Common English Bible (CEB)
41 Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. 42 When he was 12 years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to their custom. 43 After the festival was over, they were returning home, but the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t know it.44 Supposing that he was among their band of travelers, they journeyed on for a full day while looking for him among their family and friends. 45 When they didn’t find Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple. He was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and putting questions to them. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed by his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were shocked.
His mother said, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Listen! Your father and I have been worried. We’ve been looking for you!”
49 Jesus replied, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they didn’t understand what he said to them.
51 Jesus went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. His mother cherished every word in her heart. 52 Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people.
Origin stories can make or break a character.
In everyone’s life, early on there are usually at least one or maybe a handful of defining moments, moments that give us a glimpse of the kind of person they will be in the future. Sometimes, these are events that happen to a person that shapes their outlook on life. Other times, they are moments that a person must make a choice, a choice that changes the trajectory of their entire lives. The word for this moment is usually called a crisis; it’s a turning point, a hinge upon which history turns. Getting these moments right is often crucial for a person.
Look at it from the viewpoint of a writer. Making a character with a good origin is…well, it’s not easy. It’s an art. Think about all the great stories you’ve heard, or read, or watched in the past, and think about all the stinkers. A good origin will get you invested in a character, will make you want to learn more about them, no matter if they are a hero or a villain. It gets our attention, but it also informs us about the kind of person they are, who they will become, and what they will do in life. The thing about learning about other people though, is that in the process we wind up learning about ourselves.
Take, for example, Star Wars.
We are introduced to the character of Darth Vader in the original trilogy, and what we are given is this grim, powerful, determined and menacing figure. There’s also an air of mystery to him. He is always menacing, always intimidating, but also veiled in secrecy. As we learn more about him from Obi Wan, and in the course of the film, we learn that his story is one of great tragedy; he was one hoped to be a bringer of peace and balance, but instead became twisted and turned his back on goodness in favor of greed and selfishness, violence and power.
In the prequel movies, we see glimmers of what his life will be like, what it could be like, and what it eventually becomes because of the choices he made and circumstances of his life. As a child, we do not see him as this dark, tortured soul, but as a child with great potential, for both good and for evil. He is incredibly intelligent, and strong in the force, but at the same time he is naïve, loyal to a fault, and often ruled by his emotions. As he grows, his impulsiveness, emotionality, and power grow as he grows. Eventually, as we know, he lets his emotions corrupt him; his actions set him on a course of great tragedy and pain for all those in his path. Eventually of course, in the final film, Vader redeems himself, and proves that he is not entirely evil but had good left in him, that he felt trapped by his decisions, that the path he was on wasn’t always the way he was destined to be but instead he could choose to do the right thing in the end. It’s a fantastic character arc, from beginning to end.
Had it not been for the pain and suffering that shape his life didn’t mean he had to be the villian. That, however, is the importance of choice in a life. There are some things that we can’t change—we can’t change who our parents are, or what our personality is like in many ways, or even the society we are born into at some level. But then again, we are who we are, and our choices come out of our characters. Sometimes, our character becomes evident early on in life. Sometimes, it may take more time.
This passage from Luke, the famous story of Jesus as a young boy around age 12 is in many ways a crisis moment. It’s a turning point in an already extraordinary life, and in many ways, a glimpse at the kind of person Jesus would become as an adult and in his ministry. Last week, we celebrated the birth of Jesus, a celebration that continues for the next week. Today, though, we look at perhaps one of my favorite stories of Jesus: Jesus, the smart-aleck tween. Jesus, the boy that could go toe to toe with the smartest and most revered teachers in Judea. Jesus, the boy who knew that he belonged in the house of God, his Father. Jesus, the boy who would become the Messiah.
All of these elements in the story set up the entire Gospel. This story is in many ways a prelude to the life of Jesus, and the story of his ministry. There are many significant things to observe in this story though, specifically that this story really highlights the Jewishness of Jesus. Jesus’s family, Mary, Joseph, his brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, the whole lot, go to Jerusalem for Passover, one the most important festivals in the Jewish year. It makes sense that they would go; every good Jew was expected to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem several times a year to go the temple and make sacrifices. Jesus’s family was no different; and really, the fact that God had been so active in the lives of his parents Mary and Joseph should give us a clue into the religiosity of his family. I’m not sure about you, but if I had had several encounters with angels and had miraculous events happen in my life revolving around my son, who was foretold to be the Son of God, I would definitely be a bit more serious about my religion.
In any case, the event of going to Jerusalem is a tremendous foreshadowing for the life of Jesus. Jerusalem would be the place where one day in the future he would be hailed and revered, as well as hated and eventually killed. Jesus whole life is shaped around the city of Jerusalem, and especially the temple. The temple in which he would spread his gospel of repentance, hope, but also of criticism of the established religion and of the priests, scribes, and Pharisees. The temple he would eventually say that he would tear down, and then rebuild in three days. This is the day at the temple that set in motion all the dominoes that would fall in his life, leading up to his death, and his resurrection. This is the day that happens.
It’s an innocent enough story. It’s almost like Home Alone, if you think about it.
