By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
December 30, 2018
Luke 2:41–52 (NRSV)
The Boy Jesus in the Temple
41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended, and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
The Christmas season is one that reminds us of many things. We gather together with friends and family, we share meals, and often we share gifts. It is important to remember that Christmas is not only a day but a season. I say this is important to remember the season, because when we celebrate a mere day, it is too easy to get caught up in the commercialism of our culture. When it is a season it spreads the thoughts out over the course of several days and it allows us to reflect on the meaning of Christmas more deeply.
Last week during our lessons and carols we closed out the season of Advent, or anticipation. We read scripture that spoke of the anticipated coming of Christ which was promised to our first parents, Abraham, and through the linage of King David. The last of our lessons was the first chapter of John, “And the word became flesh and dwelled among us.”
The Word became flesh and dwelled among us. This verse is one that causes me to pause every time I hear it. God, who created all things, joined creation where they are. God came to live with us.
When we consider Jesus, we know him in basically two stages, an infant and an adult. When was the last time we considered the time in between? This is why today’s passage is so important, it is the only time in scripture that we see a moment of Jesus’s life between the stable and the ministry. It reminds us that Jesus lived those years between, it allows us to consider that timeframe between.
This week I needed to know the incarnation. I needed to know that God understands, because it was one of those weeks where nothing worked out as planned. Gifts did not come on time. I had to argue with my insurance company multiple times. And as I was getting my car ready to travel to see my side of our family, the work I paid to have done caused more problems than I had before. Does God really understand what it is like to face the unexpected? Does God really know what it is like to have to deal with relational dynamics?
Today we get a glimpse into the family life of Jesus. Only Luke’s gospel account gives us this perspective and I am grateful for it. In Mark, we only see Jesus’s ministry because it begins when Jesus is an adult. In John, we get an abstract beginning that speaks of the eternal existence of Jesus. In Matthew, we see that Jesus’s family is visited by the Magi and then they flee from the threat of death and seek refuge in Egypt. In Luke, we see a glimpse of the family.
“Now every year,” Luke states, “his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover.” This does not seem to say a great deal, but it shows us the devotion of Joseph and Mary. Two thousand years after the initial events we tend to forget certain dynamics of the story. During Mary’s pregnancy they were not yet married, but only engaged. It was the custom of their culture that the engagement would last a year. There could be several reasons for this, but one of the main reasons would be to determine if the wedding was an emergency or not. If they were engaged for a year during that time if a pregnancy occurred, they would know it happened prior to the wedding, at that time proper actions could be taken. Mary was with child prior to this event. Everyone knew that Mary was with child, and since Joseph did not negate the engagement, everyone would assume that Joseph was the father and that Mary and Joseph were living in sin.
In the eyes of that culture, sin ushered in the wrath of God. Every negative event was a direct result of your sin. If you got sick, you must have sinned. If the crops failed, you sinned and need to repent. If someone died, sin. If a child was born with a disability, the parents were sinful and that was judgement. It did not matter if you sinned or not if something happened it was your fault. There is something else about this culture we need to remember as well, they were community based.
Extended families lived and worked together. It was not uncommon for several generations to live within the same household. Adult siblings and their parents and at times in-laws, all living in the same housing complex. If they had a decent income, each family unit might have their own room, but most shared a room or courtyard used for cooking and eating. The men would wake up each morning and go together to work, and the wives would work together within the housing complex. If you did not get along with your brother, you would just have to deal with it because you would probably be living with them your entire life. The family business, and living accommodations were community based, so the sin of one family member would often be felt by the extended family as well.
Consider for a moment, Joseph’s family were construction workers. We commonly call them carpenters, but the word could also mean stone masons, so the idea is that they built and repaired structures. Joseph’s future wife is pregnant before the official wedding, and Joseph accepts the child and marries her anyway. He says that he is not the father, yet he does not make any attempt at seek justice. The family may accept Joseph’s decision, but he carries the weight of every hardship on his shoulders, and if their family is like any of ours, he was probably reminded of it often.
They lived with a social stigma surrounding them, yet they remained steadfast and devoted to their faith. Every year they would make the festival journeys, every year they offered sacrifices, and participated in the religious aspects of their lives. Every year they were faithful, and every year they were reminded of the unique circumstances of their family.
This instance occurred when Jesus was twelve. There is a reason that we are told his age, Jesus at this point is still a child. At the age of thirteen the boys would become men, they would begin their lives within the family business and would be adults. When they were twelve, anything and everything that happened was the parent’s responsibility. If a child stole an item from a vendor, the parents would take the punishment. Twelve would have been a transitionary period, we would call it adolescence today. They are a child, yet they are nearly an adult. They can do somethings on their own, yet they have not yet developed to the point they can fully reason on their own.
We can tell that Mary and Joseph have given Jesus some personal responsibility because they allow him to walk by himself within their traveling party. This is like parents today allowing their high school students drive themselves to a school event. They can drive themselves yet if anything happens to the vehicle it is the parent’s responsibility. Mary and Joseph were good parents allowing some freedom and teaching their children to be devoted to their faith.
They gave him the responsibility, and Jesus did not meet their expectations. They assumed he was traveling along side one of the other people within their group. And after a day they realized he was not there. Then they frantically traveled back to the city to look for him.
