“Growing in Wisdom and Divine Favor”
December 27, 2020
Before turning to God’s Word in Holy Scripture, let us turn to God in prayer…
Gracious God, your Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.
Just as the experts in law and religion were amazed at what the young Jesus said to them,
so may our hearts and minds be open to what he has yet to offer us and to the world. Amen.
Luke 2:41-52. Hear the word of God.
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.
And when he was twelve years old they went up as usual to the festival.
When the festival was ended, they started to return.
The boy 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
and then they started to look for him among the 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 grew in wisdom and stature and in divine and human favor.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Imagine being a twelve year old and travelling with your parents
and extended family and friends sixty miles, all the way from Nazareth to Jerusalem,
to the grand seven day Passover festival.
Imagine one hundred thousand pilgrims arriving in Jerusalem, the holy city,
the city built on a hill, the city that normally held just fifty thousand.
Imagine pilgrims from all over the surrounding region,
with different accents and different foods, setting up their tents, cooking their meals,
visiting with relatives and friends.
This was the grand commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt, freedom from slavery,
along with the celebration of the beginning of another agricultural season.
There were certain religious rites involved in the festival, but mostly it was one large feast.
The Passover Celebration could be compared to a sprawling tailgate on game day
at an SEC university, except that it was not just on a Saturday.
It lasted a whole week, seven days!
During the week, thousands upon thousands of pilgrims would wait in long lines at the temple
in order to make their prescribed sacrificial offering.
Those with any means would come forward to offer a lamb to the temple.
Well-trained priests would carefully slaughter the lambs, performing certain rites and prayers,
then, quite literally, take a cut of the lamb for the temple servants.
The pilgrims would depart the temple with the carcass and then cook them over open hearths.
The cherished lamb would be shared with extended family at the special Seder dinner,
where the youngest in the family would be guided in asking the four prescribed questions,
questions about the Exodus and the Passover of the Angel of Death.
All these rituals were an integral part of Jesus’ childhood.
This is what Jesus and his extended family would do every year for the “holidays”.
By the time Jesus became twelve years old, he was very familiar with these customs,
familiar with Jerusalem, familiar with the holy city and the grand temple.
These customs were a part of his background, part of his identity.
The year Jesus turned twelve, Luke simply reports simply that Jesus “stayed behind”
while the caravan of family and friends headed back north towards Galilee.
Like the Home Alone movies, Mary and Joseph did not realize Jesus’ absence at first.
There would have been many travelers in their caravan –
friends, neighbors, relatives and cousins.
Mary and Joseph had traveled a full day’s journey up the road, set up camp for the night,
and began to prepare their supper when they noticed Jesus did not appear.
Everyone knows that a twelve year old boy magically appears at his mother’s side at suppertime,
but Jesus did not show up. He was nowhere to be seen.
Imagine Mary saying to Joseph, “Joseph, where’s Jesus? I thought he was with you,”
and Joseph replying, “No, favored one, I thought he was with you.”
Imagine the word spreading among the cousins and aunts and uncles –
“Jesus is missing! He’s not here!”
Now imagine Joseph and Mary trying to get some sleep that night.
Your beloved eldest son is missing and he is only 12 years old.
The next morning, they probably packed a few things and left before daylight
to travel the full day’s journey back uphill to Jerusalem to search for their precious child.
They would have arrived in Jerusalem at the end of that next day,
and then begun to backtrack their steps, going back to the every place
they had been during the Festival, asking everyone they met if anyone had seen their son.
But still, no Jesus. He was nowhere to be found.
So, yet another sleepless night, tossing and turning anxiously,
trying not to think the worst about where their son might be.
On the third day, they continued their hunt. They searched everywhere for him,
and finally ventured up on the temple mount.
They scoured the tremendous temple courtyards;
asking moneychangers and bird sellers in the marketplace if they had seen the child.
Finally, finally, they caught word about a special boy who was hanging around with the priests.
Running breathlessly into the temple court, there they found him.
Jesus was sitting calmly, listening to the experts of the law, and asking them questions.
Luke reports that the experts of the Torah Law who heard him were amazed at his understanding,
and amazed at the questions coming from this twelve year old.
As surprised as Mary and Joseph may have been at this unexpected scene,
I am not sure Joseph and Mary were “amazed” at this point.
