Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; December 26, 2021
1st Sunday of Christmas
Psalm 148; Luke 2:41-52
For the past few weeks, we have journeyed through Advent to reach the Season of Christmas. But for most of us, for all intents and purposes, it feels like Christmas has come and gone. Carols have been sung; bounteous food has been consumed; visitors have packed their donkeys and headed home, trailing ribbons, and wrapping paper behind them; and now we are left to consider settling in for a long winter’s nap. But first, on this Sunday after Christmas, we have gathered to worship, gathered to remember the greatest gift of Christmas—a baby born in Bethlehem.
But it is not Baby Jesus who catches our attention this morning. It is Jesus, the child. Thinking of Jesus at this stage of his life reminds me of one of the best Christmas gifts I ever got from my children. It was several years ago. Samuel had graduated from high school and our youngest, Shane, was in kindergarten. It was Samuel’s clever idea, but he needed help. So, he called his favorite high school teacher who just so happened to also be a photography. Then our eldest rounded up his siblings and drove to her house for a photo shoot. It was a wonderful idea, of course, but Samuel had one last challenge to overcome. He had to convince his three younger siblings to keep it all a secret. Actually, I count it a Christmas miracle that no one whispered a word to me beforehand. So, when I opened the big box filled with framed pictures of my children, well, you know what happened, I cried like a baby. Still today, those pictures are among my most treasured possessions. They are snapshots that have frozen in time something special my children once worked together to achieve on their mother’s behalf.
Today, our Scripture reading offers us a snapshot of sorts, providing a glimpse of young Jesus at the age of twelve. Luke is the only gospel writer who tells this story. In fact, he’s the only one to include anything about Jesus’ childhood. But it isn’t much, is it? I mean, don’t you wish we had more stories? Maybe an album? Or, at the very least, a box of framed pictures to fill in the blanks? If this is how you feel, you are in good company for there are many who have come before us who have suffered from the same desire. As a result, there are some ancient writings, apocryphal in nature, that didn’t make it into the Bible that tell stories of amazing events from Jesus’ boyhood: bringing a dead bird back to life or punishing bad neighbors with miraculous feats. Some Bible-related movies have imagined things like Jesus working in the carpenter shop with Joseph or sitting on Mary’s lap listening to stories.
Luke’s story is quite ordinary—nothing magical or miraculous about it—but then there’s not much magical or miraculous about being twelve years old, is there? Twelve is an in-between time—not yet fully grown but no longer a little kid. In some countries, though, twelve-year-olds are working full-time, earning pennies a day for their families. A little closer to home, do you know someone who’s twelve? Think about it for a moment. Do you see the boy with air pods in his ears? What is he thinking about as he moves to the rhythm of the music? What about the girl who feels pressured by social media to look a certain way? How are those photoshopped images affecting her?
In many ways, Jesus lived in simpler times. When he was twelve, he and his parents went to Jerusalem just like they did every year for the festival of Passover. Like lines on the door frame marking a child’s growth, Luke marks Jesus’ life by scenes in the temple. Earlier in this chapter Jesus was dedicated in the temple. It was then that aged Simeon held Jesus in his arms and said, “Lord, now let your servant go in peace…for my own eyes have seen your salvation.” It was then that the prophet, Anna, an 84-year-old widow who never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer both day and night, began to praise God at the very sight of the Christ Child. Between that day and age twelve we know nothing except this: Jesus lived with his parents and their lives were marked by the rhythms and rituals of Jewish life, so it is natural-even ordinary-that the next scene brings us again to the temple.
In the rhythm of Jewish life, age twelve would be about the time of the rite of bar mitzvah, meaning “son of the law.” No longer will others speak for Jesus—not angels—not Simeon—not Anna. Now Jesus will speak for himself—and so he does. There in the temple he listens and asks questions, but he also speaks and gives answers—answers that amaze his teachers. While his understanding may be impressive, his decision to stay in the temple for so long causes his parents days of panic. And when they do finally find him, Jesus is hardly the picture of consideration: “Why were you searching for me?” If you’re a parent, you’ve heard something like that. “Why were you worried? I knew where I was.”
Jesus’ motive for remaining behind in the temple is unclear. Maybe he loses track of time, like any boy caught up in something he loves. Maybe he has had enough of childish things and wishes to mark his maturation with an exclamation point. Maybe he does not think he is lost. Regardless of his motive, we see Jesus at the beginning of his budding adulthood, in a sort of self-devised confirmation class, exchanging questions with teachers in the temple, and absorbing what he needs most for the days ahead.
Since the pandemic began, our young folks have not been able to regularly worship with us in person. We miss them. No doubt. But just because they are not here in our midst, that doesn’t mean we have nothing to offer them. Far from it! We have the love of Jesus; we have the stories of our faith; we have our experiences. “But how can we do that if they are not here?” you may ask. First, you can make a commitment to pray for our young folks every day. And then—do what we are all doing to stay connected to our loved ones amidst a global pandemic—get creative! Send a note to Madison, Jaxon, Zachary, Elise, or Evan and let them know you are thinking about them. Go old school and give their parent’s a call (or new school and text) to ask how they are doing.
As believers in this faith community, we are part of the extended family of God. Jesus’ parents fail to miss him for so long because they are not traveling as a nuclear family. They are traveling with a caravan of extended family and friends. When they return to the temple, they find Jesus happily relating to an even-further-extended circle made up of those who teach Torah in his Father’s house. Later in Luke’s gospel, Jesus will widen the boundaries of his “family” circle beyond the house of Israel, offering the good news of God’s embrace to everyone within the sound of his voice—offering that grace even further still—to eventually include all of us.
Luke offers us a glimpse of Jesus as a twelve-year-old boy. Sure, we would prefer more—maybe an album or, at the very least, a box of framed pictures to fill in the blanks. But we have enough. We have enough to realize that Jesus, fully human yet fully divine, had some growing pains of his own. We have enough to see Jesus as a young man on his way to becoming the person God created him to be, someone whose character, words, and deeds still capture our imagination. We have enough to make us yearn to give ourselves to Jesus—heart, mind, and soul—so that we, too, may one day become all that God created us to be. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
*Cover Art by Ella Hawkins, used by permission