“Finding [Jesus], of course, will normally involve a surprise. Jesus doesn’t do or say what Mary and Joseph…were expecting. It will be like that with us too. Every time we relax and think we’ve really understood him, he will be up ahead, or perhaps staying behind while we go on without thinking. Discipleship always involves the unexpected.” (Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone)
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In our culture, Christmas is over. The day of celebrating and feasting and exchanging gifts is past. We have moved on and in a few days we’ll be settled in to a new year. For Christians who keep the liturgical year, however, we are still in Christmastide. For us, Christmas is a season, not just a day. It’s an extended time for contemplating the Incarnation and worshiping Christ, the newborn King.
However, in today’s Gospel for the first Sunday in Christmastide, Christmas is over. Luke fast- forwards from Jesus’ birth to a time when he is twelve years old and gives us the only story in the New Testament about Jesus’ childhood. It is a story that challenges and stretches our faith.
Most of us love Christmas and hate to see it end. Apart from the traditions we enjoy, we especially love the revelation of God that it brings to us — Emmanuel, God with us. The Word becomes flesh. A baby in a manger. The Lord of heaven has come to dwell with us on earth and has taken on our frailty in the form of a helpless infant. Who among us doesn’t treasure a little baby? We love to embrace this Jesus, to hold him in our arms, to feel the comfort and joy he brings.
But… what happens when Jesus grows up? That’s what today’s story tells us.
When Gail and I were younger, we lived a few miles from a Six Flags amusement park. When we took our family to the park, it was easy to keep track of the kids when they were little because they rode in strollers, and what little walking the toddlers did was confined to small areas. However, as they grew and became more active, making sure we had all the kids in tow became more difficult. I will never forget the panic we felt one day when one of our girls got away from us and disappeared into the crowd. It seemed like an eternity before we found her. Thank God, one of the security guards saw her wandering alone and took her to a safe place. When your children start growing up, it can scare you half to death!
That is what Joseph and Mary experienced in today’s story. Jesus was growing up. In fact, he was twelve years old, which in Jewish tradition means he was on the verge of becoming an adult (a Jewish male becomes a Bar Mitzvah, or “son of the commandments,” at age 13). In our Old Testament reading this morning we heard about the boy Samuel in the Temple. It is likely that Luke shaped his story about Jesus after that narrative. Tradition says that Samuel was twelve years old when he received his call in the night from God and became the Lord’s prophet.
Jesus was twelve years old like Samuel, still a child but on the verge of adulthood. He went with his parents in a caravan to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. As they were returning home, Joseph and Mary realized that Jesus was not with them or with any of their relatives or friends in the caravan. Jesus must have had some independence at that age, and so they probably didn’t worry for awhile, but when no one else had seen him either, his parents realized he was missing. In panic, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. In all, it took three days — can you imagine? — but they found him. There he was, in the Temple courts, engaged in grown-up spiritual discussions with the rabbis. And not only was he having these conversations, but their boy Jesus was displaying so much wisdom and insight right there in the center of Jewish learning and religion that everyone around was amazed at the things he was saying.
His parents must have been flabbergasted, speechless. When Mary finally confronted him about straying away from them, Jesus gave her an astonishing answer: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Well, Mary and Joseph collected their son and headed home. But as Luke says, all Mary could do was try to wrap her mind around what was happening with her little boy. She struggled to understand. She kept these things in her heart, and I’m sure she went over them again and again in her mind. Many years ago she had been told who her son would be. Now he was actually starting to emerge, to grow up, to come into his own. Mary had a lot to think about.
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Those are the kinds of things that happen when your Jesus grows up. Let me develop a few of them.
When your Jesus grows up…
1. There will be times when you will not be able to find him.
One moment you will feel him with you, and poof! the next minute he’s gone. When Jesus grows up you can’t contain him any longer. You can’t keep him under your control. You can’t tell him what to do. He has things of his own to do and he may just go and do them without consulting you first. That little baby of Christmas that you could hold is now off and running and he may not tell you where he is going. Then one morning you wake up and realize that Jesus is missing from your life. Where is the closeness you once felt? Where is the warmth, the comfort and joy? You search and search. You ask others. You look everywhere, but you can’t find him.
Have you ever felt that way? It may be your Jesus is growing up.
2. There will be times when you realize that Jesus is involved in things much bigger than just you.
I have an idea that the last place Joseph and Mary expected to find Jesus was in the Temple sitting in the middle of a bunch of rabbis, debating them on the fine points of Biblical interpretation and theology! Doesn’t sound much like a twelve-year old boy, now does it? I can just see them standing there on the edge of the crowd, watching their son in amazement, and realizing, perhaps for the first time, that he was going to be involved in great things, far beyond their own experiences. This boy was destined for greatness. He would be a companion of the great religious scholars and teachers and leaders of Israel. A small house in Nazareth and a carpenter’s bench would never be able to contain him. The future would take him to places where Mary and Joseph would never go.
Many people in our day talk about having a “personal relationship with Jesus” and suggest that this is the be all and end all of what being a Christian is all about. This story suggests otherwise. The Jesus who forgives us must be about his Father’s business, which which entails so much more than personal religion. Jesus came to save the world! To restore righteousness and peace in all the nations! To put an end to sin and evil and death forever! To make a whole new creation!
We have to learn what Joseph and Mary did. We can’t hang on to Jesus just for ourselves. He will grow beyond that.
3. There will be times when you won’t understand, but will simply have to keep trusting.
This story ends by saying that Jesus’ parents, try as they might, could not understand this whole affair. It then says that Mary simply stopped talking and took this whole experience deep into her heart. The NRSV says she “treasured” these things in her heart, but that English word is too bright and cheery to capture what she must have felt after all the drama she and Joseph had known for three days. I think the idea is that she needed time to try and process all of this. Her baby boy was growing up. He was starting to act in ways she couldn’t grasp. He was saying things that were blowing her mind. He was growing up. She was getting the message that her future with Jesus was going to be an adventure, and it wasn’t always going to be to her liking. So she took a deep breath and went home determined to trust God and to keep thinking and praying and trying to wrap her mind around the new things that were swirling around in her life.
When our Jesus grows up and starts acting in strange, bewildering ways, chances are we are not going to “get it” either. We may not always understand, but we can always do what Mary did — keep pondering, keeping praying, keep trusting.
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Bible scholars have pointed out that this story, told right before the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, has a parallel story, which Luke tells at the end of his Gospel, after Jesus had died. The Gospel begins and ends with stories that tell about:
- Two people who thought they had lost Jesus
- Two people who took three days to find Jesus again
- Two people who were confused about what Jesus said to them and didn’t understand
The first story is the one we read this morning: about Joseph and Mary and the boy Jesus in the Temple. The second is the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. To his parents, Jesus said, “It was necessary that I be in my Father’s house.” To the disciples on the Emmaus Road, he said, “It was necessary that I suffer and die and rise again.”
Neither Jesus’ parents nor the disciples from Emmaus could grasp the reality of a Jesus who had grown up, a Jesus whose life took him to the cross and whose death ended with resurrection. My friends, these are things we cannot truly understand either.
And yet, like Mary, we can ponder these things in our hearts. We can trust God that even though Jesus may be hidden from us, and involved in matters too great for us, and even though he may say things we cannot grasp, he remains with us and loves us. And like the Emmaus disciples, our hearts can burn within us as we hear the Good News of Jesus and we come to recognize him in the breaking of the bread at the Lord’s Table.
When the Baby of Christmas grows up, beyond our ability to understand or contain, we can still search for him and he will let us find him.