Adapted from a sermon

Delivered December 31, 2006

First Congregational Church, Anchorage


I Samuel 2:18-20, 26

Luke 2:41-52

Colossians 3:12-17

What a Kid We Have in Jesus

                Christmas is a time for children, wide-eyed little people full of hope and excitement – ready to listen to the old family stories, put up Christmas trees and crèche’ scenes, hang stockings and electric lights and even light old-fashioned candles. There is love-giving, present-giving and family-visiting, and it is all good. At Christmas we also review our beliefs and the beliefs of our ancestors when we share the Christmas stories with our children.

                        How much actual God-talk, the children’s minds absorb during these annual celebrations, I’m not really sure.  But I do know that God is there with us when we, be we big or little, eat and run and play and laugh with our friends and family at Christmas.

                        We draw parallels with the Biblical Christmas story. Joseph was taking his family to be enumerated, going back to his hometown.  Today we just take our families to meet the rest of the family wherever they might live. It is an important ritual to show the kids and us that we are part of something a little bigger than our immediate surroundings.

            The wise men brought gifts – maybe not the same kind of gifts that we exchange these days, but gifts nonetheless.

            We set up a little model stable in our churches and homes, with a mother, a father, a baby, animals, visitors, and angels – all symbols of family, friends and Immanuel, “God With Us”.

            When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord: “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord.” We bring our children to church for dedication or baptism.  Hopefully, we bring them back each Sunday or at least on Christmas and Easter.  And we have done this generation after generation.

            That is what our scripture lessons are about this morning – passing on the traditions to our children.  We have a wide-eyed little boy from the Old Testament being brought to the church and left there for his education. And we have another little boy, this time from the New Testament, who finds his own way back to the Temple of his dedication to talk with the scribes and great teachers of his time.

              Dedication of one’s first born to God is a great theological theme running through the Bible.  Hannah, a childless woman, prays desperately for a male child.  When the Lord looks with favor upon her, she gives birth, and she and her husband not only take the child to the Temple to dedicate him to the Lord, they leave him there at the age of three to be raised by the teachers.  Each year, the mother makes new clothes for her little boy and makes the pilgrimage to the holy shrine to visit her son and give him presents.  The boy grows strong in body and faith and becomes the great Prophet Samuel who leads Israel and places both King Saul and King David on their respective thrones.

                  The Book of Samuel provides some narrative of Samuel’s childhood, a little more than in given for our New Testament hero, Jesus. We’re told stories about Jesus’ birth, his dedication at the temple, and his return to Nazareth.  In the Luke account, there is no mention of a flight to Egypt.  That story was told in a handful of verses in the Gospel of Matthew.

                  In the Lukan account, the family returns to Nazareth, the child grows and becomes strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God is upon him. 

                   Period. End of story.

                  (PAUSE)  Twelve or so years later – we find Jesus and his family back in Jerusalem for the annual Passover festival.  Jesus wanders off.  This is apparently not something Jesus has done before because the family is panic-stricken – and searches the city for three days to find him.  Three days is a long time to be looking for your kid!

            Think about it for a minute.  Your twelve year old has just wandered off in downtown Anchorage during Fur Rendezvous and you can’t find him.  You go back home just to check and see if he got there without you.  No kid.  You go back downtown and there you find him, three days later, sitting down at Holy Family Cathedral or First Presbyterian Church, talking with the priests and ministers about matters of theological importance.

                  The family has gone through immeasurable turmoil while this youngster has been “lost.” His mother is understandably upset and says so.  Jesus rebukes her.  Shouldn’t she have just looked for him at church in the first place? he asks.  Well, no, frankly, he should have been standing right with the rest of the family, thank you very much.  Mary forgives him and the re-united little family returns home.

                  Now this story is the sum total of what we are told in official church canon about Jesus as a kid.  It is a pretty potent story of a youngster trying to find out who he is and what his place in the world is to be, but it is still just one story. Perhaps, that’s all we need to know about the childhood of Jesus.  He was a “special needs” child, as my daughter would say.  Probably hiked around with his dad learning the carpenter’s trade, probably squabbled with his playmates and siblings, and obviously needed special education classes at the Temple for the theologically gifted.

                  But, as a mother of five, I guess I just have to know more.  What would it have been like to raise a kid like Jesus?

                  The December 18 issue of U.S. News and World Report has a cover article entitled, “In Search of the Real Jesus.”  The article recalls that the current Christian canon – those “books” officially included in the Christian Bible – was established in the year 367 AD when the Archbishop of Alexandria made a list and sent it out.  The list most specifically excluded the writings of his enemies, the Gnostics and all Gnostic writings were ordered burned.  A few Gnostics chose to bury their books rather than burn them.

                  Some of these books were discovered in a cave in northern Egypt in 1945 – near the town of Nag Hammadi.  If you are interested in such things, you can purchase the Nag Hammadi Library in translation.

                  Some of these writings told stories of the childhood of Jesus – whether they be a bit romanticized is up to you to decide.  There is the story of when the five-year-old Jesus was playing with some clay birds,  turned them to life, and allowed them to fly away.  Once he was seen practicing jumping off a tall haystack and gently floating to the ground.  Once he became angry with a neighborhood bully, cursed him, and killed him – only reluctantly reviving him.

                  Bart E. Ehrman chairs the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He is an authority on the early church and the life of Jesus.  He has collected up a whole slew of ancient writings which did not make it into the New Testament and titled his resulting book, Lost Scriptures.

                  I’m not making any claims for theological authenticity of any of these writings, but they are interesting because they contain clues as to what people thought about the childhood of Jesus during the early days of the church.

                  In the “Infancy Gospel of Thomas”, for instance, we have Jesus as the precocious, sometimes mischievous five-year-old.   For modern readers it is difficult to decide whether such stories were meant as serious accounts of Jesus’ early life or simply as speculative and entertaining stories of the youthful Son of God – discovering and testing his powers and insights.

                 And, just what did the twelve-year-old Jesus learn at the Temple during his three day retreat?  Let’s sit with him a while.

                  I bet he took in a lecture on the Prophecies of Isaiah.  He might have even speculated that the prophecies could have a connection with his own birth.       

                 Jesus might have learned about the wise men, the star, the hundreds of baby boys who were slaughtered on his account when Herod’s men could not find Jesus to kill him.

                  Who were these Zealots?  These Essenes?  All these religious and political parties vying for control in this one small place on earth?

            What on earth did that mean to be “the Son of God?”  Could he still be a wide-eyed kid and play with his clay birds?  Or was all that over now that he was beginning to understand?

                  What does this all mean for us? Those of us who have lived through the age 12, know that it is an important time, the beginning of our personal quest for who we are and who we want to become.  Those teenage years and years of what seems like endless responsibility are ahead of us.  Jesus had lots of questions when he was 12.  And so should we.

                  Perhaps it will take more than one visit to the Temple to sort it all out.

                  Best wishes to each of you and your loved ones as you continue on your spiritual journeys this coming new year.


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