How would you feel if you finally found your missing twelve year old?
Greatly relieved, certainly. Somewhat angry, probably.
Luke kindly reports that they were “astonished.”
“Child,” Mary exclaims, “why would you treat us like this?
We have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
All Jesus said was: “Did you not know that this is where I would be,
in my Father’s house about my Father’s business?”
Jesus seems genuinely surprised by their anxiety, as if to say,
“Mom, Dad, didn’t you know where to look for me?”
But Mary and Joseph did not understand.
Truth be told, there had been many times when they had not understood their special boy.
But he was a good son, and he returned to Nazareth with them, and he was obedient to them.
And Luke reports that he grew in wisdom and in stature, and in divine and human favor.
The year that Jesus stayed behind after the Passover Festival to sit among the respected teachers,
he was not a grown man, yet no longer a child either.
In traditional Hebraic practice, a Jewish boy of 13 years and one day
automatically becomes a bar mitzvah, “a son of the commandment”.
A Jewish girl of 12 years and one day becomes a bat mitzvah.
No longer a minor according to Jewish law, the child-becoming-teenager
takes on new religious privileges and responsibilities as an “adult”. (reformjudaism.com)
When any boy or girl is twelve years old,
a new season begins in their psycho-social development.
The relationship with one’s parents changes. The relationship with God changes.
This is often the age when we invite young people into the Confirmation experience
in the church.
Middle schoolers tug hard at those apron strings
and push wide the boundaries of their parents’ patience.
This is what 12 year olds must do, eventually,
if they are going to mature and stand on their own as a young man or woman.
But this transitional period can be so difficult for both parent and child,
as major issues of independence and self-identity begin to arise.
At Christmas time, we remember that Jesus was born in a manger, born a helpless child
in the small town of Bethlehem, where he had to have his diaper changed regularly.
We remember that Jesus had to grow and learn.
He had to learn obedience to Joseph and Mary as he toddled around their feet.
We remember that, as a boy, he had to learn a trade in the small town of Nazareth
and participate with his family in the religious traditions of the local synagogue.
As a young man, he had to work hard, work with his hands, supporting himself as a carpenter,
probably serving as part of a construction crew.
We remember that he was a genuine human being, fully human.
He knew our fears and tasted our tears.
Then, at about age 30, his life took a major turn.
Jesus became a self-proclaimed rabbi, a teacher.
His words and deeds astounded the multitudes.
In the gospel narratives that describe for us what he did and said,
the response of the crowds that followed him was similar to the response
of those temple leaders when Jesus was just twelve years old.
The crowds were amazed at his questions and his answers. They were awestruck by his deeds.
And, by the inscrutable grace of God, the whole world took a turn.
After he was crucified and was raised on the third day,
he was called Light of the world, Savior of humankind,
the King of kings, the Lord of all.
His words and deeds have been shared and remembered throughout the world.
Globally, his followers meet at least weekly, two thousand years later,
to worship him, to study his words and deeds, to share his good news of grace with others.
Friends, as we leave behind a year that has been full of unanticipated challenges and frustrations,
and as we approach a New Year that will be hopefully be full of fresh opportunities,
I invite you to renew your relationship with this amazing human/divine person,
Jesus of Nazareth.
I invite you read your Bible and listen with fresh ears to his amazing words.
I invite you to participate with others in a study of Jesus – with an open mind –
and reflect upon his astonishing deeds.
Difficult questions of life and faith surround all of us in this 21st century.
Difficult choices about how we go forward as a people face every nation on earth.
Difficult decisions regarding ethical choices and environmental protections
challenge our leaders.
Jesus was born among us because God knew that we needed his salvation.
First century Jerusalem needed the salvation that he would offer;
21st century America needs the salvation that he offers us now.
Jesus was born to bring humankind hope, and peace, and love and joy.
These are the gifts of God; these are the gifts of the Christ-child.
These are the gifts that are meant to be shared all year long,
These are the gifts that can comfort a hurting world, that can redeem a confused nation,
that can redirect a populous gone astray.
If we but take the time and intention to listen to him, to study him, to spend time with him,
to follow in his paths, we too shall be amazed.
We too shall be awestruck by his wondrous deeds,
and, by the inscrutable grace of God, as we the Church continue his mission,
the world just may take another turn, a turn toward the light and goodness of God.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church