First Sunday of Christmas C, Luke 2:41-52
Just yesterday we were celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus. Today, at least according to our appointed lectionary readings, Jesus is already 12 years old. These kids, they do grow up quickly!
The story of the boy Jesus in the temple is the only account in the scriptures of Jesus’ childhood. This episode also conveys in striking ways Jesus’ humanity and that of his parents, Mary and Joseph.
As we heard in Luke’s gospel, Jesus stayed behind after the customary family trip to Jerusalem to observe Passover and he found his way to the temple where he engaged and was engaged by the teachers there.
Mary and Joseph assumed that Jesus was among family members heading back home. Then, to their shock, they discovered that Jesus was missing. Mary and Joseph headed back to Jerusalem and when they found Jesus, they had a poignant, but typically human encounter with their son. Mary said to Jesus, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
Jesus is 12. He’s an adolescent. And if we take his humanity seriously, and we must if we are to be faithful to our theological affirmation of the fullness of his humanity alongside his divinity, Jesus engages in some very normal behavior revealing self-differentiation from his parents.
Jesus said, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
This response baffled his parents: “they did not understand what he said to them.” Indeed, sometimes we simply do not understand our children. But differentiating from our parents is a completely normal and expected part of growing up.
Like all human children, Jesus was in formation to become an adult. Adolescence is that rocky road between childhood and emergent adulthood when hormones rage within us.
Jesus at 12 also knew the tumult of this period of life – again, we must acknowledge that if we take seriously Jesus’ humanity. To put it plainly, he was going through puberty. Maybe you’ve never heard a pastor acknowledge that about Jesus in a sermon before!
A crucial element of this rough and tumble of maturation to adulthood is to claim and be claimed by our callings to become who we are meant to be. And part of this involves separation from parents. It’s just the way things are for us human beings. All of us go through it. Jesus did, too.
Like the boy Samuel in today’s first reading, Jesus was being prepared for what lay before him when he took up the mantle of his public ministry at about age 30.
But here’s the thing about human parenthood: we don’t always want to let go of our children and our own particular visions of what we want them to become. Martin Luther’s dad wanted him to become a lawyer. Instead, Luther became an Augustinian Friar and studied Old Testament. Most of us can tell such stories.
Parents can hold on too tightly, though, often trying to live through their children, maybe trying to redeem themselves in their children’s achievements. The old sinful Adam finds its ways even into our attempts at parenting.
The long and the short of it is that the rough and tumble of formation toward what we will become is indeed a difficult road for children and for their parents.
It was true for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. It’s true for us.
But here’s the good news: God is not absent from all of this. Indeed, we Lutherans affirm that God has a vocation, a calling, for each and every one of us.
This was certainly true in Jesus’ case. Mary and Joseph were getting major indications of this all along. According to Matthew, an angel visited Joseph in a dream telling him that Jesus to be born of Mary would redeem people from their sins. Gabriel visited Mary to announce the great things that would become of Jesus. The shepherds, too, reported the good news of great joy of the angels’ message to Mary. All of this served to reveal God’s vocation for Jesus, God’s only Son.
But it’s not just Jesus who has a divine call. Again, according to Martin Luther, God calls each of us. That’s a centerpiece of our Lutheran heritage. God has a vocation for all people lovingly to serve neighbors in need in many and various ways according to who they are in their unique configurations of gifts differing.
When we are drawn to embrace the particularity and uniqueness of holy vocations, especially those of our children, then we can begin to let go of our parental needs to control and we can more willingly abide in the mystery of the unfolding of our children’s lives.
Mary certainly came to this kind of embrace. Luke records that she more than once “treasured all these things in her heart,” in the case of today’s reading, Jesus’ time in the temple with the teachers. With this Luke reports that Jesus “increased in wisdom and years, and in divine and human favor,” with Jesus’ calling unfolding according to God’s intent.
But even when Mary was treasuring all of this in her heart, this did not make the road any easier to travel. For when Jesus was presented in the temple years earlier than his time with the teachers at age 12, the old seer Simeon said to Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the intentions of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:24-35)
The sword piercing the soul is perhaps hinted at even in the reading for today when Jesus was 12 in the temple.
Jesus’ family traveled to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover – a foreshadowing, perhaps, of when Jesus, decades later, would keep the Passover with his disciples to inaugurate his own Passion, ushering in for us the paschal mysteries, his and our Passover from death to new, resurrected life, a set of events that most definitely pierced Mary’s soul.
And then there’s the reference in today’s gospel passage where Luke chooses language that also points us to Jesus’ Passion and ultimately the resurrection: “After three days [Joseph and Mary] found Jesus in the temple.” After three days. After three days, he rose again, his resurrected body becoming a new temple for us all. Yet another revelation of what would become of Jesus according to divine intent.
Thus, even on the First Sunday of Christmas during these twelve full days of celebration and feasting we have a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the telos, the culmination and fulfillment of Jesus’ divine and human vocation, his calling from God, the one whom he calls Father.
This Jesus, he who died, he who was raised by God, also forms us in our life-long callings – our children and ourselves – all of this undertaken in our communal life as Christians.
Even as Samuel wore the little robe that his mother made for him each year, we, too, are clothed with Christ’s love, as Paul suggests in our second reading for today. We are clothed with the garment given to us when still wet from our baptisms into Christ.
Thus, in Christian community, we, the chosen ones, holy and beloved, are clothed with “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” for the sake of bearing with one another and forgiving each other, the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts.
All of this made possible by our dwelling richly with the word of Christ in our worshipful and studied gatherings as we teach and admonish each other in wisdom and with gratitude as we “sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God, ever giving thanks to God, the Father, through Christ. (cf. Colossians 3:12-17).
And all of this in service of our God-given callings lovingly to serve our neighbors in need in and for the sake of the world. Amen.