Man! The years go by so fast! All I have to do is look at my two sons to realize how much time has passed. When we first got to Arlington, Matthew hadn’t started walking yet. Now he’s 21. Younger son, Michael, wasn’t even born. Now he’s graduating from high school. One minute you’re running alongside of your child encouraging him to go faster on his bicycle, to get up enough speed to stay balanced, and the next moment the same boy is at the wheel of a car, and you’re reminding him to slow down and be safe. Where did the years go…
Jesus seems to be growing up really fast. Our Biblical texts move at fast-forward in the days of this Christmas season and soon, Epiphany. Here we are, only a week from Christmas, a week from the Baby lying in a manger, and suddenly Jesus is an adolescent, wandering off on His own. Last week Jesus was “prophecy fulfilled.” Now in this week’s Gospel Reading here He is, questioning the teachers and theologians about that very tradition. We’re still in chapter 2, but things seem to be moving so very fast in St. Luke’s Gospel. Is he making a point?
In the Church we confess that Jesus is “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true Man, born of the Virgin Mary.” And in today’s familiar story from St. Luke’s Gospel, we see both sides. Jesus, fully human, a real boy, who is growing up as mortals do. At this point in His young life, Jesus has scared His parents half to death, as teenagers are known to do. Jesus is asking questions, as we all tend to do. And He is listening to the responses of the learned, as we ought to learn to do.
But at the same time in this particular episode of His life, we see the real boy Jesus fully divine and fully amazing everyone with His understanding and with His answers. We hear Jesus, even at age 12, declaring His unique relationship with God the Father, as only the divine Son can do.
His parents, Mary and Joseph, however, are not so quickly impressed. They have not come all the way back to Jerusalem, a day’s journey, for a theological discussion. Yes, on that night 12 years earlier, over Bethlehem’s plain the angels sang and shepherds had come in from their flocks to marvel and celebrate Jesus’ birth.
Yes, that day long ago, at the temple, Simeon and Anna, prophet and prophetess, had proclaimed Jesus to be God’s answer to the yearning of Israel and all humankind. Yes, this was all so profoundly and complexly true! But now, on this day in Jerusalem, Jesus’ parents just want some simple answers. “Where have you been, young man? And what do you think you’re doing?”
As the father of two sons, I can easily identify with Mary and Joseph in this story. “Son, why have you treated your mom and dad this way?” But perhaps our question is better directed to St. Luke. “Just what, Dr. Luke, are you trying to tell us in this story about Jesus?” He’s the only one with this story!
To answer that question, first of all, St. Luke is reinforcing the point he’s been making from the beginning of his Gospel: “to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us.” The things that “have been accomplished” by God in and through His Son, Jesus. The angel Gabriel had told Mary, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” The angel over Bethlehem declared to the shepherds, “Unto you is born this day…a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”
The devout Simeon proclaimed that the Child is God’s gift of salvation for all people—“a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to [His] people Israel.” While Anna the prophetess spoke of Jesus “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” “Son of the Most High,” “Savior,” “Christ,” “Lord,” “Light,” “Redemption.” The words tell us…what is being accomplished by God through Jesus, even in this episode of the 12 year-old Boy at the temple.
Secondly, St. Luke anchors Jesus’ coming into the world securely within the faith of ancient Israel from the days of Abraham. “The things that have been accomplished” are immersed in Israel’s history. From the opening scene of this Gospel with Zechariah fulfilling his service at the temple offering the sacrifice of incense, to Mary and Joseph having their Son circumcised on the eighth day, making Him a Son of the Covenant. Then after 40 days presenting Him at the temple in Jerusalem, offering the redemptive sacrifice according to the Law of Moses.
Then every year, as St. Luke writes, the Holy Family goes up to Jerusalem for the Passover. Passover! Israel’s redemption! Every year, traveling the 65 miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem, a multi-day journey, and then back home again!
St. Luke is carefully setting out the details which echo Israel’s history, which St. Paul put so succinctly to the Galatians: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” That we might be as Jesus is, God’s very own! So what, precisely, is being accomplished here?
Ah, perhaps this is the best Christmas present of all, saved until now, late in these 12 days of Christmas! Think about what St. Luke sets before us here. It is Passover time. The festival of redemption! It is, in fact, the 12th Passover since Jesus was born. 12…a significant number, an Israel number. They are in Jerusalem, and Jesus has been taken from them, so they think. After three days they find Him again…going about His Father’s business. After three days… Ring any bells?
Yes, even here, even now, in these festive days of Christmas come reminders of what God is accomplishing in and through His Son. As Martin Luther once wrote, “God does not let us remain at Bethlehem and the manger. He rushes in with large axes and hammers to demolish that manger and erect a cross.” “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through; The cross be borne for me for you; Hail, hail the Word made flesh, The Babe [the Boy], the Son of Mary.”
20 years following these events of our text, Mary, without Joseph, the disciples, and many others will be distraught once again thinking they have lost Jesus. And after three days they will find Him; rather, He will find them! And in words echoing the day of the 12 year old boy in the temple, Jesus will gently chide them, “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business…at work in My Father’s house?” The Lord God is accomplishing His work, and we here today rejoice that He has accomplished His work in and through His Son.
In these festive days we rejoice again in all the great gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation that are given to us in Christ Jesus! And…who, but God alone, knows if in the coming new year there may be times for us when we will grow anxious and desperate, thinking that we have lost our Christ because circumstances around us cry His absence! And we panic. And, like Mary & Joseph in our text today, we too forget what God has accomplished among us and for us in His Son!
But…though we forget, and though we grow anxious, still the Christ finds us, and He speaks to us by His Word, “Why are you troubled?” He reminds us by His Word of Promise that in all things, even when it is the cross for us, He is at work with us, undertaking His Father’s business, accomplishing His Father’s good in us and with us and for us!
Such a surprising gift coming late in these Christmas days. Such a sweet exchange, amid the rush of other exchanges following the holiday. “[Christ] undertakes a great exchange, Puts on our human frame, And in return gives us His realm, His glory, and His name.”
Soon we will see this so clearly at the cross and in the resurrection. But even here and now, as St. Luke shows us, it is coming to pass—a 12 year old Boy, a real boy, lost yet not lost…taking up His Father’s business in His Father’s house, that we too may have a place, a real place, within His house forever!