Bible Readings : Colossians 3:12-17, Luke 2:41-52
Let us pray:
Grant us understanding, challenge, trust and hope in your word for us today O God. Amen.
Just five days ago, Tuesday in fact, some of us were gathered here celebrating the coming of the Christ child – talking of nativity scenes and family gatherings and singing carols and looking forward to some down time. And today its seems, to me any way, rather longer than five days ago because family has come together and separated again, it’s almost a new year and I’ve watch movies and read books and walked beaches and eaten too much all packed into a few days off.
Today we hear in the readings that Jesus is 12 years old and causing his parents some angst. That was a bit sudden you think. And then next week when we hear of the visit of the Magi, we go ‘what’s going on here?’ When things get out of order we get a little perturbed sometimes – thinking that all is not right. But all is very right. This jumping of time is a great way to get ourselves out of the sweetness, the joyfulness that we have sometimes overly immersed ourselves in at Christmas time and into the reality of family life with Mary, Joseph, Jesus and the rest of the family.
This reading we heard this morning is unique to Luke among the Gospels and offers a link between the stories of the infant Jesus, and his emergence at around thirty years old to be baptized by John. This reading offers some small insight into life for the family and relationships within it – in fact it’s a story of reassuring normality. Extended family go to Jerusalem for festival of the Passover, set out on their journey home thinking Jesus is safely with others and only discover his absence after some time. Reaction: horror and fear, guilt and adrenaline pumped action searching for him – anything could have happened. Most of us know that feeling at some time as parents or carers of someone we are responsible for.
But Jesus is ok – he’s cool – he’s doing what he wanted to do and can’t see why the parents don’t get that. Parents employ excellent parenting skills, breathe deeply, count to ten and try to explain so he will understand and not do it again. One thing I think that this reading can do for us – encourage us to dislodge that unfortunate image of Jesus as a perfect, non-crying, always obedient, never grumpy child and youth. Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us – and did so in all muckiness of human relationships and family as this glimpse into his young life shows.
But there is more, much more to be found in this story of the encounter of Jesus with the teachers in the temple. A poem by Bruce Prewer ‘Coming of Age’ speaks to depth of this story.
COMING OF AGE
He was not thoughtless,
but in the year
of his bar mitzvah
he went missing,
while parents with fear
went anxiously looking.
He was not thoughtless;
a greater kin
had caught him up;
his search was on
among the big questions
priests founder in.
He was not thoughtless,
but was on track
for that Divine
Friday of squander
when all heaven
would weep in wonder.
From ‘Beyond Words’ © B D Prewer
I believe there are a number of thoughts to be found in reading this story. One is that it is an important moment in the relationship between parents and child. It is a moment of transition from childhood to maturity, from the carefree to the beginnings of responsibility – responsibility to his Father in heaven. It was a shock to the parents at least if not to the child – this was a new face they were seeing of their darling child and a beginning maybe of the letting go.
You know it’s interesting - I heard on the radio recently of a group in Golden Bay I think it was who were offering an opportunity for ‘rites of passage’ for young girls from childhood to the beginnings of adulthood. It struck me as both bizarre and interesting at the same time. Bizarre in that someone offers a course on something that ought to be integral to life, and interesting that there was the obvious need for it judging by the comments of those attending. I wonder how good we are at letting go of those we feel responsible for. I wonder if, not just with our children, our dependents, but also with our faith we are reluctant, a bit like Mary and Joseph, to let our relationship with God move past the place where we are in control, calling the shots and on into a place of growing maturity where we hear God speaking to us in new ways, showing us different priorities and establishing new relationship boundaries that might not be so comfortable because it’s not on our terms?
Another thread to draw from this story is that Jesus is making a statement to his parents - that there was more to life than just fulfilling their expectations. He was saying to us all that the business that his Father had called him to was greater than anything we might require of him for our peace of mind, that there would be times when we would not know what was happening, where we were going, how the future would pan out – that life would be uncertain and untidy. His response to the anxiousness and, I guess, relieved anger of his parents was to say so very calmly and with absolute assurance and not a little teenage challenge ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus response to our anxiety, our uncertainty, worry and fear, is to gently chide us for not trusting that when we are with God we are also in God and God is in us. He is telling us how important it is to respond to the call of God in our lives and for us and others to trust that call over and above the worries of our heads and hearts. But we note that Jesus went home with Mary and Joseph and was obedient to them, that he increased in divine and human favour. So he wasn’t about trampling over everything that his parents held dear but rather asking them to trust God with their precious son. That trust was stretched to its limits on the cross!
And the final thought from this passage: “Mary went away and treasured these things in her heart.” It was a changing moment for all involved, a time of growing and understanding out of the confusion and the lack of understanding. There is a sense of releasing not just the son from the confines of childhood but bringing new maturity and understanding to the parents too. When we release the control we are freed to bear more fruit. Imagine some of the conversations that might have started to happen between Jesus and Mary especially after this event. Something had changed in their relationship and we are left to imagine, in the light of the adult Jesus, just what that might have looked like for the family and the community they lived in.
When we are challenged with a rebellious truth, we have two choices: we hold our ground and reject it out of hand or we are encouraged to see new ways of doing and being that will change and grow our understanding. Christ encourages this maturing in faith, this continual examining of our own responses to challenging happenings and asks us to open ourselves to growing in faith and understanding. As the letter to the Colossians says “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom”. and thank God for everything you
Jesus, in this small insight into his youth, is teaching us not only about his coming of age but about ours as well. Thanks be to God for the child come among us, Jesus Christ. Amen