Five days ago, we celebrated the birth of Jesus. Today, our Gospel lesson revolves around an incident that happened when Jesus was twelve years old. I guess my parents were right: They do grow up in a hurry!
But if it seems crazy to be talking about Jesus at the age of twelve today, keep in mind two things.
First, this is the only incident from Jesus’ childhood beyond Matthew’s and Luke’s birth and infancy accounts that we have.
And second, in Luke’s telling, this incident really is recounted immediately after his account of what happened in the temple in Jerusalem eight days after Jesus was born.
In fact, looking at what happened when Joseph and Mary, Jesus’ earthly parents, took Jesus to be circumcised and dedicated to God at the temple when Jesus was eight days old can help to explain much of what is going on in today’s Gospel lesson.
You remember that back then, the holy family was met by two elderly Jewish believers, Simeon and Anna. Each of them had been waiting and praying for the coming of the Messiah promised by God hundreds of years earlier.
Simeon, you’ll remember, rejoiced when he saw Jesus. He joyfully prayed to God (I’m reading from the old Revised Standard Version): “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”
Now, please open your Bible to Luke 2:34-35 to see what Simeon’s follow-up to these celebratory words was: “Then Simeon blessed [Joseph, Mary, and Jesus], and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Just in case Mary entertained any illusions that the child conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit to Whom she had given birth would be a normal son, Simeon was evidently sent by God to remind her that this was emphatically not the case.
As God-in-the-flesh, God’s ultimate self-disclosure to the world, Jesus would inevitably arouse the hostility of a world of people hell-bent on being their own gods and lords, their own kings and counselors.
Simeon thus foreshadows Jesus‘ cross for Mary. The freedom of human beings from slavery to sin, death, and futility can only come through the sacrifice of the perfect representative of the human race. New life comes only to those who believe in Jesus Christ because only the crucified and risen Jesus Christ can take the weight of sin and death off our shoulders, swallowing them both up in the resurrection victory He shares with those who repent and entrust their lives to Him!
Now, any parent can imagine how Mary and Joseph must have reacted to Simeon’s prediction. When bad things happen to or are predicted for our kids, our first reaction as parents is denial. We want to block the unpleasant prospects from our thoughts and shiels our kids from them.
And, under such circumstances, there’s one thing we crave more than anything else: normalcy, routine, an ordinary life.
That was what Mary and Joseph craved. Luke 2:39 says: “So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.”
Mary and Joseph raised Jesus in their hometown. They raised the rest of their family. Joseph taught Jesus a trade. Mary and Joseph, along with the people of Nazareth, saw to Jesus‘ instruction in the faith.
The very ordinariness of their lives may have lulled the parents into thinking that, as special as Jesus was to them, maybe Simeon was wrong. Maybe the cross could be avoided. Maybe the sword would never pierce Mary’s soul.
But what Mary and Joseph experienced in today’s Gospel lesson should have torn their denial and their dependence on the ordinary to pieces.
Look at our lesson, Luke 2:41-52. At the outset, we’re told: “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.”
Joseph and Mary were devout Jews who every year traveled the long miles to Jerusalem from Nazareth, to the temple for the Passover. Jesus was raised in a home in which, whatever fantasies Joseph and Mary may have entertained, God was the number one priority in life. Parents and grandparents today are called to provide nothing less than this same foundation to their children and grandchildren.
The text goes on: “And when [Jesus] was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem [though Jerusalem is south of Nazareth, they “went up” because Jerusalem sets at a higher elevation] according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days [the Passover lasts a week] as they returned the Boy Jesus lingered in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances.”
Are you thinking that Mary and Joseph were bad parents?
In Mary’s and Joseph’s defense, it should be said that in those days in Jewish culture, people really did feel that it took a village to raise a child. Their assumption that their twelve year old was with some of their family members or neighbors from Nazareth, is understandable then.
Less so, maybe, is that they were one day into the journey before they started looking for Jesus. Maybe Jesus had always shown Himself to be such a “miracle child” that they didn’t give His absence during the day of travel much thought.
Whatever the case, the moment they realized their child was missing, they sprang into action. Go to verse 45: “So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple...”
We’ll come back to “three days” shortly. But, to me, what Luke says here surprises me. Why did it take Joseph and Mary three days of searching before they went to the temple to look for Jesus?
