Sermon preached by The Reverend Charles Royden
Luke 2: 41-52
Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast 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, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, 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 him 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 favour with God and men.
No sooner has Jesus been born than our readings today take us into the childhood of Jesus, with what is the only recorded incident of Jesus growing up in the canonical scriptures. We do have some stories in place such as the Gospel of Thomas, but these are not stories which the church had consider to come from an authentic source.
Ancient biographers frequently told stories about the incredible childhood development of their subjects. Here we see one of these types of stories in which Jesus is to be engaged in debate with the teachers of the law.
The law required adults to attend the three major festivals in Jerusalem annually, Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. For many this was impossible, especially if they lived a long way away. A special effort was made to attend Passover. (Deut 16:6). Nazareth was about 60 miles from Jerusalem, so about three days travel.
We are told that the family of Jesus went to the temple every year and we are told that Jesus was 12 year old. This might seem very young to us, but we remember that Mary was not much older when she became a mother. We do not know if at this time the Jews held a bar mitzvah, if they did then
this would have been one year before Jesus officially became an adult Israelite and accepted responsibility for fulfilling the law
Nowadays children take a long time to grow up and take on adult responsibilities. When I say that one of my children has left home for university and the other is planning the escape, I am reliably informed by those with older children, in their 20’s and 30’s that they leave home for independence and then when they have found it is not all that it is cracked up to be they come back home and try to take over the nest. I found out this week that the average age of first time buyers of houses in the UK now is 37 years!!
So this is a significant episode from the childhood of Jesus, and it reminds us just how Jewish Jesus really was. The temple was an important place in these early stories from the Gospel of Luke. The culture and upbringing of Jesus was Jewish.
Every one of us goes thorough a lifelong practice of questioning and learning. Here Luke shows that it is important for us to recognise that Jesus went through that same learning process that we do. Jesus had to struggle to think about who he was and who he should be, just as we should be struggling as well.
So what about Mary, was she a neglectful mother?
I place the blame on Mary because we always do blame the mothers. We criticise single mothers, we tend to forget about the father’s who abandon their responsibilities. It might seem hard to understand how a mother can forget her child and go on a journey and leave the child behind. There are however mitigating factors!
We do not know for sure but it is probable that the sisters and brothers of Jesus would have been born at this time. With other babies or children to worry about, there are additional worries. It is probable that Mary and Joseph travelled in a caravans, which offered protection from robbers, these were common on pilgrimages for the feasts in Jerusalem. We need to imagine the Holy family in one of these caravans with Jesus and the other children, with friends and neighbours who would watch over the children. Mary and Joseph might have been travelling apart with men and women and it becomes more understandable what might have been going on.
I am not at all judgemental about people who forget their children I remember coming home from the park once having taken Alexandra in a pushchair to the swings. When I got home Corinne asked where Alexandra she was, to see me disappear out of the kitchen running back to the park where I had left her.
So what we have today is an important story of Jesus growing up and coming to a realisation of who he was and what was important in his life. There is a growing sense of identity and he uses these words ‘my father.’ In this process Mary and Joseph are involved and we should not think of them as deviant parents who abandoned their little boy.
Having parents around at this growing up time is important . I do not think that I have ever heard anybody say, I regret having devoted so much time to my family when they were growing up. Normally the phrase which is used is, I wish I had spent more time with my family. I think the reason for this is that we realise, sometimes after the event, that childhood passes quickly. Children are only children for a short period of time. When they are tiny and crying all the time and It might seem as though they are going to be babies for ever. However it soon passes and we recognise that the early years of children is crucial.
I believe that there is a very important phrase which Luke records for us. We are also told that it was After three days they found him in the temple
I suspect that nobody would have been able to read those word without thinking about the death and resurrection of Jesus. Here Luke is embedding the mission of Jesus to suffer death into the earliest sense of his development and identity. Jesus is growing and taking upon himself that responsibilities for which he has been born. This is an example for us as we consider our own calling and God’s expectations.
There is an interesting phrase used in our Bible (NIV) today, it says that when questioned by his parents, Jesus said ‘did you not know I would be in my Father’s house.’ Those of you who grew up with the King James Authorised version of the Bible will remember this better as ‘Did you not know that I must be about my father’s business.’ When we look at the Greek text the world ‘house’ is never used. I like the translation used in the AV because I think it makes more sense of what was going on. Jesus wasn’t overwhelmed by the temple he was growing in a sense of his divine work.
This is surely a challenge to each one of us this Christmas. Are we not also called to about our Father’s business? We are encouraged and called to maturity, not to conformity, we are supposed to take time to discover who we are just like Jesus, we should be able to consider the type of people God wants us to grow into.
It is worth reflecting upon what has happened since Jesus has been born. Particularly I would like us think for a moment about the massacre of the innocents. We often pass this by but it is a particularly gruesome tale which we must not forget. Herod did what he thought he needed to do to remove a threat - the birth of Jesus, who was promised to be a new king in Israel.
We are reminded in these Christmas stories that there is real evil all round us. As Christians we should be aware of evil in our world and participate with God in shaping the world around us. As an example, well done to the Church leaders who have been highlighting the plight of asylum seekers, particularly children locked up in Yarlswood Detention Centre in Bedford over Christmas. How many of us are aware of what is taking place and are we prepared to do anything about it?
In the 18th Century, the philosopher and politician, Edmund Burke, criticised the
discrimination in Britain’s governing of Ireland. His criticism cost him his seat
as a member of Parliament. He said:
“All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”
Albert Einstein, the great scientist, had to flee Nazi Germany in 1933 because
he was a Jew. He wrote:
“The world is a dangerous place - not because of those who do evil, but because of those who watch and let it happen.”
Martin Luther King struggled to achieve civil rights for all people in the United
States. He was assassinated in 1968. He had said:
“The one who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as the one who helps to perpetuate it.”
Alexander Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned for criticising the Soviet Communist
leader, Joseph Stalin, and was then exiled from his country in 1974. He said:
“In order for people to do great evil, it is first necessary for them to think they are doing a great good.”
Perhaps the most important of these words of encouragement is the following which is often attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), who spoke out against Nazi Germany
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.
When we think of sin we so often direct our thinking towards those sorts of things which we think Christians are not supposed to do. So sinning becomes about refraining from doing something. Of much more concern is perhaps the sin of omission, that which we fail to do. Moreover the really big sins are not the personal ones, which are largely trivial, but those huge sins which are committed by governments and large organisations. We must all be alert and recognise that sin is usually more often about what we fail to do than what we do.
As we move on from Christmas and into the New Year. May we all be about our father’s business to discover how we can play our part in working our the values of the Kingdom in our world.