Excerpts from a sermon preached at Broadneck Baptist Church, Annapolis, MD from Luke 2:41-52
I don’t know if you’ve participated in the social media craze called, #TBT (Throw Back Thursday) when folks post pictures of themselves from years ago on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Though some simply post pictures from last Christmas or a fun vacation a few years ago, my favorite #TBT are those that go back to childhood.
Over Christmas week, while Kevin and I were visiting with my extended family in Georgia—something happened that hadn’t happened in a long time. We had a whole 30 min of Kevin and Elizabeth Hagan #TBT on the TV.
For, my nephew, Landon got out our wedding video. And before our eyes flashed toddler and elementary school pictures of both Kevin and me while sappy music played in the background. Though there were points that both Kevin and I wanted to look away—I mean who really needs to see a picture of herself as a 6-month old self in a kitchen sink taking a bath?
I have to say the joy that it brought the younger kids in our family to watch it was palpable.
For to see “Uncle Kevin” and “Aunt Elizabeth” without clothes and smiling surrounded by bath was the very best thing in the world, it seemed. In their eyes, these photos made us more like them! I’ve included one of them– me, aged 8 and my sister, aged 2 playing in a pool in my grandmother’s backyard.
And it’s true, to be given access to memories or photos or stories about an adult’s childhood is not only sacred ground, but it’s humanizing.
For these reasons and many more, I believe this is why we get a rare glimpse of boy Jesus in Luke’s narration of the gospel story.
Luke wants to show us a boy with parents named Mary and Joseph. Luke wants to show us a boy with a strong Jewish heritage. Luke wants to show us a boy who make a yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.
We don’t learn anything about the event itself, only that when the festivities are over something huge is about to occur.
This is the main event: Jesus’ family and friends are on their way home to Nazareth—seemingly in a large group. Safety in numbers, right? For it would be a 3-4 day walking journey depending on how fast their caravan traveled. No small trip!
And for a day everything went swell. I can imagine the mood was light, full of the inspiration they’d just received from the biggest religious holiday of the year.
But, what came next was the ancient Galilee version of “Home Alone.” As it played out in Luke’s account, instead the boy Kevin being left at child in home or on the streets of New York City while the rest of his family went on vacation elsewhere, boy Jesus is in Jerusalem. He’s in Jerusalem alone.
It’s one of those “worst case scenerios” of parenting!
And what horror must have come over Mary and Joseph once they realized that Jesus was not with them. I know this, because although I am not a parent who has lost a child, I am a pastor who once lost a junior high boy at King’s Dominion . . . what was worse is that he’d just arrived in the US from Liberia and spoke little English . . . (I know not one of my shinning moments!)
But in Mary and Joseph’s case I can imagine they shouted– “JESUS!” as they re-traced their steps toward the place they last saw him. “Where in the world are you??” though scripture leaves out any emotions like these.
Eventually they do locate him and the conversation begins in what a former professor of mine, Peter Story calls the “censored” version.
They find the boy among the teachers in the temple and Mary says to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
And Jesus answers, I can imagine with a look of complete innocence on his face, “Why were you searching for me . . . Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s House?”
Or in other words, “Don’t you have a clue? Mom and Dad?”
And the answer is they don’t.
For scripture tells us that “they did not understand what he was saying to them.”
The boy Jesus tries to speak truth to his beloved caregivers and they just don’t get it.
But after this exchange we learn that Jesus goes with Mary and Joseph back home and was obedient to them from this point on.
So enter drama into the narrative right here.
Professor Peter Storey helps us out again here: “If we struggle with Jesus’ being ‘fully human and fully God,’ it should not be surprising if the Jesus child wrestled with his identity too.”
Can you imagine how frustrating it must have been for Jesus? Can you imagine how much tension he felt in his little body? Can you imagine how hard it was for Jesus to play the part (or not) that his parents expected him to play as THEIR first-born and also be THE son of God?
My friends, the struggle was real. The struggle was painful.
The struggle looked like obedience to parents boy Jesus knew he was smarter than, wiser than and the Creator of, in fact!
The struggle looked like Jesus’ momma hugging him tight thinking she knew what was going on but being completely clueless.
The struggle looked like Jesus going home, humbly submitting to authority and growing “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and humankind.”
The struggle of human and divine- it was boy Jesus’ path to walk.
I don’t know if you are like me but I want to file a complaint with Luke right here. I don’t mean to be greedy but I want more. I want more of Jesus. Tell me Luke what Jesus liked to eat, how he liked to play, what it was like when he got into fights with his brothers (or did he?), did Jesus like his chores or did he prefer to spend more time studying after school?
Yet we get nothing else besides these 11 verses until he was 30 years old which starts chapter 3.
So, it begs me to ask these question as the reading is over.
Why include this particular story if we only got one story? What does this scripture ask you and I to learn?
I’m sure there’s more to uncover as you and I keep studying texts like this, but for now this is what I know: as you and I follow Jesus we too, my friends will know the struggle.
The struggle of being told we’re “lost” when we’re really exactly where we need to be!
The struggle of rejection from those who say they love us the most.
The struggle of our mommas wanting something for our life and God saying, “No, I have something bigger.”
The struggle of balancing mundane tasks vs. eternal destinies.
For if boy Jesus faced these struggles seeking to grow in wisdom, why would our lives be any different?
We too will face such pain. We too will be separated from our beloveds. We too will feel so alone.
But we have hope! We have hope like boy Jesus had hope that day as he traveled back to Nazareth, to live his life with all that knowledge in his heart gained from the temple. God was with Jesus. And, God is with us too. We are never told that we must face our struggles alone.
And even better, God gives us the tools we need to face our struggles, our tensions between the tasks of earth and heaven and we learn as we go.
Anne Lamott in her book Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith once wrote this about her own #TBT moment.
“It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do’. And mostly, against all odds, they do.”
My friends, if boy Jesus taught us anything this we know: we have all of the tools we need to keep going.
We have the tools we need to discern wisdom from folly. We have the tools we need to both submit and rebel. We have the tools we need to connect with our heavenly Parent!
So in this life on earth in community with God and our human brothers and sisters, we keep going. Bit by bit. Step by step. Year by year. Believing that we too will grow in wisdom and favor with God too.
If you want to listen to the full sermon, click here for an audio file.