you would be. Think of that rising sense of panic when you can’t find someone you love and you are afraid that you have lost him. Imagine that rush of adrenaline as you look and look and nobody has seen him, and no matter how tired you had been, you rush from place to place, knowing he could be a whole day away. So when they couldn’t find him, they returned to Jerusalem. That takes another whole day. Maybe a little less because they are likely nearly running now. That would not be at all out of the ordinary for most parents in a similar situation.

After 3 days they find him sitting among the teachers in the temple, listening to them and asking them questions. Can you feel that sense of relief and fury that likely flooded over them as they gave thanks that he was safe, and felt outrage at what he had put them through? It’s interesting that he is listening to the teachers and asking them questions. He is growing in the same way that we all do, learning from others as he goes along. Perfectly normal. And yet….”all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Who is teaching whom here?

The parents, Luke says, are astonished, and his mother blurts out “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” How embarrassing for a preteenager to hear these words directed at him when he is acting like a grownup in the midst of important people. But how normal a response from a mother who has been terrified for 3 days! Almost any mother would be hysterical with fear and worry by now. So I know I kind of want to discipline this boy who responds to his poor mother by saying, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” It’s not really so unusual for a child of that age to have little concept of the affect they are having on their parents. But what does he mean he must be in his Father’s house? Joseph’s house is back in Nazareth. That is where they were headed. His parents did not understand what he said, according to Luke. Even though they had been told by angels how special he would be, even though shepherds came right after his birth telling them about a multitude of angels who had come to them, proclaiming that this child was the Messiah, so much after that had apparently seemed so normal that it all seemed almost like a dream. They did not understand that Jesus meant the temple was his Father’s house, because God was his Father.

What a scene in front of the teachers in the temple! How embarrassing for everyone. But Jesus was a good boy. He went with Mary and Joseph “and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them.” And here comes a line that we heard on Christmas Eve. “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” Most of us don’t treasure those moments when our kids are flippant with us in front of others. Most of us don’t treasure the memories of the times we thought our child was lost either, even though nearly every family can tell these types of stories. Mary is treasuring the things that confirm for her that she didn’t just imagine that visit from the angel. Her child is different. Her child will change the world. He is as annoying as any child can be right now, but there is something really unique about him and she treasures the evidence of that uniqueness, that unfolding call, and the way he is increasing in wisdom, in years, and in divine and human favor.

John Wesley had an interesting take on this story. He said that even though Jesus was perfect, he did grow in perfection, and that means that even the rest of us, no matter how good or bad we think we are at being Christians “have room to increase in holiness” and “in the love of God.”

Holidays can be stressful on families. I know that when I had my counseling practice, the weeks before and after Christmas were especially hard for some people. There is this expectation that families gather at Christmas, and it should look like a Hallmark card, with everyone hugging and laughing and loving each other. But for many families, old patterns and old hurts are still in play, and being together can sometimes be painful. How hopeful it is to see that even Jesus and Mary and Joseph had moments of tension in their family life; times when they didn’t understand each other, and times when they were mad at one another. We sing songs about how the baby Jesus didn’t cry, and we see idyllic cards picturing Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem, or staying in the stable, and it looks serene and beautiful, but the Bible doesn’t tell us that story. The Bible says they had to stay in a stable because there was no room in the inn and that is where Mary had to deliver her baby. And I bet he did cry. And they probably weren’t thrilled to be there. And Mary sounds just as annoyed as any other mother would be when she had to go searching for her pre-teen son who had been missing for 3 days and couldn’t seem to understand why she should care. And God was with them through it all. Grace happened and all of them grew spiritually. And God is with us through it all too. That’s a message of hope. That’s a message of love. Life can be messy, but we can all grow in our understanding of God, and keep “going on toward perfection” as Wesley said, no matter how old or young we are. And that’s Good News. Amen

Between Parent and Child

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