Jesus in the Temple — Christmas 2C – Luke 2: 41-52
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church – 1/3/16 – Sallie O. Simpson, Deacon
Merry Christmas! It is wonderful that our church celebrates Christmas until Epiphany on January 6 so that we can enjoy this time longer than many of our friends and neighbors (and the merchants!). But I also want to wish each of you a Happy New Year! Yes, I know that we had our church “new year” on the first Sunday of Advent, about 5 weeks ago, but we are starting a new calendar year – so I hope it will be a good one for us all. I must admit that it reminds me of the ancient Roman god Janus, the two-faced god – the god of beginnings and transitions, gates, doorways, passages and endings. This time of year is certainly a time of beginnings, endings, transitions, closing old doors and opening new ones. Like Janus who was always looking at the future and the past, we can look to the past and determine what to leave behind and what to bring forward into the new, unknown, future where opportunities for change, improvements and making a difference await us.
Today we continue in Luke for the gospel reading. As a quick review, the first chapter of Luke tells us about Mary and her “kinswoman” (often called “cousin”) Elizabeth who both experience miraculous pregnancies – Elizabeth, previously barren, getting pregnant in her old age and Mary conceiving via the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth gave birth to John, who would later be known as John the Baptist, who ” grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publically to Israel.”
The story of Mary and Joseph continues in the second chapter – the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus in the stable, the angels’ message to the shepherds, and the visitation by the shepherds. When the shepherds visited, they “made known what had been told them about this child” and Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Now a little review for portions of the story that happened between the gospel reading from last week and today’s reading. Following the Jewish laws and customs, Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day of life and was named “Jesus”, the name given by the angel before he was conceived. Then the time came for Mary’s purification according to the law of Moses and Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to Jerusalem to present him in the temple for the dedication service of a firstborn son, as was written in the law – ” Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord.”
It is at this point that we read the story of Simeon. Simeon was a righteous and devout man in Jerusalem who was looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. The Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. The Spirit guided Simeon to the temple and when Mary and Joseph brought in the baby Jesus, Simeon took Him in his arms and praised God saying….” Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel. ” Simeon goes on to tell Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” The prophet Anna also began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When Mary and Joseph had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Nazareth. Then, “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” The next statement begins today’s reading when Jesus was twelve years old and they were all heading to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.
Did you ever wonder what happened in those twelve years? I expect that many of us wonder, especially in the current age of documenting every move that our children or grandchildren make! There are several non-canonical “gospels” that related stories of remarkable feats performed by the child Jesus such as making birds out of clay then bringing them to life, bringing to life a dried fish, resurrecting a friend who fell from a roof and healing a man who chopped his foot with an axe. These are sort of entertaining, but were not included in the canonical gospels. In fact, Luke is the only gospel that contains the story of the trip to Jerusalem, staying behind, and participating in discussions in the temple before being found by Mary and Joseph and heading back to Nazareth until he began his public ministry at age thirty.
But, back to the story today. We assume that Mary and Joseph did make the annual trip to Jerusalem each year on the festival of the Passover, but we don’t know if the child Jesus accompanied them or not. We do know from Luke’s version of the story that when he was twelve years old, Jesus was on the journey. According to Jewish tradition, age twelve was the beginning of the end of childhood. At that age, a boy could be held responsible for keeping binding vows and fasting for an entire day was expected. The special allowances that were granted to very young children were gradually being replaced with greater expectations and responsibilities. Jesus at age twelve was not a full adult under the law, but he was no longer a child.
The trip from Nazareth to Jerusalem was an uphill journey, about 149 kilometers or roughly 96 miles. It was not just Mary, Joseph and Jesus on the journey – there would have been a large caravan of friends, neighbors and relatives making the trip that most likely took at least five days. The caravan normally had the men at the beginning, animals and possessions in the middle and women bringing up the rear. The children normally were assigned to “supervise” a bundle or an animal, but the children moved easily around the groups, so it was not unusual for the parents to not see their own children until evening camp was made. I think it is safe to assume that the trip to Jerusalem was uneventful and it was only at the end of the first day on the return journey that Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus was not with the caravan. You can imagine how terrified they were when they realized that Jesus was missing! I had the experience with both of my boys as they were growing up when each of them wandered off briefly and I can assure you that those few minutes felt like a terrifying lifetime to me! Poor Mary and Joseph did not find Jesus in a few minutes like I found my boys! They were looking for three days (most likely one day for the initial journey from Jerusalem, one day for the return trip back to Jerusalem and one day looking in the city before they got to the temple and found him).
In verse 43 we see that Jesus had his own “agenda” that his parents were not aware of. In the original Greek text the word “pais” was used. “Pais” denotes a child or a young man but it also can mean “servant of God.” When Mary and Joseph finally found Jesus, he was sitting among the teachers, listening and asking them questions. It was especially remarkable that he was “sitting” because it was the teachers who sat and the students and observers stood. Perhaps this foreshadowed his later role as a teacher! Those who heard him were “amazed” at his understanding and his answers.
Mary and Joseph have a different viewpoint! They are “astounded” – a work with more negative emphasis. Mary’s question to Jesus – “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety”. In this verse, the Greek word “teknon” is used – this denotes a child still with a dependent relationship with the parents. But Jesus responds with a question of his own – ” Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?”
Mary and Joseph did not understand what he meant, but Jesus got up and went back to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. The text says that Mary treasured all these things in her heart. I personally think that she began to recall the messages that the angel had given her when he appeared to tell her that she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit and recalling Simeon’s words. We do know that Jesus increased in “wisdom and years and in divine and human favor.”
How to tie this all together? Jesus was beginning a new phase in his life when he stayed behind in the temple. It was the beginning of Mary’s and Joseph’s realization that Jesus was going on to do the work of God, his father. This marked a new beginning for them all.
This time of year is a new beginning for us as well. It is tradition for us to make “resolutions” that we think we will keep in the New Year, but as for me, most often these “resolutions” don’t last. Like the journey that Jesus, Mary and Joseph took, our lives are more of a journey – a journey towards goals. I like to think of new goals for the new year – a journey that will continue even if I have to backtrack when I have lost my way towards the goals. My goals are not just about losing weight or working out at the gym or keeping a cleaner house! Now, if I can achieve those goals, I will be thrilled! But more importantly, my goals center on how I can help others and make a difference in this turbulent, violent, unhappy world filled with hatred and prejudice. I cannot solve all the problems, but if I have any influence on my journey, then my goal will be achieved.
I want to close today with a Collect for the New Year that was written by Fr. Josh Thomas of the Diocese of Wisconsin.
Holy God, you have brought us in wholeness to a new year. Make us aware of the necessities of others, determined in our efforts to meet both their needs and ours, and joyful in gratitude for all that we have; that the passing of time may bring us closer to you in this life, as we look forward to your nearness in the life to come, with Jesus Christ our Savior and your Spirit of blessedness and peace.