The temple was the most prominent landmark in Jerusalem, the focal point of the Passover celebrations from which they’d just come, and Jesus was a boy who was, we’re told in Luke 2:40, “...strong in the Spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.”
Shouldn’t the temple have been the first place they looked?
Maybe. But the temple may have stood as a harsh reminder to them both of the prophecy of Simeon. Their son’s affinity to doing the will of God may have been fearful thing they just wanted to avoid acknowledging.
And, I must admit that I too, often look for Jesus in the wrong places.
I look for Jesus to be where I want Him to be, rather than going to the places and circumstances and death of favorite sins He wants me to embrace.
But the hard fact is that God did not take on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ to make us comfortable in our sin, self-will, and life lived on our own terms rather than God’s terms.
Jesus came to invite us to crucify our old selves in repentance and experience new and everlasting life by believing with complete surrender to Him. And even Mary and Joseph needed to repent of their sin of wanting Jesus on their own terms and to, instead, believe in Jesus with total surrender. So, they had something to learn from Jesus in Jerusalem that day.
In verse 46, we’re told that Jesus was “sitting in the midst of the teachers” [Sitting was the posture of a revered teacher in those days. Twelve year old Jesus is sitting, teaching the foremost religious teachers of first-century Judaism!] “both listening to them and asking them questions” [Teachers always used the interrogative method in those days, asking questions in order to teach. Again, Jesus is teaching the religious teachers of His people!]
“And all who heard Him," we're told, "were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when [Mary and Joseph] saw Him, they were amazed...”
Then comes this word of reproach from Mary, for which Jesus must quickly correct her. “...His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have you done this to us? Look, your father and I have sought You anxiously.’”
Mary has sunk so deeply into routine, it seems, that she has forgotten Who Jesus‘ real Father is and where Jesus‘ real home is.
Jesus says to Mary: “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”
Folks, what Jesus says of Himself is no less true for those of us who confess Him to be our Lord and God.
We may love and cherish our families, but when we come to faith in Christ, God becomes our Father. That's why Jesus teaches us to call God, "Father."
And this present world, shrouded in sin and death, is not our home. We pass through this life, as Peter writes in the New Testament, as “aliens and strangers.” We have a better homeland. [See Hebrews 11:13-16.]
And, like Jesus, out of gratitude for His forgiveness and love, no matter what our jobs, we are called to be about Father’s business: loving God, loving neighbors, making disciples for Christ.
In verse 50, we’re told that Mary and Joseph “did not understand the statement which [Jesus] spoke to them.” And this is where the “three days” comes in.
Three days after Jesus’ crucifixion, you’ll remember, two unnamed disciples ran into Him, risen from the dead, on the road to Emmaus. Their minds, it seems, were so fogged by the normal expectations of life--like the normal expectation that dead people stay dead--that they couldn’t believe the reports they’d heard of Jesus’ resurrection and then didn’t recognize the risen Jesus as He walked beside them on the road!
But just as the twelve year old Jesus revealed Himself as the Son of God to Joseph and Mary three days after they’d begun a frenzied search for the One they’d come to see as their son, the risen Jesus would reveal Himself as the conqueror of sin and death to those confused followers of Jesus on the first Easter.
Listen: It’s so easy to lose track of Jesus and Who He is. If that could happen to Mary and Joseph and to the disciples who had watched Jesus perform miracles and heard His teaching, it can happen to you and me.
But it’s not as if Jesus has gone to heaven without leaving us a forwarding address. He wants to be with us now and in eternity.
Like Joseph and Mary, we need to know where we can find Him.
And so, Jesus gives us reliable means by which we can be in His company twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week:
- We can go to His Word, in the Bible, and His Word proclaimed in personal conversations, Sunday School lessons and Bible studies, and from pulpits.
- We can go to the Sacraments--Holy Baptism and Holy Communion--by which He comes to us and fills us with God's forgiveness, new life, and the Holy Spirit.
- We can go to the fellowship of Christian believers who pray with and for one another, encourage one another, hold one another accountable to the truth revealed on the pages of the Bible, and support one another in good and bad times.
- We can go to prayer in Jesus‘ Name.
- We can go to worship with the people of God in the Church.
- We can go to service done to glorify Jesus.
Through the eyes of faith, look for Jesus in these places, and, whatever your circumstances, His grace and love will find you. Amen
[This message was shared today during the 10:15 worship service with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio.]