I preached at my internship congregation this past weekend. So did Timothy, both based on Luke 2:41-52:
Now every year his [Jesus’] 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.
Here we are! The Sunday after Christmas! Did you all have a good Christmas? [most said yes]
If you did – you’re in luck because the days of Christmas continue – as today is the 3rd day of Christmas! I can just hear Kermit now: “On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me – 3 French hens, 2 turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree…”
“On the FOURTH–” No, we’ll stop there.
Today’s gospel reading comes from the second chapter of Luke. Today we fast-forward from Jesus’ birth to a few years down the road and we get a glimpse, just a glimpse, into what Jesus was like as a kid. And I call it a glimpse because this is the one shot we get at seeing Jesus between Jesus the baby and Jesus the 30-something in the New Testament.
This begs the question: Why is this only story of Jesus’ growing up? I was also curious why he was specifically 12 years old. Well it might seem young, but at age 12, boys were preparing in the year ahead to become religiously mature and observe the duties of the Torah. The Torah the first five books of our Old Testament – and also considered a holy text for Jews and Muslims too.
Jesus gets so swept up in his conversation and preparation that he gets separated from Mary and Joseph. Three long days later, they find Jesus in the temple who says, “didn’t you know I would be in my father’s house?” You could either say [begrudgingly] “wise guy” or [impressed] “Wise guy”
Either way, Jesus is growing in his maturity and faith, and like the text says, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”
So if you’ve had these questions about this story, know you’re not alone.
It makes me wonder though: Why are we so bummed out that we’re not given access to the majority of Jesus’s life?
I think it’s because we so badly want to know that Jesus was human, too.
This story of when Jesus was 12 can draw out the best question in us – not just “What happened?” but “What got Jesus out of bed in the morning?” “When he looked up at the stars, what did he think about?” “What was his favorite food?” “What was he like?” “If he truly did go through adolescence like the rest of us, did he ever have a sour attitude, or say mean things, or have to get grounded by his parents?” “Who was Jesus?”
“Who is Jesus?”
We have this insatiable need to know that God truly came to be among us – our Emmanuel, God incarnate. We want reassurance that he was also 12 and 6… and 17 and 25.
We want to know Jesus was human too.
And at the same time, I don’t want Jesus to be God incarnate, living among us. I need God to be big. I need God to be so big that he can save the whole world. I need God to be so big that he can save some pretty messed up people- people who get tempted by power, who get frustrated, who misdirect their anger and shame, who get scared of the dark. People who I sometimes look like.
I need God to be so big that he can turn water into wine. That he can heal a blind man just by touching him. That God can make sure I meet up with my grandpa and family in heaven – so I can hear what it was like to be in Japan during the war, and what my my great-grandma’s festive parties were like on the farm, and my family’s old, old jokes about Ole and Lena.
I think that’s the beautiful tension that this text presents before us today: the God of the the whole world, of the universe, holds the ability to save us all through the person and work of Jesus Christ, and yet small enough that God meets us in our humanity and our questions and our wilderness here in our bodies and in this world.
And I’m not saying that we have to ditch our understandings of God as big and mighty, because it’s in that cosmic space that God can and does move—moves us from darkness to light, sinner to saint, lost to saved.
I can’t help but think of a song I learned in Sunday school – “My God is so BIG! SO strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do!”
But sometimes we need to be reminded that God lives and dwells among us. That through Jesus Christ, we are people who believe in an embodied God. The work of God is inherently delivered through the stuff and bodies and creation that God so loves.
We read in second Corinthians that we share the message and gift of Jesus as if we are an aroma of Christ – people can just smell it on us—which is weird, I know, but stick with me: Through our bodies and senses we proclaim the grace and truth of God given to us through person of Christ. God enters into our humanity, through Christ, like water fills up a clay jar. Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians, we are “always carrying… the body of the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”
…in bodies that get lost in temples.
In bodies that get tired and worn.
In bodies that are taken advantage of.
In bodies that are loved.
In bodies that show our mortality over and over again.
God is present in and has always worked with our humanity to bring a message of truth and grace for all people.
A cosmic message, delivered in a frail, vulnerable body.
God didn’t appear to the Jews as a tall king, rivaling the social and physical power of the kings and governments of the Romans.
No, God appeared in a particular body – in the smallest and most vulnerable of bodies – a baby, born in Bethlehem. This gives us hope that God still shows up in our humanity, as we carry the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in our bodies as filled clay jars.
Today, with this one story of Jesus’ childhood in the Bible, we ask, “Who is Jesus?”
On Christmas Eve, candlelight flooded this sanctuary. We sang Silent Night, ending with these words:
Radiant beam from your holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at your birth;
Jesus, Lord at your birth.
The saving work of God comes to us through this little human, to meet us, to save us, and to know us, in our humanity. This is good news, that doesn’t need to be wrapped in shiny paper and curly bows. All it needs is some hay, a stubborn innkeeper, a pair of courageous parents, some confused animals, and a manger. Amen.