Isaiah 52:7-15, Luke 2:39-52
December 28, 2014
Merry Christmas, and a Happy almost New Year! We’ve just made our way through the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ, and now we are in the actual season of Christmas. Of course, long before that we were reminded of it. We anticipated it – in scripture, song, and décor – not to mention in media, in stores, and on the internet!
But regardless of all the “hype,” we Christians are very big on the birth of Jesus! It’s a very important event to us! But as I said on Christmas Eve, we need to be sure it isn’t just a nice “birthday story.” If that’s all it is, it will soon become hollow and empty, and we’ll find ourselves feeling like Charlie Brown – enjoying the season, but missing something important. So we need to put this birth celebration in the context of the “big picture” – the picture of Jesus’ entire life and ministry.
The problem is this. Centuries ago, the church “Fathers” designed a calendar which brings to our attention all the various aspects of the life of Jesus. But there is one part missing – Jesus’ childhood! We know very little about his early years from the Gospel accounts. Even in the other writings from that time – the “non-canonical” writings – there are very few stories. Non-canonical writings were writings that were not included in the “canon” or the “sacred collection” of scriptures.
One of those writings was the Gospel of Thomas. And in that writing we get a few more “glimpses” of Jesus childhood. There are little stories such as one where he was said to have made birds out of clay, and then they flew away. But there’s not much more than things like that.
So I wonder. What was life like for Jesus as a boy? Traditionally, we’re told that he worked with his carpenter father. That’s always a great “mental image.” I’m sure you have some pictures in your mind about that. But what else did he do? Did he play? Did he go to school? Did he go to Hebrew school? Was Jesus Bar-Mitzvah-ed? Remember, as I also said on Christmas Eve, this was a very Jewish world into which he was born! And I think we have to picture Jesus, going to the synagogue, and celebrating Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur.
We know he was involved in that world. In this story from Luke’s Gospel, he had gone with his family to Jerusalem, to celebrate the Passover. And then, when he was found to be missing from the company on the way home, he was found back in Jerusalem. He was in the Temple discussing things with the teachers of the faith – the rabbis. And we’re told that they were amazed at his understanding of things! That Jewish world was simply part of the “backdrop” of his life!
Of course, I have to wonder about those teachers in this story. What did they think about this 12 year old sitting with them in the Temple? And by the way, I’m sure there were a lot more people in that picture than we sometimes think. Again, we all have mental images of these things. I know I’ve often thought of this as Jesus sitting in a circle with maybe a dozen or so rabbis. But remember this was Passover! Jerusalem was a crowded place at that time of year. Many people came there from all over for that celebration. Some, like Jesus’ parents, went every year. So this scene was likely to have been much more crowded than we think. There were probably many people in the Temple that day, and there were probably many rabbis, as well! They too would come to Jerusalem for Passover!
Still, what did they think? Did they simply figure that this boy’s family must have been somewhere in the crowded room, or at least somewhere in the city? That doesn’t seem to have concerned them at all! Did they have any idea that he had been “left behind,” when his family returned home? Did they ask, “Where are your parents, young man?” I don’t imagine they did. But who knows. We certainly don’t have all of their words.
So here then was the boy Jesus, being searched for by his parents. And we can only imagine their concern! They hadn’t seen him in three days! The company of these pilgrims was so large, they didn’t miss him, somehow. Now they had to be frantic! And we can only imagine the scene when they found him, having walked all the way back to the city! Nazareth was 60 some miles from Jerusalem. We can only imagine how far they had gone before they turned back.
You know that we tend to make this all positive. We read this story in our “Bible voice!” (Even when we read it in our heads!) But there must have been some very tense family dynamics going on here! And I love all of that about Jesus! I love his “human factor.” We get at least a little of that in this story.
Sometimes we think of him with halo already in place, ready to be made a statue of. But like the disciples, Jesus was human. Even though he was fully God, he was also fully man. He felt what we felt. He laughed and cried like we do. He experienced this life! He was part of things. He went to funerals. We know he went to weddings. He loved people. He had friends. He had special friends! And all of that is part of the big picture of his life. He didn’t just “come on the scene” at the time of his Baptism. And all of this makes that event, which we will celebrate in a couple of weeks, that much more rich and amazing!
So, what I like us to think about today, is that God chose, not just for “the Word to become flesh” – to be dropped into this world with a halo – but that the Word “dwelt among us!” He wanted, not just to tell us the way to the next life, but to show us how to live this one. And he showed us that how we live matters, not just as a means to that next life, but because God cares about how we live! God wants us to have joy and abundance in the here and now.
I’m so glad for this story of the boy Jesus. Even though it’s really the only one we have, still it’s wonderful. It speaks so strongly of God’s love for us, and his desire to be among us through his spirit. So, as we think of the new year that’s coming very quickly now, may we see it as a year where “the Word that became flesh” really does “dwell among us.”
Eternal God, thank you for the stories of Jesus, how he showed us your kingdom, how he demonstrated your love for us. Help us to live that love, to think of, and to be immersed in, your kingdom, every day. As we live our lives, help us to share them with you more and more in the coming year. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.