A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, January 10, 2016
Luke 2:41-52 ESV
Someone has pointed out a similarity between the passage read from Luke and that contemporary movie that has become a Christmas classic. You know the one I am talking about, starring Macaulay Culkin, about a sharp, 8-year-old boy who is left behind—home alone—to fend for himself a couple of days before Christmas. Kevin, the lead actor of the movie, proves to be too clever for two would-be burglars who plan to rob his family’s house while everyone is supposed to be in France for the holidays. Indeed, with all the booby traps and other devices that Kevin rigs up, he proves to be wise beyond his years. We played this 1990 movie again with our grandchildren over the Christmas holidays, and it was a joy to watch them laugh and cackle at Kevin’s shenanigans.
With a little imagination, we can easily make the connection between Kevin being left at home alone by his family, and the boy Jesus being left at “his Father’s home” alone by his own family. As Luke tells the story, the boy Jesus—though himself being 12, a few years older than Kevin—proved to be too clever for both his parents and the Temple teachers. Indeed, as Luke relates it, as a 12-year-old boy, Jesus was already wise beyond his years.
As you no doubt know, this story of boy Jesus in the Temple is the only “authoritative” story we have of the childhood of Jesus. Indeed, it is the only authoritative story we have of Jesus from his infancy until the time he was baptized as a man and began his own ministry, about 30 years of age.
Now, when I say “authoritative,” I am qualifying my statement because, as some of you may also know, there are “non-authoritative” stories of the childhood of Jesus in the extra-biblical writings that were deemed unworthy of the attention of the faithful and that were lost away from public view. Most of these stories come from the pseudepigraphous Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ. The dictionary defines pseudepigrapha as 1. “Spurious writings, esp. writings falsely attributed to Biblical characters or times. 2. A body of Jewish religious texts written between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D….” Some of the stories are quite bizarre and even disturbing, as they don’t always portray the boy Jesus in a positive light. But there are two rather well-known stories that are interesting.
One such story relates how that when Jesus was a boy, he and some other boys were playing on a rooftop. One of the boys fell off the roof and was killed. All of the boys fled in fear except Jesus, who was left alone with the dead child. When the parents of the dead boy arrived, they accused Jesus of pushing their son off the roof. Jesus leaped down from the roof and cried out to the fallen boy, “’Did I throw you down?’ And the boy arose at once and said, ‘No, Lord, you did not throw me down, but raised me up’” (The Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ). This story, it appears to me, has the flavor of a post-resurrection story, as do some other stories in our four gospels, and may have been intended as a foreshadowing of the resurrection stories.
Another well-known story of Jesus’s childhood pictures him again playing with other boys. As they were playing in the mud, Jesus fashioned some clay animals—donkeys, oxen, birds and other animals. Jesus told the other boys that his animals were better than theirs, because he was going to bring his creations to life, which he did. The animals began to walk and to eat and drink, and the birds took off in flight. When the other boys went home and told their parents what had happened, they said Jesus was a sorcerer and that in the future they should avoid, shun, and refuse to play with him ever again.
Now, what do we make of such stories? Do we take such stories literally? In the case of the pseudepigraphous stories, some of them are hard to digest, and we don’t even want to consider that they are true. But what about the more positive ones, bringing a dead child back to life, and giving life to clay birds? It seems to me that such stories were intended to reinforce the traditions about Jesus as a miracle worker, even from his childhood. And also to reinforce the early Christian belief that “in him was life,” to borrow a phrase from John’s canonical gospel (John 1:4).
When we return to Luke’s story of the boy Jesus in the Temple, one could very easily interpret a number of elements as serving to foreshadow things to come in Jesus’s adult life:
Jesus conversing with the religious teachers as a 12-year-old boy is a foreshadowing of Jesus conversing with the scribes and Pharisees as an adult, proving himself to be more excellent in understanding than they were. The verse, “And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and answers” (2:47) will be paraphrased two chapters later in Luke’s account of the beginning of Jesus’s ministry in the Nazareth synagogue (4:22).
Jesus’s statement to his parents, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” foreshadows his calling God his father as an adult. It is interesting that these are the first words on record that Jesus spoke. So that verse—“Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”—conveys the main point of the story that Luke wants to impress upon us.
The story seeks to impress upon the reader the boy Jesus’s “dawning awareness” of self-identity and relationship to his Father God, something that Mary and Joseph seem to be totally oblivious to in spite of the miraculous birth narratives Luke has related involving them. The passage has definite Christological overtones.
Luke’s statement that “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man” serves as a positive foundation and transition just before Luke launches into the beginning of Jesus’s adult ministry.
And the phrase, “after three days they found him in the Temple” has been interrupted by some as being symbolic, referring to the three days that Jesus was in the tomb. In the gospels, “three days” is often used symbolically that way.
Now, with all of that having been said about the childhood narratives about Jesus, let’s shift gears and see if there is anything we can learn from this parents-and-child-story as it may relate to our own children and grandchildren.
Luke paints the picture that Jesus was unique. None of us would argue with that. But in another sense of the term, every one of our children and grandchildren is unique and special. We should strive to never forget that and let each one become the person they are and not try to make them into a sibling, someone we want them to be, or anyone else in the world.
There are going to be times of disconnect, break-downs in communication and times when our children and grandchildren are on one plane and we are on another. Luke’s words of Jesus, “Did you not know….” And saying that Mary and Joseph “did not understand…” are universal in scope in parent and child relationships, are they not?
Luke portrays Jesus as an adolescent who is in the process of self-discovery and self-realization. But as we all know, this is a process that all of our children and grandchildren go through. It can be a difficult time. It takes much wisdom and patience and sensitivity to journey with our children through the process of self-discovery and self-realization. And some of the things that help a child with self-identity include family ties and relationships; family values; a positive home atmosphere where individualism is nurtured; religious community; and a spirit of openness, being willing to listen, and attentiveness.
Well, as in the movie Home Alone, after the parents return to find that their son is okay, with Jesus’s parents there is also a giant sense of relief. But there are also, it seems, a better understanding, better communication, and a more mature relationship between son and parents, and parents and son.
Isn’t that something all of us can hope for and work for after periods of separation and disconnect and misunderstanding, whether it be with our children or grandchildren, or in any of our adult relationships—better understanding, better communication, and a more mature relationship? May it be so for all of us. Amen.