Family goes to Jerusalem, and starts heading home, not realizing that their son wasn’t with them until a day after they had already been traveling. Honestly, those of you with big families know how easy it is to lose track of a 12 year old. This is a time when big families were the norm, and add in the fact that all the brothers, sisters, and cousins were in the mix, and well, things can get confusing. I don’t blame Mary and Joseph for losing Jesus.
They do what any parent would do: go on a thorough search for their son throughout Jerusalem, which is a pretty big city. 3 days they search for him. For three days, Jesus is gone. I can’t imagine the kind of anxiety and fear that was going through Mary and Joseph’s head. Searching for a lost child is pain enough; searching for three days for a lost child? Unbearable. Especially in Jerusalem in the 1st century. This was not a safe place; in fact, it was pretty far from safe, especially for a young child on the cusp of adulthood. For three days, fear ruled the hearts of Mary and Joseph. For three days, their son was gone, and hope was replaced by panic, grief, and uncertainty.
But on that third day, that which was thought to be lost was found again—and found in a place that should have probably been the first place they looked. At least, that’s probably what Jesus was thinking. I imagine the look on Mary and Joseph’s faces as they looked into the temple grounds, and spied their son in a group of people, chatting up the priests and rabbis, asking questions that stunned even the most learned person—something that he would go on to do throughout his ministry, his signature move as it were. His parent’s I’m guessing had a mix of both relief and anger; relief that their son was found, and fury that he had abandoned them! Luke probably had to clean up the language a bit from Mary’s mouth, because I can guarantee that it was probably a lot harsher than what we’re given. What Jesus said? I don’t think he changed a word. It’s exactly the kind of thing Jesus would say—Jesus the parable teller, Jesus the wonder-worker, Jesus the prophet, Jesus the rabbi. It’s a smart aleck response, much like most of his teachings later in life. It was simple, it was obvious, and it cut to the chase. It says his parents didn’t understand him—a reaction that he would be met with for the rest of his life. However, it doesn’t say what else they felt toward him, which I’m sure he might have gotten his ear chewed off by a certain Jewish mother.
All this aside, this episode is one of great insight into the character of Jesus, and a glimpse that even at an early age, when Jesus was coming into recognition of who he was and what kind of life he would be leading, Jesus’s life would be unlike any other, nor could it be. We recognize that Jesus is God with us, Immanuel, and that his birth was one of tremendous significance. Seeing him as a young boy, we are all too reminded that Jesus is not quite like anyone else. Jesus was remarkable, and showed glimmers of who he was going to be.
So why do we dwell on this story? Sure it’s a good story, and gives insight into the life of the man we call Messiah, but what does it mean for us? How are we changed by this story? I don’t think it’s any coincidence that we get this story on the edge of a new year. It’s a story that signals a change. It marks the end of one saga, that of Jesus’s early life, and marks the beginning of a new story, the life and ministry of Jesus. It gives us a foretaste of what is to come; the season of Lent is not too far off—and we are always reminded of the shadows that linger in the life of Christ. His life begins with a light in the darkness. As we continue through the next year, we will find that, though darkness can be overwhelming, it can never truly extinguish the light. The light lives on.
Our lives are filled with change. Each New Year gives us an opportunity to look back on the last one, and see how far we’ve come. For some of us, the last year was a good one, and nostalgia rules our memory. For others, it may have been filled with sorrow or hardship, and we’re all too glad to see this year end and a new one begins. In either case, the end of the year often means for us that we have an opportunity to look forward into the New Year with hope.
We all have a story to tell, and we all can recognize the moments that we were tested, when our character was truly exposed and proven. Perhaps this past year had a few moments like this. More than likely, the next year will have a few crisis moments as well. But in any case, through it all, we always have hope. We have hope in Christ through all things, good and bad. We all have our temples, our shadows that hang over us and form us, but it’s with Christ, we can overcome all things, and are given strength in him when our own fails.
In many ways, we can’t change our origins. We can’t change the circumstances in which we were born, or many of the things in life that we go through. These are the things that form us, though, and give us our character, make us who we are. Through it all though we can choose to make Christ a significant part of our story, and let his story guide us through our own. We can live as redeemed people, by Christ’s life and death. We can learn the lessons that Christ would have us learn, to recognize the things that are important. We can make it a point to actively seek God in the next year, as Christ did in his youth. We can be emboldened to ask questions, to find the answers, and to look for God’s wisdom in the coming year. We can make mistakes, and hit a few bumps in the road. Our story might have doubt, grief and uncertainty in it, as his parents did. In the end, though, Christ will always appear, and give us an answer that maybe we didn’t expect, but more than likely needed.
At the end of this story, we are given the synopsis that Jesus grew, and as he grew he matured in wisdom, years, and in favor with God and with people. This year, I’m going to challenge you to grow. To seek wisdom, maturity, and favor with God and with people. Make this a year that you become a better disciple. Make this the year that you put God at the center of your lives, and live with an attitude of discipleship. As this year ends, a new one begins, and with that, we have new hope of a life redeemed by Christ. We may yet live in the shadow of the temple, but we also live with the light of Christ to guide us. Amen.