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Its not every year that we get two Sunday’s to revel in the celebration of Christmas. More often than not, we get Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the Sunday after Christmas, and then we’re off and running into the season of Epiphany. It’s like that Christmas dinner that took hours to prepare, that everyone was done with in under 20 minutes. Today we’re thankful for some time to savor and enjoy the season of Christmas.
We’re not given very many details about Jesus’ childhood in the gospels. We’re told about His conception by the Holy Spirit, the humble circumstances of His birth by the virgin Mary and the visitation of the shepherds.
We meet Him again at 8 days old, when He is circumcised and named. And again at 40 days old, they once again take Him to the Temple for Mary’s purification and His presentation.
Sometime after that, we’ve not sure how long, there’s the visitation of the Magi, which we’ll celebrate on Tuesday evening this week. And then the flight to Egypt and return to Nazareth. And now He’s 12 years old.
In the Jewish tradition, when a boy turns 13, he is ready for his bar mitzvah. When a girl turn 12 or 13, she’s ready for her bat mitzvah. Bar mitzvah marks the movement from childhood to young adulthood. Before a boy turns 13, his parents are responsible for him and all of his actions. When he turns 13, he becomes responsible for his own actions. He can’t blame his parents for his stupid mistakes- and neither can the community. Once he turns 13, he becomes ‘responsible.’
So, when Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 years old, he’s telling us that He has come to the end of his childhood years and that his parents are still accountable for his actions.
After this, there’s a gap of 18 years during which we know nothing about His life. It’s as though He is hidden in humanity, until one day, at age 30, a prophet named John, points his boney finger at Him and reveals His unique identity – “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
The only thing that we’re told about His life during those 18 years is that “[He] increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” In other words, he grew up, not only physically, but in all the ways that boys grow up to become men.
But, like we said, let’s not rush through Christmas. It goes by fast enough as it is. Let’s savor the time that we have.
“Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.”
The 65 mile trip from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover was something that they did every year. It was “according to custom.”
“Customs” are A GOOD THING. It’s a good thing for the Church to have certain ‘customs,’ things that are done and celebrated automatically, without thinking, “according to custom.” On Christmas Eve, Christmas Morning, The Day of Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, we gather for worship. We don’t decide each year whether or not we’ll have a worship service on these days. It’s a ‘no-brainer.’ We do so “according to custom.”
It’s been the Church’s custom for a long time to worship every Sunday, because that’s the day our Lord rose from the dead. If it’s Sunday, there’s worship. It’s “according to custom.” That decision was already made a long time ago. And families
“According to custom” also applies to families. Families each have their ‘customs,’ things that you do together every year, ways you celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, vacations. Some of these ‘customs’ have been passed down for generations. And these ‘customs’ are good things that unite and strengthen families from one generation to another.
For many families, coming to Sunday School and Worship on Sunday mornings and to the ‘occasional’ services are done “according to custom.” It’s just automatic. You don’t decide if you will or won’t go today, that decision has already been made. And frankly, nothing unites and strengthens families like the ‘custom’ of coming to church does.
Luke tells us nothing about how the celebration of the Passover went for them. No sooner do they arrive than Luke tells us about their return home. “And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances…”
For these treks to Jerusalem, which would take 3-4 days, families would travel together in caravans, both for safety reasons as well as fellowship. And I suspect that the ‘fellowship’ aspect of the journey was an important part of the “according to custom.”
Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary were traveling with “relatives and acquaintances.” We can only wonder if among the relatives, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth and Zechariah might have been in the caravan. And was their son John among the children? If only he would point his boney finger at Jesus now and set their racing hearts at rest.
“When they did not find Him they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him.”
Try to imagine what was going through their minds. They were responsible for Him.
For Mary, it was just 12 years ago that she had been the happiest woman in the world. “All generations shall call me blessed,” she sang. But now, she was the most miserable woman in the world. What else could she have been thinking but that, “now, all generations will call me the worst mother there ever was.”
The first Eve brought sin into the world and her sin spread to all men and women through her son. Now Mary, the second Eve, had lost the son who would take away the sin of the world.
When he was 40 days old they had brought Him to the temple and Simeon told her, “a sword will pierced your soul too.” Mary was in a living hell.
We dare not be too hard on Mary and Joseph for losing Jesus. We all share in their guilt and shame. On Christmas Eve, we heard the announcement from the prophet Isaiah, “To US a child is born. To US a Son is given.” (Is.9:6). Jesus has been ‘given’ to you and me. ‘Given’ as in gifted, pure gift, by grace alone. How often have we lost track of Him?
