First Sunday after Christmas Day, Year C
26 December 2021
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
We know almost nothing about the childhood of Jesus. There are apocryphal gospels that did not make it into the Bible that tell fantastic stories, but for the witness of the Holy Scriptures we only have two stories:
The holy family’s escape to Egypt and Jesus’ early life as a refugee, and this story of the twelve year old Jesus staying behind in the temple.
At the end of his book the evangelist John tells us that there are many other things that Jesus did and that if every one of them were written down the world could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25) But this is not an invitation to speculate what else we can have Jesus bless, rather it is a statement that makes it clear that the things we need to know are written in the scriptures.
We do, however, have the report of the the holy family’s life as refugees and this story from Luke.
Elias was our child who, when we went shopping when he was little, would like to hide inside of clothes racks. A little Elias hiding in a large store scared us half to death. And while it was a game for Elias, it wasn’t so funny for us. So, I can imagine Mary and Joseph not being pleased to find out that Jesus had stayed behind and hadn’t seen the need to perhaps let his parents know that that was where he was. And maybe Mary and Joseph needed to get back to work, maybe Joseph had a job he needed to finish, and now they lost valuable time looking for their child.
The tradition is clear that Jesus was in every way as we are, except that he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15) And yet becoming human also included becoming a child and acting like a child. Luke acknowledges this in the last verse of our reading where he tells us that following this episode, Jesus grew in wisdom and years, in divine and human favour. (v.52)
Jesus’ seeming thoughtlessness stands in contrast to his divinity, yet it may be more helpful if we look at this story not from the angle of thoughtlessness but loyalty.
When after searching for him for three days (can you imagine!) Mary and Joseph finally find him in the temple, Mary says to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” You can feel Mary’s anxiety. Her anxiety is tempered only be the relief to have found her child alive and unharmed. When you search for your child for three days and finally find your child, you are too relieved to want to punish your child, you are just thankful they are alive.
Yet Jesus is astonished that his parents do not understand. They have know him his whole life!1 How can they not get it! He had to be in God’s house, he had to be in his Father’s house. Where else would he be? At the toy store, the amphitheatre, the race track?
And just before we learn that Jesus continued to grow in wisdom and years, Luke tells us that when they left the temple, he went with them to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.
It helps us to make sense of this episode if we see it as describing Jesus’ loyalties and Jesus’ relationships. He stayed at the temple in obedience to his heavenly Father.
He went home with Mary and Joseph in obedience to his earthly parents.
It is relationships that make our lives meaningful, which is why the end of a relationship is so painful, whether that be with a spouse, a friend, a family member, or a colleague. Heck, we once had a neighbour who would not acknowledge us. We didn’t need to be friends but an acknowledgement of our existence would have been nice.
Our lives assume meaning not through the holidays we go on (though those are good and enjoyable), not through the things we accumulate, but through the relationships we have. And being in relationship with others is what makes our accomplishment worthwhile, for relationships give our lives meaning, for then, we do not live for ourselves.
Our time seems to have forgotten that we do not live for ourselves. I am not saying that there aren’t many good and altruistic people out there. Only that the philosophy of our time is about individual freedom and a global market, both in their own way denying our connection to others and to a particular place. I always hated the bumper sticker “We are spending our children’s inheritance.” I hated it not because I wanted to inherit my parents’ estate, I never thought there would be much left – and not because they were following the motto of the bumper sticker – but because it suggested that once I am retired I have no longer a purpose beyond myself and am finally freed to live for myself alone.
Jesus, even the 12 year old Jesus who will still ‘increase in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour,’ shows us a different path.
When Jesus stays at the temple he does so in obedience to his heavenly Father. Obedience to God is what he lives when we meet him again as he is baptized by John. Jesus lives for God and his mission is inseparably tied to the work of the redemption of the cosmos.
When Jesus returns to Nazareth with his parents, he returns not in rejection of his relationship with God the Father, but in acknowledgement of his relationship with his parents and with the people of his neighbourhood. As Mary and Joseph are committed to Jesus, so Jesus is committed to them.
In his letter to the Colossians Paul speaks of Jesus in this way, 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (chapter 1)
That means that the relationships to which we are called in Christ, are not only with Jesus, but with the cosmos, which includes the care of creation, and gardening, and farming, as well as with each other as we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and never are we called to a relationship with only Jesus. That in Jesus God reconciled himself to all things means that those who love God are also both able and called to live that reconciliation in the world and for the world.
Thanks be to God.
1Robert Jenson says, “The theotokos, taken seriously, blows all naive constructions of God’s relation to time…What, we may want to ask, of the Son before Mary’s pregnancy? But if the one Mary bore is the eternal Son, there can be no before.”