Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.
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. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.
After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 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.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.
Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. [NRSV]
Jesus’s Childhood: Normal yet Extraordinary
This text is the only text where Jesus’ life between infancy and adulthood is recorded. Although a very brief description of these years, it gives us enough to think about him as a normal boy, trained well in the traditions of Judaism.
This is one of the most human and divine stories in the life of Jesus. On one hand, what parent has not a moment of experiencing a lost child story. Susanna lost in Belk department store, happily watching Barney in the children’s section. Or Luke at Turner field without his seat tickets and all the entrances began to look alike after a trip the men’s room. Or Frances…
On the occasion of Passover, Jesus’ parents, along with many other faithful Jews, took the journey to the city of Jerusalem. At some point on the return trip back to their home, they noticed Jesus was missing. They thought twelve-year-old Jesus was among the travelers. After a three-day search, to their surprise, they found Jesus in the temple in the middle of a conversation with religious teachers.
Typical of a concerned parent, Mary questions Jesus about his disappearance. She must have been very worried and upset because he had stayed in Jerusalem. Mary says, we’ve been “searching for you in great anxiety” (v.48). To which, Jesus replies, “Why were you searching for me?” Any parent would have responded with a, “What do you mean, ‘Why?’ We are your parents.” Every child know the drill. But this is the fascinating thing about this text: it enhances Jesus’ humanity, and it gives us a small, but significant entry into his family, “the holy family.”
The word for this week is “Search.” Mary and Joseph search for their lost child, Jesus. Jesus is on a search for answers; he is developing into adulthood, and—above all— discovering his mission as Son of God. I know this presents serious questions for some people regarding Jesus’ nature as both human and divine. For some, the question is, “Didn’t he understand his own divinity?” For others, the question is, “If he understands his divinity, how authentic was his experience as a human being?” The text reads, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” ( v.52).
The epistle to Hebrews affirms Jesus’ experience as common to all other human beings, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (5:7-9). Thus, like any other human being, Jesus learned to obey his Heavenly Father. And so, we find him learning the ropes of his faith, and perhaps deepening his understanding of who is and what he is called to do as the Messiah.
The presence of the parents and the dynamic of family interactions make this text very accessible. Concerns about family life, child rearing, spiritual formation, faith discoveries, family rules, and communication between parents and youth are places where the theme of “search” can surface. Even Jesus was under the tutelage of a family; he had questions and was thirsting for truth and meaning. Jesus shows depth and maturity as a young twelve-year-old boy.
We are not privy to the content of his interaction in the temple, but he is both “listening to them and asking them questions.” Additionally, he had a grasp of the faith and tradition as “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (v. 47).
This passage brings back memories of my visit to Israel. I had a chance to approach the Western Wall (or wailing wall). We carried in our pockets a list of petitions from our group to be inserted between the stones that make up the wall. We began our journey toward the wall in the middle of a huge crowd made up of hundreds of men praying. Many of them stood in circles sharing questions and answers, under the tutelage of either a rabbi or an elder Jew.
In the text, we see a very Jewish moment, with Jesus and his parents caught in between Jesus’ search for answers and Mary and Joseph’s search for their son. For us Christian listeners in the twenty-first century on this first Sunday after Christmas Day, we have an invitation to continue our search for depth and greater maturity in our faith journey.
Like Jesus, we want to have the freedom to raise questions and to share our view on things spiritual. It would be wonderful if every faith community could be that place where people would feel they could go on their own to find answers. We will always be surrounded by self-appointed leaders who like fathers and mothers will question our whereabouts, our independent thinking, or our going in the opposite direction.
There is a juggling act in this text: The important of family life and the and the uncontainable and inevitable coming of age of all human beings, and the reminder that like Jesus, we also must be about our heavenly parent’s business.
As a mother and a father, God wants us to give an account of our whereabouts, but at the same time wants us to explore, discern, ask questions, and search for answers.
In practical terms, Scripture, prayer, worship, small-group Bible studies, hymns, praise songs, serves of others, meditation, and all kinds of spiritual discipline are important tools to help us continue our search.
From different angles, this text in the Christmas season can lay a foundation for what is yet to come in the next several weeks as we see Jesus becoming an adult and fully engaged in his messianic mission.
Weekly Sermon are a chore and a Joy
I offer to you there is a weekly joy and chore about preparing sermons. Sermon preparation is a spiritual discipline in itself. The exercise of immersing in the text week in and week out can be a tedious task. It can also become monotonous and a matter of doing the job as opposed to an adventure in learning new things about ourselves, about God, and about the applications of our faith in the real world.
I have confidence that not every sermon is a homerun and not everyone listens to my words. But I truly hope that the text of Jesus being an ordinary person, with ordinary parents, finds himself not with his birth-family but with his spiritual family.
This text can motivate us to give ourselves permission to explore biblical, theological, and church matters.
Consider a presentation on the reality of family life, coming of age, and independent thinking in our children. By the same token, also consider a homiletical lesson on subjects such as: sensitivity on the part of spiritual elders toward young inquiring minds and the importance of providing spaces for in-depth discussions on faith matters.
Urgency of being Lost
The questions for us has the urgency of knowing that what we teach the next generation can be lost in a matter of days up assuming someone else has them covered or that someone else is responsible or that someone else with watching after the children while we do our own thing.
What are you and I doing to be assured that no one is left out, left behind in their spiritual journey?
Where better for us to be but in the fellowship of witnesses, teachers and co-learners at the church/temple to be about our heavenly father’s call upon our lives.
Look at the next three days. Give three step, three steps mister…
- What can you do to be more informed about your faith in the next three days
- What can you do to be clear that those in your family/ circle of influence are growing in faith
- What strength, joy, hope and love will come if we do nothing and just go about our regular routines.
As the new year approaches: Look at your Spiritual Growth in three day periods:
- What can I do today
- What will I do tomorrow
- Who will God place in my path the day after and will I be ready to listen, teach, serve or share my faith?