Consider for a moment this situation. Many of us have turned around in a department store and a child or a parent was not where we expected them to be. This happened to me not too long ago. I turned my back to look at some socks and turned around again and Albert was nowhere to be seen. For several moments that seem like minutes, we frantically searched for him. When I was about to go to the desk to have them announce a missing child, I heard a giggle. He had simply stepped back into the rack a bit and was standing among clothing that matched what he was wearing. I thought he walked away but he was right with us. My reaction after the initial relief was to scold the child as if he ran off to the toy section without telling me, but the scolding which he endured was really me scolding myself for not paying close enough attention to him. That was a manner of seconds, this was three days. In their mind, Jesus could be anywhere. Jerusalem had thousands of visitors during a festival, how likely would it be to find one child among them.
This is a difficult passage to consider because it challenges our concepts of theology and sin. Scripture states Jesus was without sin, yet we would consider this situation to have been sinful if it was any other child. We, like Mary and Joseph, would have scolded the child and probably punished him. Did Jesus sin, or could we possibly be mistaken in our concept of sin? Did Jesus fail to come along with the family, or did Mary and Joseph fail to communicate with Jesus what time they were leaving?
This passage gives us great insights into interpersonal and parental relationships. The first thing we see is that Jesus is a fully human child. His mind was attracted to something interesting and every aspect of his attention was directed to it. Is it sinful for a child to be in a state of wonder? Absolutely not. Children need the freedom to explore and imagine. They need to be able to ask questions and learn. We should encourage our children to learn as much as possible. This is why we provide for their education. This is why we encourage them to graduate and pursue secondary education in a trade school or university. Jesus was a completely human child, who was fascinated by the interactions and interpretations of scripture among the teachers of their faith. He heard them talking and he walked to them, Joseph might have initially even gone over to them along with Jesus. They were teaching, and Jesus asked a question and then one thing led to another and suddenly this child and the teachers were having this discussion among themselves and the child’s parents had lost track of him. Jesus stayed while they walked away, assuming he followed with them or one of the relatives.
The second thing we see is that Mary and Joseph are typical parents. They are just as human as the rest of us. They do their best to integrate and enculturate their children, but sometimes they fail. They left their child alone in a city. They made assumptions when they should have double checked and something terrible could have happened. They were sick with worry, and they scolded the child when they were really the ones to blame, because emotions are hard to handle sometimes.
The third thing I learn from this is that we should be mindful of those around us, especially our children. The teacher in Proverbs tells us to train up our children in the way they should go. Often, we interpret this as being encourage them to pursue careers that will have an income that will allow them to survive, but that is not at all what this means. We should train them in the way they should go. This means we need to be mindful of their personality and their temperament. My brother and I are very different from one another. This could be do to the fact we have different fathers, but it is more than just that. My brother tinkers and I study. My brother learns with his hands and I learn with my eyes. My mind works in abstract where his is temporal. We think differently, we have different skills and get excited about different concepts. My dad bought me a microscope, and my brother a magnifying glass. I study and my brother tinkers. I observe and my brother experiments. I plan, and he tries it out. My dad taught my brother how to rebuild a small engine and he discussed life cycles and crop rotation to me. My dad was an excellent parent, because he understood us. He knew I was never going to become a tinkerer, so he did not train me to be a mechanic. He knew my brother liked to get his hands into things, so he taught him how to fix things and gave him the tools to do it with mainly because if he didn’t my brother would use his tools. We both learned from the same parent, we both went different direction, yet the same parent encouraged us both.
We need to be mindful of others. There is a reason I allow the kids to play on the drums during worship. It gives them an outlet to participate. Do they have to play them, no but I want them to know that their worship and participation is just as important as everyone else’s. Am I aware that they are not skilled, and they are loud, yes? But if we do not allow them to experiment with their worship how will they learn? And if you notice they are starting to hear the music a little, and they are starting to get some rhythm.
Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, they allowed him to interact with the teachers and Jesus was caught up in the moment, like every child. When they left, they made an incorrect assumption and then they reacted according to their emotions. They scolded Jesus, their child for doing something they were encouraging him to do, because they were scared. And he asks them, “why were you searching? Did you not know I would be in my father’s house?”
As a parent I get this passage. As a person that experienced childhood, I understand this passage. I can relate to it all, I have been in he parent’s shoes and I have been the child as well. What I learn from this passage this week, is that God gets it. I have expectations that are often unrealized, and I get angry. Every aspect of this past week can be found in this passage. But most of all I find myself lacking in the mindfulness area. “Didn’t you know?” Jesus asks his parents. Of course, I knew, but how could I know all in the same breath. I did not realize but I should have. This is why we need more than a day to celebrate Christmas. To more fully explore the incarnation, to more thoroughly interact with Emanuel. God with us. God knows us, because he is with us. He knew us before we were fully formed in our mother’s womb and he knows how we think. He is aware of our weaknesses and where we need grace. He is God with us. But are we aware of God with them? Are we aware of how God is working in and through the lives of others while at the same time interacting with us? And are we aware of how God might be using us to illuminate God with them?
The word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus was born as an infant, experienced childhood to the fullest extent, and grew in wisdom, years and favor. He was obedient to his parents as they became more mindful of him. As we reflect on the Jesus God with us, during this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, let us also grow with him.