The Second Sunday after Christmas
4 January 2015
O God, who didst wonderfully create, and yet more wonderfully restore, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, thy Son Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Today’s gospel from Luke is our one glimpse at the tween Jesus. Matthew is silent between the Epiphany and Jesus’ baptism thirty or so years later, Mark starts with the baptism, and John takes us from the very creation of all things to...the baptism. All the canonical authorities agree that Jesus’ ministry began when he came to be baptised by John in the Jordan and from there flows the rapid succession of events that leads to the cross, empty tomb, and resurrection. Naturally, however, people were curious about how Jesus came into the world, how he came to be united in the flesh with both humanity and with God. Matthew gives us the Joseph centred version with the Davidic lineage, the nativity, Epiphany, and flight into Egypt, the latter two stories showing us Jesus reach beyond Israel. Luke gives us Marian version with the annunciation and nativity stories and this one story of twelve year-old Jesus in the Temple that we heard this morning.
I find it very funny that the one canonical story we have about Jesus as a kid has much more in common with the Home Alone movies than with the Harry Potter books. Jesus and his family took their annual trip to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and when it came time to return home his parents left without him. Luke seems to tell us that the extended family group was so large that in all the confusion of leaving they didn't notice that Jesus wasn’t with them. When they realised it, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him and after three days found him in the Temple, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” And what does Mary do when she sees him? She places the blame on him and says, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” Jesus then turns it around on her and suggests that she should have known where to look for him, in his “father's house.” Luke editorialises that Mary does not really understand Jesus’ answer and that they all go home together and after that he has a pretty standard human childhood.
Luke shows us a fairly normal, smart kid who has a sense of who he is and what he is interested in. Jesus likes to hang out with the teachers and talk about God and the scriptures. On Friday night when we were diving back to New York, I was talking about this sermon with Jacalyn, and William asked what we were on about. I told him that there was only one story about little boy Jesus and that I was going to talk about it in my sermon on Sunday. He told me he knew about it and, not really believing him, I asked him to tell me what he remembered and he told the whole story. He had been listening in Sunday School, he likes Bible stories, it caught his attention and it made an impression. It made an impression because Jesus sounded like that fairly normal, smart kid, someone he could relate to, not some character from a fantasy story. This is the child Jesus the Church remembers.
There is another tradition about Jesus as a kid. The Infancy Story of Thomas, a text from the late second century tells all kinds of amazing stories about the young Jesus: how he turned clay sparrows into real ones, he “withered” a boy who was bothering him in the playground and then raised him from the dead, and how he creeped people out with his powers. The story ends with a version of the Lucan tale, but emphasising Jesus’ special knowledge and super-human powers, something that Luke himself does not do. These stories read like the young witches and wizards in the Harry Potter stories not being able to control their magic, like when Harry blows-up his aunt. They are like stories from other traditions chronicling the youths of “capricious divine boy[s],” like Krishna and the Budda.(1) The Church, however, when collecting the scriptures—in different places and at different times— over and over again firmly rejected these as not being consistent with that Gospel of which I have been speaking, with that core story of Incarnation and Resurrection, of Love defeating death.
Today’s story shows Jesus as a sixth grader, left in Jerusalem by his forgetful parents, heading to and finding shelter and support in the Temple, a safe place that he knew well and to which he was drawn. When his parents track him down in an age without cell phones—many New York twelve year-olds have cell phones just to avert this scenario—his mother blames him for their failure to keep an eye on him and Jesus retorts with a smart answer that they should have known where to look for him that Mary just doesn't get. It is a story that shows Jesus and his family integrated into the human life of his day, it shows his parents messing up in their responsibilities. It shows Jesus as a plucky, resourceful kid. Luke’s tale is not supernatural or fanciful. And while my eight year-old loves those kinds of stories, this one is a story that he can relate to in very practical terms, and we can, too.
In this season of the Incarnation, of understanding and coming to terms with Jesus as fully human and fully divine, entering completely into our human experiences, we get this one little look into how Luke understood what Jesus’ childhood might have looked like. It was not full of puffs and bangs. It was full of family vacations and family drama, conflict and love, of learning and growing, just like us. When Jesus, at his baptism, inaugurated the Kingdom and embarked upon his ministry, the ministry of teaching and healing, of gathering followers and showing the people that Love was stronger than death, he did so having been born like the rest of us in the mess and pain and dangers of childbirth, grown up in a house with parents who loved him, but were not perfect, grew and learnt through his adolescence so that when he came to his work, the work that changed everything, he did so as our brother in the flesh, our brother in our humanity.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
Christmas Feria, 3 January 2015
(1) Wilhelm Schneemelcher, ed., New Testament Apocrypha, rev. ed., trans. ed. by R. McL Wilson (Cambridge: James Clark & Co., 1991), I, 442.
© 2015 Andrew Charles Blume