I hope that Christmas this year for you was everything that you hoped it would be. Christmas can be a joyful time, and it can also be a challenging time, as I know it was within my own family.
And now it is over. All the Christmas excitement has ended - and what’s left? A story about a teenager! Do we really want to hear about a naughty teenager? The answer is yes, because it contains good news.
So we travel to the holy land, or as it is sometimes called, the land of the Holy One. We are no longer going to Bethlehem but to Jerusalem. Jesus is no longer an infant tender and mild. He has become a boy of twelve. And Jesus’ parents are not gathered around the manger in silent adoration. They are frustrated and probably just a little bit ticked off. They have had to journey back three days to search for their missing son only to find him socialising with the important people in the Temple.
That is getting ahead of the events Luke tells us about. The first thing to note is that this is the one remembered story about Jesus between his birth and the start of his ministry when he was about 30 years old. It is the only account of his early life in the bible, although there are some stories in other books that the church has never recognised as part of the bible.
Luke begins by telling us that every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. So we know he grew up in a faithfully religious household, attending all the religious festivals in the Jewish year.
Jesus found out what it is like for us to be religious. God doesn’t say to us, go to church. Instead God went to church himself, in the synagogue. He found out for himself what it is like to live into the patterns of worship that God himself had given for the people of Israel. From within those patterns Jesus learned about his Father in heaven. Just as we do in church.
For me that makes all the business of church worth while. God did it for himself. We all know that we can find things we like about our church, and also things we don’t like about it. Church is always a mixture of the two. And Jesus experienced this. I remember in my early years being so bored with church. We attended a church that had rough exposed stones on its interior walls. When I was very young I used to stare at the stones, and draw the patterns they made in my head, while everything went on around me, and the vicar seemed to go on and on. Maybe we can imagine the young Jesus doing something similar.
When he was 12, Jesus parents took him up to Jerusalem for the annual Passover festival. A Jewish boy became a man at age 13, and it was his father’s duty to introduce his son to his religious obligations.
Nazareth where Jesus grew up is 147km from Jerusalem; in those days it would have been a hazardous journey. So family, friends and neighbours would have travelled together, on foot. On the return journey after the festival, it was only at the end of the first day of travel that Joseph and Mary discovered Jesus was missing. On the 2nd day they returned to the city, and on the third day they found Jesus in the temple with the teachers. He was listening and asking questions.
It is so easy for us to set Jesus on a very high pedestal, as if he was an alien spaceman who was suddenly dropped into our world. This incident in the temple shows us just how completely he is both like us and different.
The teachers were amazed at Jesus’ understanding. Something extraordinary about him was already appearing. His parents were similarly awestruck, and quite unable to understand what was going on.
Jesus replies by saying he must be about his Father’s business. But as far as his parents are concerned, the young Jesus is way out of line for heading off to the temple to do his own thing. If his intentions were very worthy, the consequences for his parents were anything but worthy. They were naturally angry, and Jesus got a telling off. Jesus tried to calm the waters by giving an explanation, but he had clearly stepped out of line. But then he immediately submitted to his parents’ authority.
Every parent has been there: life is so promising when we begin with a cute baby. Then before we know it, we have an awkward teenager on our hands. But our children have to break free if they are to grow. I heard once that the best we can do for our children is give them two things: roots and wings. Roots are all those family connections and shared family history, the things that describe who our children are and where they have come from. And wings are the freedom to leave the nest, and to be supported in doing that, so they can discover who they are becoming in the adult world.
Growing through the teens is a very trying process. If Jesus is God, what are we learning about God?
It seems that God had to learn the struggle we face daily between the call of Christ, to be faithful believers, to grow and make discoveries, and the demands that life places on us. This incident in the early life of Jesus reminds us that Jesus shared our human condition, although unlike us, he did not sin. In this particular situation in the temple he was caught in a bind. When he gave honour to his Father in heaven by staying behind to listen to the teachers, he was hurting his father and mother because he had not bothered to tell them what he was doing.
We face such dilemmas regularly. It is hard to meet all the demands that are placed on us. We make choices sometimes that can bring both benefit and sorrow at the same time.
Jesus knows exactly the challenges we face as parents. We may have done all the right things for our children as Mary and Joseph did. But our children, unlike Jesus, may not have continued in faith and belief. And we may have been hurt in the process. So this story should remind us to be forgiving of our daily blunders.
God forgives. It may be harder to forgive ourselves. In our fallen world our options will often conflict, and we will choose a path that is less than perfect. We are often compromised. Unlike Jesus, perfection is beyond us. This incident in the life of Jesus reminds us that God learned our human dilemmas, especially as a teen with very human parents. Thankfully our salvation rests on God’s grace, and not on our ability to rightly handle all the many choices of this life. God knows when we are giving our best. There is a lovely little chant which says, ‘God can only give love - our God is tenderness.’ May we know his love and tenderness today in your life and mine, as we think on Jesus’ life in his family as he grew to adulthood.