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Focus On The [Holy] Family

Luke 2:41-52
Opening Prayer:
O almighty God, by the birth of your holy child Jesus you gave us a great light to dawn on our darkness.Grant that in his light we may see light. Bestow upon us that most excellent Christmas gift of love to all people, so that the likeness of your Son may be formed in us, and that we may have the ever brightening hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen. (THE BOOK OF WORSHIP 1965, ALT.)
This story about identity and vocation calls us to name and participate in those rare moments in life when children, youth, and adults begin to clarify and actualize a larger sense of family, call, and mission to ministry.
In worship today many questions could be used in conjunction with this text from Luke, the story of Jesus in the temple. How do adults react when children declare a sense of vocation and call in ways that fracture our sense of control and confuse our hopes for them? How do congregations nurture and nourish a vital sense of Christian identity in the lives of its younger members? What vivid understandings might emerge if we set verses 48 and 49 of this passage up against Luke 8:20-21? (Who are my mother and brother and sister?) Hear the gospel lesson for the First Sunday after Christmas:
[41] Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. [42] And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. [43] When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. [44] 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. [45] When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.
[46] After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. [47] And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. [48] 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.” [49] He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” [50] But they did not understand what he said to them. [51] Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
[52] And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor (Luke 2:41-52).
This is the only passage in the Bible that tells of Jesus’ boyhood. At the time of the “festival of the Passover,” Jews celebrated both Israel’s deliverance from Israel and the festival of unleavened bread, a symbol of the start of a New Year. Jews were required to make three pilgrimages to Jerusalem each year: Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.[1] Rabbis were divided on whether women and children were required to participate. Those who lived far from Jerusalem were customarily excused from the pilgrimages at Pentecost and Tabernacles.
Jesus is now “twelve years old.” In only another year, he will officially become an adult man (now celebrated by Jews at the bar mitzvah.) After the eight days of the festival, the “group” (v. 44, probably Mary’s and Joseph’s whole village) begin their journey back to Nazareth. Somehow Joseph thinks Jesus was with Mary and the women, while Mary assumes that Jesus is traveling with the men. When large groups traveled together, the entourage might stretch out for great distances, perhaps even a mile, depending on the size of the group. Somehow, possibly as they stop to camp or eat, the parents discover that neither of them has Jesus and he has disappeared. Frantic with worry they begin their search.
Joseph and Mary find Jesus in the outer court of the Temple “among the teachers” (v. 46), experts in Jewish law. Respectful of the law, he not only listens and asks questions, but also answers their questions. Verse 49 records a turning point in Luke’s Gospel. For here we have the first words of Jesus. Jesus’ father is designated as “the Father.” Until this point in Luke’s story, Joseph has been called his father. Note the term “must.” It suggests that the relationship between Jesus and his heavenly Father requires obedience. Do parents ever reach a point where they completely understand their children? Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph simply cannot comprehend that Jesus’ relationship with God, even at his early age, takes precedence over his relationship with them. When they return to Nazareth, however, Jesus obeys his parents in everyday life. Despite not understanding, we are told that Mary “treasured” (v. 51) what Jesus says. Jesus continues to grow in understanding. This growth is to prepare Jesus for the mission that will comprise Luke’s Gospel (v. 52).
This story, however intricate, can be boiled down to three essential points for our purpose today.
1) Jesus was nurtured in the context of an obediently faithful and worship observant family.
2) When Jesus was twelve years old, he began to understand his own uniqueness.
3) Jesus’ move toward God signaled a tension within his own family.
I want to close by noting a gospel theme that is probably more pronounced in Mark than it is in Luke. However, Luke also tells us something worth recognizing—even those who were closest to Jesus, his disciples and even his parents, scarcely can comprehend the nature of Jesus. Even though they spend day after day with him, his mission and message seem to be bigger than they can grasp.
Many of our children now wear the popular wristbands and necklaces that have the letters “WWJD” stitched or engraved upon them. These letters are simply a reminder, that when faced with a difficult question or situation, the person wearing the letters can ask the simple question: “What would Jesus do?” I want to suggest that after reading the gospels, and especially this story from Luke, “WWJD” remains a very good, but pesky, question. Amen.
David Neil Mosser
Graham, Texas
[1] Verse 41: “Passover:” The regulations for Passover are in Exodus 23:17; 34:23; Leviticus 23:4-14. Leaven (yeast) was seen as associated with fermentation and thus corruption (1 Corinthians 5:8). The Festival of Unleavened Bread, seven days in length, originally followed the one-day Passover celebration. Leavened bread was forbidden during this festival to mark the beginning of the grain harvest. In their haste to leave Egypt, the Israelites could not wait for the dough to rise (Exodus 12:14-20; 34-39). By Jesus’ time, the two festivals had been combined. (See also Luke 22:1).