Like Joseph and Mary, we were just moving along in the caravan of careers and children, activities and hobbies. We didn’t even realize something was missing from our life, until one day the pastor called and said, ‘it’s been awhile since we’ve seen you in Church. Everything okay?’ And it suddenly dawned on us that we’d become separated from Jesus. It’s been awhile since we’ve heard His Word and eaten His Supper. It’s no longer “according to custom.”
Hopefully, when we discovered what had happened, we did what Joseph and Mary did. They “returned to Jerusalem.”
“After three days, they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”
Maybe the Rabbis were teaching about the 5th Commandment and murder and what constitutes ‘murder.’ And the boy Jesus might have asked, “what if you’re angry with your brother and would like to kill him and refuse to be reconciled with him? Does that mean that you are right before God just because you didn’t actually murder him?”
Or maybe they were teaching on the 6th Commandment, dissecting the fine lines that define ‘adultery.’ And the boy Jesus might have asked, “what if you look at a woman with lustful thoughts in your heart but don’t actually act on them? Is a person innocent before God if he only commits adultery with her in his mind?”
“And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Much later, as an adult, Jesus Himself would be the Rabbi and people would address Him as ‘teacher.’ And everyone who heard Him teach would react in the same way as these Rabbi’s at the temple. “They were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?” (Mat.13:54).
So that’s what this episode is really all about. Luke wants to be sure that when it’s time for Jesus to begin His the work that He was born on Christmas to accomplish, we already know that He is fully equipped to accomplish His purpose.
Solomon began his reign as king, confessing that he was “but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in.” Solomon has enough self awareness to know that he isn’t equipped to do the job he has been called to do. “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil…” (1 Kings 3)
Jesus is the ‘greater than Solomon.’ When Jesus begins His reign, He DOES NOT pray that God would give Him wisdom “to discern between good and evil.” He already possesses it.
• Jesus is not just some precocious 12 year old boy. He IS the wisdom of God and therefore all that He does is wise.
• He is the One of whom the prophet Isaiah was speaking of when he said, “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding…” (Is.11:2)
• And the One whom the apostle Paul writes of saying, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col. 2:3).
This is important for us to know and even more important to believe, because it is not something that we are able to discern on our own.
In the Garden of Eden, the serpent deceived the woman into thinking that she could be like God “knowing good and evil.” “So, when she saw that the tree was to be desired to MAKE ONE WISE, she took of its fruit and ate.” (Gen.3:5,7). And ever since then, men and women have not been able to discern between good and evil when it comes to things of God. In the Fall, we lost the ‘wisdom of God.’ And now, we just naturally count the wisdom of God as foolishness, and we count the foolishness of man as wisdom.
This account is in the Gospels so that, 18 years later, when John the Baptist singles Jesus out from the crowd of humanity that He has been hidden in, we will know that He is the ‘WISDOM OF GOD’ IN THE FLESH, dwelling among us, who knows how to “discern between good and evil” and “govern His people.” And therefore, we should gladly, without hesitation, follow and obey Him.
This bright little boy who astonished everyone with His questions and answers, will later astonish the whole world by His wisdom. But the whole world will not understand it because we lack the wisdom to do so.
For the cross of Christ is utter foolishness according to the wisdom of the world. “But to those who are called,” just as you were in your baptism, “it is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:24).
And He said to them, ‘Why were you seeking me? Did you not know that it was NECESSARY for me to be about the THINGS of MY FATHER?” “NECESSARY” is a key word in the gospels. Jesus is fully aware of WHO HE IS and of HIS MISSION. He is THE SON OF GOD, and this is NOT something that He needed to be taught.
And He knows the work that His Father has sent Him into the world to accomplish. He has come to reconcile this fallen and sinful world and His Father to one another as it was in the beginning. By His cross, He will join together what our sin has rent asunder.
Joseph and Mary found Him in the Temple, the place where the sacrifices for sin were carried out and the blood of innocent lambs was shed for guilty sinners. The ‘Lamb of God’ has come to the Temple as the One sacrifice for all sins. He is “about the things of His Father,” for you.
Luke writes, “And after three days, they found Him.”
There would come another time when other Mary’s, not His mother, would come looking for Jesus and not be able to find Him. They had watched carefully where His body had been laid. But when they returned, it was not there. An angel brought peace to their troubled heart. “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, He is risen.”
“And after three days, they found him.” And all humanity is hidden in Him.