The hidden years. . .

Good morning, Friends! Thank you for coming to worship today. I hope that God has been good to you all this week!

We are pretty much past Christmas now. About the only reminder we still have of the Christmas season are the beautiful poinsettia flowers which are still blooming.

One of the big challenges is that after Christmas – when angels have stopped singing, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and the wise men have all gone home, when the shepherds have gone back to their flocks, what next? What do we do now?

The other big challenge, is that we know so little about Jesus’ early life. After the baby in the manger, the gospels are almost completely silent about Jesus, for the next 30 years.

What was he like as a boy? What was his home life like? There’s been a lot of fiction writing, about how Jesus must have learned carpentry from his dad, Joseph.

Back in the Middle Ages, there were stories about how when Jesus was a boy, he built a bridge in the sky from a rainbow, and how he climbed up there, and his little playmates tried to climb up, and his playmates all fell down and died.

Not the most edifying stories. And it’s all made up. It’s all fiction. We don’t know anything about those hidden years of Jesus’ growing up. Except for one short Scripture. Which we’re going to read right now.

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When Jesus was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.

After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, his parents traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends.

When they didn’t find Jesus, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard Jesus was amazed at his understanding and his answers.

When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Luke 2:41-52

There are a lot of different ways you can take that story. I think that if I had been Joseph, in that situation, that 12-year-old boy wouldn’t have been able to sit down for a week. And if I had been Jesus in that situation, I would have been grounded!

Jesus must have really been a pretty quick thinker. That line about “Didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house?” must have saved Jesus from joining Joseph out in the woodshed when they got home.

Seriously, though.

This episode is literally the only glimpse we get into Jesus’ childhood. And this story isn’t repeated anywhere else in the gospels. We don’t know whether this was the only time something like this happened, or whether this is just an example of what Jesus was like, growing up.

But since this is all we’ve got, let’s take some time and reflect about this episode from his childhood.

It says that Jesus went, every year to Jerusalem with his family. So, he had certainly been there before. He knew his way around the city. When he was a little boy, he’d be playing in the crowded streets, coming and going to the Temple almost every day during Passover.

Later on, when Jesus came to Jerusalem as an adult, he knew the city well. He was familiar with it. It was like his second home.

Some people think of Jesus as a simple carpenter, a country kid from Galilee, who didn’t know what things in the big city were like, who would have been awed by the bright lights and everything he saw.

But that’s not true. Jesus knew Jerusalem. Later in life, when he saw how broken and oppressed and entangled its people had become, Jesus wept over Jerusalem, saying, “Even now, if only you knew the things that make for peace! Even now, I would gather your children under my arms, like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings…”

So, when Jesus slipped away from his parents in this morning’s story, it isn’t as if Jerusalem was an unfamiliar city to him. He knew it, he played in it, and loved it. He saw all the things that happened in Jerusalem, and he loved it just the same.

The other thing we need to notice about this story, is that Luke says it took place when Jesus was twelve years old.

In Jewish tradition, between twelve and thirteen years old is when a child is considered to be an adult. Everybody knows that children at that age still have more growing up to do, but that’s when they’re considered old enough to understand things, and start to take adult responsibility for their actions.

Jesus would have been considered what Jews call bar mitzvah, which means “a son of the commandments”. He was old enough to know the law which God gave to Moses. He was a young adult, but he was an adult, in the eyes of the community.

You hear a lot these days about how kids are pushed too hard, about how children are exposed to things.

Well, that’s true in a way. I think children should be protected. And I think children shouldn’t have to deal with some of the things they’re exposed to. But I also think, in another way, that we need to expect more of our children, even at ages as young as twelve and thirteen.

Kids today know a lot about violence. They have lock-down drills at school for situations which would have been unthinkable during our childhood. Kids get exposed to things on TV and in video games and on the playground which we never even imagined when we were their age.

That’s the fault of adults. We’re to blame for a lot of it. But kids need to be responsible, at an early age, to think and act in all kinds of situations.

And in the Jewish tradition, when Jesus was twelve years old, he was certainly expected to have a much more “adult” perspective and understanding than what we teach our kids today.

But that’s all getting off track.

Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, when the rest of his family and neighbors were all headed for home. When his parents found out, naturally, they were frantic. I’d be hysterical, if one of my kids were lost all like that in the big city.

And then it says, after three days of searching all over Jerusalem, they finally found Jesus in the Temple, sitting among the elders and the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And everyone who listened to him was astonished at how much he understood, and at the answers he gave.

Now there, for most people, is the satisfying point to the story. “Wasn’t he a remarkable little boy? Don’t you think that, even when he was only twelve years old, he already acted just like a Savior?”

Well, maybe so. But I’m interested in what questions Jesus might have been asking.

Do we ever think about what he might have said? And do we ever try to put that together with the person that Jesus eventually became?

