1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 – Zechariah and Hannah give birth to Samuel, who grows is stature and favor of the Lord.
Psalm 148 – Everyone and everything praise the Lord just about everywhere.
Colossians 3:12-17 – Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, and above all else: love.
Luke 2:41-52 – The boy Jesus in the Temple increases in stature and divine favor.
The Boy Jesus in the Temple
This gospel text is the only story we have of Jesus as a boy in the Bible:
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they 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. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
The lectionary leaves out verse 40, which is strikingly similar to verse 52:
Luke 2:40 – The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Luke 2:52 – And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
Luke is bookending the final story of his introductory material, before he begins telling us about the adult Jesus. We move from Jesus as an infant, to this story of the 12-year-old Jesus, to a 30-year-old Jesus.
Luke says something similar of John the Baptist:
Luke 1:80 – The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.
And our Old Testament reading says much the same about Samuel:
I Samuel 2:26 – Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.
Jesus, John and Samuel grew physically and spiritually.
Luke’s story does not appear in any of the other gospels of the Bible. It does however appear in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a curious collection of childhood stories of Jesus, discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945.
It’s a fascinating read, in which Jesus turns clay birds into real ones (a story also in the Qur’an), and helps his father miraculously stretch wood for a carpentry project. But pay close attention, however, particularly to the last section:
And when Jesus was twelve years old his parents went as usual to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. But as they started to turn back, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know, assuming him to be in the group of travelers. They went a day’s journey and they looked for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And those listening to him were amazed how he questioned the elders and explained the main points of the law and the riddles and the parables of the prophets. And his mother said to him, “Child, why did you do this to us? Look, we have been searching for you in great anxiety and distress.” Jesus said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And the scribes and the Pharisees said to Mary, “Are you the mother of this child?” And she said, “I am.” And they said to her, “Blessed are you, because the Lord God has blessed the fruit of your womb. For such present wisdom and glory of virtue we have never seen nor heard.” And Jesus rose from there and followed his mother and was obedient to his parents. And she treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years and in grace before God and men. To whom be the glory forever, amen.
So, is Luke quoting Thomas? Is Thomas quoting Luke? Are they both quoting another source, written or oral?
The Infancy Gospel of a Thomas is quoted by Irenaeus in 185 A.D. So it’s written before then. Some say it could have been written as early as 80 A.D, around the time Luke was written. Eusebius calls it fiction. Chrysostom says, “The Lord truly did no miracle in his childhood, except this one that Luke mentions, which made men look with wonder upon him” (Homilies on John 20). Yet it is interesting that Luke copies this Infancy document, or vice versa.
The two version texts track very closely. Jesus is 12. His parents go “up” to Jerusalem for the Passover. Luke tells us they went every year. He wants us to understand they are Torah-observant Jews, says Mikeal Parsons (Luke, Paideia, p. 57).
Their caravan (synodia) leaves and travels a day’s journey before they notice he is gone. They return, and find him three days later. Perhaps this is a foreshadowing of Luke 24:1-7 where, after three days, the women do not find Jesus.
It turns out to be a train-the-trainer event. Jesus is teaching the teachers.
Those looking on are astonished. Why? Pastor Don Carlson of Houston (former Assistant to the Bishop in the Gulf Coast Synod) asks: Could it be because he was from the lowest and poorest of the social classes? John Dominic Crossan has an interesting exposition of the Greek word “tekton” – which usually gets translated “carpenter.”
Some go to great lengths to promote the idea that Jesus was from some kind of first century “middle class” if not somewhat affluent family. Perhaps the question heard in the synagogue at Nazareth (and it is doubtful that there was affluence anywhere in Nazareth) has a ring of incredulity, “What? Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Perhaps Jesus was from a poor family barely existing on a subsistence income.
But don’t miss this: Jesus is not just impressing them with answers. He is listening and asking questions: After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Good teaching is always a two-way street.
His parents are understandably unhappy. The punchline of the story seems to be, “Did you not know it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” This is one of several “it is necessary” comments in Luke’s gospel.
They depart, and Jesus submits to the authority of his parents, leaving Mary to ponder these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and years. David Lyle Jeffrey (Brazos Commentary On Luke), points out the christological question: Was Jesus unaware of his role, calling, person in the Trinity? Did he “become?” We may say, “Of course,” but this was the text Arius used at the Council of Nicaea. Athanasius responded with God’s kenosis, self-emptying. He became truly human. Perhaps this encourages us to sing Beautiful Savior.
Where to go with all of this?
Tell a story of losing and finding your child, or getting lost as a child yourself maybe. Did your parents search for you? Mine did. I got lost at Lazarus in downtown Columbus. Mom says I wandered off in my own world as usual. She was terrified. She searched everywhere, until she heard her name called over the loudspeaker, “Patricia Rinehart, come pick up your son.” She was embarrassed, and angry, and relieved. Bring people into the drama of the story.
Invite the twelve-year-olds in your congregation to stand. Put your arm around a 12-year-old girl and remind them that Jesus was once this age. Adolescence is the time that girls begin the transformation into women, and boys into men. Perhaps this is a time to talk about becoming? To what great work is God calling you? How do you know? What are you becoming? As you grow in stature, are you also growing in grace and divine favor? Are you growing not just physically, but also spiritually?
We are built to grow. It is in our genes to grow physically and spiritually. It’s programmed into our DNA. The growth is a free gift of God. We can’t make the growth happen, it just does. But we can feed it, and unfortunately, we can stunt the growth. Sin, materialism, hatred and other maladies can block the growth that God gives.
Someone once said there are two dogs at war within you. One is hate and the other is love. Which one wins in the end? The one you feed.
Paul encourages us to feed the love dog. Now there’s a sermon title. “Feed Your Love Dog.” Paul puts it more eloquently: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, and above all else: love.
Our bodies are meant to grow, physically, in stature. But our bodies also decline and eventually die. Fortunately, our spirit can continue to grow, even when our bodies begin to fail us. In 2 Corinthians 4(:16), Paul shares some good news:
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.
I saw this in my dear mother, who in her final days this year saw her body give way time and time again. Alzheimer’s robbed her of her memory and capacity. And yet her spirit continued in joy, even in the most difficult moments. The work that God had begun in her sustained her in her final days.
In this Christmas season, we give thanks for the incarnation, that God sent Jesus into the world. He took on our mortal form, with its weakness. He grew in stature and spirit, coming to show us the way of life, hope, peace and love. Through his life, death and resurrection, we too are renewed daily, so that even when our bodies fail us, our spirit is continuously renewed. Thanks be to God!