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Dec 27 2014

The Story of a Lifetime

“After three days they found Jesus in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking him questions.” —Luke 2:46

A group of us were gathered in a circle. Preparing for Christmas, we read the birth narrative from Luke’s gospel (Luke 2:1-20) with considerable energy and attention. We imagined Joseph and Mary’s arduous journey to Bethlehem, far away from home, during the ninth month of her pregnancy; what it was like to have the time of delivery come but there being no place of welcome for them; Jesus’ vulnerable birth and his first bed being a feed trough in a stable. We marvelled at God’s salvation arriving in the world this way. We reflected on what kind of power was being manifested in this “tender mercy”, and where we might encounter it at work among us. Then one person raised his hand and, apologizing if this might be off the track of our discussion a little, asked what we knew about Jesus’ years of development. What for instance, happened in his teen years?

The question was an excellent one, especially for folks realizing that Christmas is not an end to itself but really the beginning of a lifetime. Blessedly, I was able to share that the lectionary cycle this year offers us the one account of Jesus’ life between his being a toddler (Matthew 2) and the advent of his ministry as a 30 year old adult. We receive it on the Sunday after Christmas!

Perhaps you are already familiar with this scene (Luke 2:41-52). At age 12, Jesus travels with his family on their yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover, celebrating the Exodus journey of salvation, remembering the deliverance of God’s people from slavery to freedom. Such a trip would have been an enormous undertaking for humble people from Galilee, taking off work for more than a week to travel many miles. Yet they did it each year; the practice was at the heart of their faith and self-understanding. Though still young in our eyes, Jesus was at the cusp of adulthood in their culture. This would be a time for him to claim the faith for himself; to mature. Not unlike Confirmation.

When his family returns to Jerusalem at the end of the festival, Jesus remains behind. Mary and Joseph realize that Jesus is not among the extended family and community members headed back to Nazareth; they anxiously return to the capitol, searching for three days before they find him in the Temple. He is sitting among the teachers, listening and asking them questions. Jesus is actively learning, and the people around him are amazed at the understanding and perspective he is demonstrating. His mother is both relieved and furious: Child, why would you do this to us? Jesus responds, essentially: “I don’t understand why would it take you three days to find me. Don’t you know me well enough to know that I would be where I need to be, here, immersed in the things of my Father?” His response may seem impetuous but is actually quite searching. Mary gives thought to what is unfolding, and comes to “treasure these words in her heart”.

Jesus is maturing; he is already moving deeper and further into his life of faith than his loving parents have taught him! It is a challenging yet wonderful path for everyone involved. Throughout history, many artists who have painted the scene have Jesus “teaching the teachers”. They have portrayed him as though he is correcting them. But Luke’s account has Jesus much more like the young people of our own church. Jesus listens and asks important questions; from his learning and its emerging wisdom he offers new perspective and perhaps fresh direction. He grows right before everyone’s eyes. I like Polenov’s Among the Teachers, which has the youthful Jesus sitting among the teachers, listening. In those days, teachers sat and students stood, so young Jesus is being counted among the teachers, but it is his attention and thoughtfulness that are communicated strongly. I am eager to explore Jesus’ lifelong development, his need to grow and his willingness to do so, with the members of our learning circle! We will join our stories with his. I am also reminded that much of my own spiritual growth and maturing has taken place deep into my adult years. Beyond our celebrations of Christmas is the story of a lifetime. Not just Jesus’ lifetime, but most surely our own.

 

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