Jesus said, later on, “unless you become like a little child, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven…” He didn’t say childISH; he said child-LIKE, like a child. He said that only people who are able to become like children again can enter the kingdom.

I think it must have to do somehow with the way children see, or with how they feel, or with the way they trust. Maybe entering the kingdom of Heaven has to do with asking some of the same questions that children ask, and being just as stubborn about the answers.

Anyone who has ever had anything to do with children knows that the Number One Question for kids is always “WHY? WHY?” Kids ask it all the time.

When I think about Jesus, and what he said about becoming like a child to enter the kingdom, I wonder about this scene in the Temple, and I wonder if maybe this wasn’t a pattern for a lot of the kind of things that Jesus eventually said.

Why can’t people get along with each other? Why do bad things like wars happen? Why doesn’t that person like me?”

Aren’t children always asking things like that? It’s that simple, direct, childlike asking “Why?” that marks so many of Jesus’ questions as an adult.

Why can’t people love each other? Why can’t people forgive each other from their hearts, when God has forgiven them? Why isn’t everybody honest and truthful?

Why do people have to suffer? Why don’t people pray to God all the time? Why do people keep doing the same bad things, over and over, when they know they shouldn’t?

Those are childlike questions, but maybe we need to ask them ourselves. Maybe if we ask questions, we’ll be more like Jesus.

You only have to listen to the questions Jesus asked as an adult to agree. “Why should people have to be so joyless on the Sabbath? Didn’t God make the seventh day as a day of rest and refreshment, as a day of joy? Why can’t people be healed and fed on that day?” Jesus got into a lot of trouble for asking questions like that.

Or, “Why should they only stone the woman who was caught in the act of adultery? What about the man? Wasn’t he caught, too? And why stone them? What about all that stuff where it says that God loves mercy? Huh?” Jesus got in trouble for that one, too.

The other question children always ask, besides “Why?”, is “WHAT IF?…” And I’m sure all of you recognize that one, as well.

“What if people really lived the way they always talk about? What if God really wants us to stop fighting, and give up going to war? What if people really tried to share things with each other? What if people really tried to follow God?”

Questions like that, which any child can ask, are the ones that really bother us. The important questions in life aren’t the complicated ones. They’re the simple ones.

The people who win the Nobel prizes in life are the people who ask the simple questions that nobody ever asked before. And they go after those questions with a level of persistence that sets them apart from the rest of humanity.

Jesus did the same thing. Jesus asked questions that nobody could answer, like, “Who can forgive sins? What is it going to profit, if you win the whole world, and lose your own soul? When do you think it’s time to change? Why are you waiting around?”

In this scene in the Temple, in today’s gospel reading, we’re getting a first look at the kind of questions Jesus would be asking for the rest of his life.

“Does God really want us to take revenge? You’ve heard people say, `An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth…’ But does God really want people to be like that? If everybody tries to get even and tear each others’ eyes out, won’t everybody be blind? And isn’t that they way we really are, already? Aren’t all of us blind? Don’t we all need healing, and mercy, and forgiveness?”

Sometimes questions like that can save people. Sometimes the simple, persistent questions Jesus asks are what turn us around.

And then there’s that line at the end of the story, the one where Jesus says, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Just as this story is our first glimpse of the kind of questions Jesus would be asking later in life, this story is also our first glimpse of the kind of relationship Jesus felt with God.

Jesus saw the Temple – this enormous, awe-inspiring building that took two generations to construct, one of the Wonders of the Ancient World, which was literally covered with gold and precious stones – Jesus saw the Temple simply as, “My Father’s house…” It wasn’t a palace. It was his home.

And later on, Jesus saw any place where people gathered to pray or be reconciled with each other, as a place where God was present.

Jesus didn’t begin his prayers with words like, “Almighty and Everlasting God, Creator of the Universe, Mighty and Raised High Up Above All Human Thought…” Jesus never said anything like that.

Instead, Jesus taught us to say, “Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your kingdom come. May your will be done here on earth, just as it is done in heaven. Give us today the bread that we need. Forgive us, even as we forgive each other. Please don’t let us be put to the test. Deliver us from evil. Amen…”

That is the kind of relationship Jesus had with God – God was his heavenly Father, just as Mary and Joseph were his earthly family.

Jesus lived with them in the family’s home in Nazareth, but he also knew that he had another home – which was his Father’s house.

I’d like us to try to have that same sense of comfort and belonging when we come here to worship. I’d like us to be able to bring the same kind of questions, and to have the same kind of trust that Jesus had, when we pray.

I’d like us to feel, as Jesus did, that we don’t just have one group of people, who we call our family. Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God, is my mother, and my sister, and my brother…”

And I’d like us to feel, as Jesus did, that all of us truly have one Father, and that His business is our business. When we do that, we will be entering the kingdom.

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