December 27, 2015 – Growing up with Jesus

First Sunday after Christmas   December 27, 2015   Psalm 148, 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Luke 2:21-40, 41-52   Growing up with Jesus

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Unto us a child is born… just two short days ago. Already he’s almost a teenager. Tomorrow he’ll be grown up… and gone.

Luke is the gospel that tells us the most about the birth of Jesus, and the only gospel that tells us anything about the years between his birth and the start of his public ministry. In our readings today, we see infant Jesus, raised in the faith from the womb, his birth greeted by angels – now presented in the temple according to the law of the Lord. This family is deeply rooted and grounded in Godly ways. Mary and Joseph know the word of God; know the verse from Proverbs that says “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Now as they present their infant son to God in the temple, Jesus is recognized immediately by two elderly prophets of Israel, Simeon and Anna. Luke gave us the first original Advent hymns, in the songs of Mary (her Magnificat) and of Zechariah, both of which are in our hymnals to this day. Luke gives us the material for our favorite Christmas hymns, in his telling of the angels’s proclamation of the birth and the response of shepherds and the holy family. Now, a few days later, Simeon gives us the first real after-Christmas carol, singing “my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.

Simeon also accurately predicts Jesus will be causing the rising and falling of many in Israel – and a sword will metaphorically pierce his mother’s heart…

Anna, the prophet, also recognizes Jesus as Messiah, the promised one of Israel, and tells all within hearing the good news.

The name Anna is actually Hannah in Greek, the same name as the mother of Samuel, who prays in the temple for a son and pledges her first born to the Lord. (We heard their story a few weeks ago.)

Now we get the update to that story, hearing how Hannah brings new clothing every year to young Samuel, and as we’ve heard in our reading from First Samuel: “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the LORD and with people.” So when we hear in our gospel reading: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” – we recognize the link to the older biblical story – of a child presented to God in the temple. We know we’re continuing in a story that began many generations before us…

And here in our last reading, Jesus is already twelve, going on thirty. He’s gone with his family to celebrate the festival of Passover in Jerusalem. (As, we’re told, his family does every year.) On the journey home his parents notice they haven’t seen Jesus all day. They search for him, first, among family and friends. (Villagers often traveled together for safety and companionship.) When he’s nowhere to be found, they return to Jerusalem, anxiously searching. Till they find him, finally, in the temple, trading questions and answers with teachers of the religious law. And all who hear Jesus are astounded by his understanding and his answers.

His mother’s also astonished. But she’s not exactly overjoyed to find Jesus like this, having disappeared without a good bye. And I don’t think his words of explanation: “Didn’t you know I must be in my Father’s house?” were of much comfort to his mother.

And as a parent, I’m sure I would be at least as anxious, and much less patiet then it sounds like Mary was. (And I don’t think I can even imagine what poor step-father Joseph may have thought, hearing Jesus say… he must be in his Father’s house…)

On the other hand, when I hear this story, not as a parent, but as a pastor – what’s not to love? A twelve year old hanging out in the house of God, not wanting to go home even when the festival’s over. Young people of any age, delighting to be in the house of the Lord, listening to the word of God, asking many questions… Sharing their own thoughts and questions. Isn’t this how its really always supposed to be?

And I have noticed over the years… Up to a certain age at least, it is often children who want to be in church, more than anyone… Children have an instinct for worship… As long as worship is genuine and alive, children usually like to be in church…(If anyone in the family needs to be told ‘come on, let’s go to church’ – it’s usually not the younger children.)

We do start to lose some of the kids (at least for awhile) when they get to be teenagers… Some of this is probably the times we live in; some of this is growing pains and hormones.

Some of this is probably also about teenagers needing more adult role models. Adults willing and able to linger in church, even when the service is over… in case there’s anyone even a little like Jesus was when he was twelve – anyone who wants to ask the big questions, and discuss, even argue, about God, church, the life of the Spirit and the life of the world…

We’re all made in the image of God, hard-wired to want to know and love God… But the darkness of the world is out to sabotage our spiritual wiring… And we need experienced spiritual electricians to help get our wires uncrossed and functioning properly… We all need someone to be here for us, to listen and talk and ponder with us about all our deepest questions…

Our parents are, of course, essential teachers and mentors… But we also need other mature people of faith…To give positive reinforcement of what we hear at home and in church, and give extra help when we’re puzzling over apparent contradictions and things we can’t reconcile… with what we see and hear and feel… (And of course Jesus develops spiritually a lot faster than anyone else, and now we’re not just talking about children and teenagers… who are in need of role models and mentors…)

At any age…whenever things seem to be tipping, turning, tilting upside down… we need extra time tossing our ideas, thoughts and questions around. Like playing basketball – it takes a lot of time out in the driveway under the backboard or out on the playground shooting hoops… for our aim to be good for game time… and…

Maybe – just maybe – maybe even Jesus had some questions about God and faith that no one could answer… And probably Jesus was already working on the themes of his gospel… eager to test his themes with other teachers of faith…

We don’t know exactly what Jesus was thinking and feeling at this early age… Scripture doesn’t tell us everything…

But the bible does tell us – Jesus is truly God, born of the Holy Spirit – and truly human, born of woman, of the same bodily human flesh-and-bone composition as the rest of us… (and…)

I probably don’t think as much or as deeply as I should… about the human side of Jesus. I think much more about his divine nature. I believe Jesus is co-creator of the universe, with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. I know Jesus is able to answer prayers. And this Jesus, who is truly God, one with God the Father, is the Jesus I usually have in mind when I’m praying…

But the bible also tells us – Jesus is not only truly God, he’s also truly human. So – Jesus knows – all about our hurt and pain, our joys, sorrows, hopes, fears, struggles, and blessings… “Jesus is our childhood’s pattern, day by day, like us he grew. He was little, weak and helpless, tears and smiles like us he knew. And he feeleth for our sadness, and he shareth in our gladness…”

Thinking of Jesus like this, fully human, really changes how I think of God… This is still a concept hard for me to get my head around.

Jesus just being God is plenty huge enough for me to ponder for a lifetime.

If Jesus was simply an extraordinary human (he is much more than that, but suppose for just a moment, if he were only that) – I could probably understand that… But Jesus being undividedly one with God who made the universe… and also human like us – this is still really hard for me to fathom. If this is true – and the gospel says it is – and I believe it even when I don’t fully understand it – then Jesus, who is God, actually knows even what it’s like to be a teenager. (Wow.)

You mean Jesus could really have experienced some of that same wild, weird turbulence I remember from my teenage years? That’s amazing. And those difficult years of mid-life crisis? Jesus can understand that too? Astounding. And yes, the astonishing fact is – Jesus knows all about our human condition…

And part of me would still really love to hear more about those missing years, when Jesus was growing up…

But probably neither Jesus nor his family ever told even the gospel writers any more than what we know from Luke’s gospel about those years… Because we don’t need to know… And because even Jesus and his family deserve a little privacy…

What we do know from sacred scripture and from life – is that the child is father to the man. And here is Jesus. Born unto us just a few days ago – already almost a teenager… Tomorrow he’ll be grown up… and heading off to Jerusalem again…

Train up a child in the way he should go. When he’s older, he will be training you… in the way that we all should go.

Thanks be to God. Amen.