(Luke 2: 41-52)
Growing up is difficult, both on the one growing and the one raising. The one raising knows that although the sun is shining a darkness lurks and are naturally protective of their children. You want them to grow, learn, make a few mistakes, mature, and move on to the next phase of their journey, making you proud. And the one growing can’t grow fast enough, thinking they aren’t a little kid anymore and to stop treating them like a baby. I grew up in the 1950s and 60s and it’s a wonder I’m alive. Riding in cars with no car seats, not wearing seatbelts, riding bikes with no helmets, swimming in ponds with no lifeguard, camping with no adult supervision and playing with axes, knives, and fire, being pulled behind my father’s car on my toboggan up and down a snow-covered road, and roaming the town and countryside looking for mischief, without telling any adult where we were or what we were doing. We knew what time to be home for dinner, but sometimes we got so engrossed in what we were doing we’d forget, and our parents would start looking for us and offering up a stern admonishment, at the very least, once found us in one piece. What’s the big deal, we’d think? It’s all a part of growing up. I’m fine! Geese, give me a break!
The Apostle Luke tells of a similar experience Jesus, Joseph, and Mary had on their way back home from Jerusalem. Under Jewish law Jewish men were required to make pilgrimages each year for Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. If you lived in Jerusalem or nearby it wasn’t that big an inconvenience. But if you lived a great distance away it required a road trip. Jesus and his family lived in the city of Nazareth which was sixty miles to the north of Jerusalem and would have required a walk encompassing three to four days. So, what you would have were large caravans of people from your village or city forming together for safety to travel to Jerusalem picking up others along the way. Entire families, including extended family members like aunts, uncles, and cousins, would frequently travel in a group. For the kids this had to have been a great time, running, playing, and making new friends.
Luke tells us that each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival and that when he was twelve years old, they went as was their custom. After the festival was over, Mary, Joseph and the rest of the family were returning home, but unbeknownst to them, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. Supposing that he was among their band of travelers, they journeyed on for a full day while looking for him among their family and friends. At the end of the day, when they hadn’t found Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. Now before you go off and call Child Protective Services, remember Jesus is twelve and his parents naturally assumed he was running with his friends. And Mary, no doubt, has her hands full with the other kids, James and his siblings. Come suppertime, Jesus is no where to be found and I have no doubt they were pretty worried, having lost God’s son and all. Now Jerusalem is a pretty big city, and they don’t know where to begin, and Luke tells us that after three days of searching and three sleepless nights, they found him in the temple. I know what your initial reaction would be after letting out a big sigh of relief. “Boy, wait until I get you home! I’m going to wear you out! You won’t be able to sit for a week!”
But that didn’t happen. Mary and Joseph held back and watched and listened to what was going on. Luke tells us that Jesus was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and putting questions to them. Luke says: Everyone who heard him was amazed by his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were shocked. At this point you might be thinking that this isn’t so amazing as Jesus is really God, so he already knows the answers to his questions. Maybe so, but I am reminded that Jesus is still a growing boy, and it won’t be for another 18 years until the Holy Spirit descends upon him during his baptism by John the Baptist. Anyway, after Mary corrals Jesus she asks: Child, why have you treated us like this? Listen! Your father and I have been worried. We’ve been looking for you!” Let me digress for a moment. I love this, especially when you take into account that Luke was not one of the original disciples and probably never even met Jesus. He had to have heard this story from someone, and I suspect he heard it directly from Mary as he was interviewing her for his gospel writing. This sounds exactly like what a “worried sick” mother would say. Anyway, Jesus replied: Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house? But Luke tells us that they really didn’t understand what Jesus was telling them. Luke says that Jesus went back to Nazareth with them and was obedient. You think? Luke closes out this part of his story by telling us that Mary cherished every word in her heart, and that Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people. He was growing up to be a fine young man and I’m sure one day they all looked back on it and had a good laugh.
What Luke has shown us is that although Jesus was unique, he had a normal childhood and adolescence and, in terms of development, he went through the same progressions we do. At age 12 Jesus is now at the age which, for a Jewish boy, intensive instruction for him begins in preparation for his reaching the age of responsibility at age 13, when a young Jewish boy was accepted into the religious community as a man responsible to keep the law. He had questions and was experiencing growing pains, not looking at himself as a little boy anymore. So, he went to the temple in Jerusalem at Passover to get some answers. The timing here is important as the greatest rabbis of the land would have assembled to teach and discuss great truths among themselves. And who knows, the coming of the Messiah would no doubt have been a popular topic for discussion. Jesus would have been eager to listen and ask questions.
And that’s the point. It’s okay to ask questions, it’s how we get answers and how our faith grows. Jesus asked questions of his religious leaders of the time, and we should be doing the same. Don’t just take their word for it. Even for me, especially for me as I am not seminary trained, I have been questioned about topics I’ve preached on and fortunately I have been able to point back to the scriptures, my Study Bibles, authoritative commentaries, and our Methodist Book of Discipline to support my propositions, and that’s okay. It keeps me on my toes and helps me grow too. And, as long as we’re on the topic, John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist denomination, on this story so wonderfully recounted by Luke, reasoned that though a man was pure, even as Christ was pure, still he would have room to increase (room to grow) in holiness, and, in consequence thereof, to increase in the favor as well as in the love of God.
Luke’s story tells us that as Jesus grew physically, mentally, and spiritually, he related to other people, and was loved by God during the growing process. He’s pointing out that a full human life is balanced, thus, it was important to Jesus, and it should be important to all believers, to develop fully and harmoniously physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. Being the kind of Christian that God desires is something you grow into. It doesn’t happen overnight and it often takes a lifetime. Many times, learning from your mistakes. You will have growing pains, doubts, failures, and many questions. It will and can be challenging and that’s okay. You can’t measure your faith unless it is challenged. You can’t grow your faith unless it’s fed and nourished. That’s why God gives us the room we need to grow.
Let us pray.
Gracious and loving Father, take our lives and let them be consecrated, Lord, to thee. Take our moments and our days; let them flow in ceaseless praise. We come to you this morning as your children, children of all ages, anxious to learn what it is you want us to know that will help us grow into the kind of people you would have us be. Give us those teachable moments that show us your way, the way of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Open our minds, our eyes, and our hearts so that we can be for the world a people who live by your example leading others to you. Grant us that room to grow in our understanding of your way, in our faith, and in our love for your creation. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.