I preached this Sunday at the churches in the Lutheran Parishes of Northern Duchess, located in and around Red Hook and Rhinebeck, New York. It was an amazing Sunday, and I hope to be able to go back and do this again in the future.
Below is a text, more or less, of what I preached. And audio too! Because someone out there requested a recording of my sermon. (Requests from the ether!)
SERMON — Christmas 1 (Year C)
- 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
- Psalm 148
- Colossians 3:12-17
- Luke 2:41-52
41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:41-52 ESV)
And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
It’s Jesus, so it has to be true, right? What other 12 year-old boy is going to hold his own — no, is going to prevail — in a conversation with some of the best educated and most learned religious leaders of his time? If anybody can amaze and impress, it would be Jesus.
Even the young Jesus. Jesus the sixth grader, the junior high school student.
But I have a problem with what Luke writes here. He violates one of the first rules of story telling — show me, don’t tell me. He tells me that everyone was amazed and impressed with all that Jesus understood and the answers he gave. But we don’t have those answers. We don’t know what Jesus said. We have nothing here but a short description, “and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
This isn’t the only time Luke does this. In chapter four, after the people of his hometown Nazareth drive him out of the synagogue and even nearly toss him off a cliff, Jesus heads down to Capernaum where he teaches on the Sabbath. “And they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.” Mark echoes this in his first chapter by saying, “And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”
And we do get lots of Jesus teaching in Luke, lots of Jesus answering questions, and telling stories, and healing the sick and the lame. All of that teaching and preaching and speaking with authority, amazing crowds and stunning everyone around him.
But not here. Not in the temple. Not in Capernaum. His authority is marveled at, but we don’t see it. We’re told, but we’re not shown.
Why? I imagine the answers and opinions of the young Jesus, his insightful questions and his amazing responses, would make really good reading. Because even a 12 year-old Jesus would know more about God, God’s promise for his people, and God’s teaching, than you or I or anyone. It would be teaching worth having. I suspect it would provide a lot of answers to that question — What Would Jesus Do?
And maybe, just maybe, that’s why we don’t have it.
In this season of Christmas, we are called upon to remember something — the promise of God, the redemption of God, the Word of God, is a person. Not a book. Not an idea. Not a set of principles. Not a a philosophy or an ideology seeking to govern or order the world. The promise of God, the redemption of God, the word of God, is a man. On Christmas Day, we met that incarnation in a tiny, vulnerable child, laid in straw, squirming, helpless, utterly depending upon other human beings for sustenance, protection, even life itself.
Everything God has ever promised to us, to Abraham, to David, to Israel as it faced the wrath of God in the armies of Assyria and Babylon and lived under Roman occupation — to have a home, to be a blessing to all, and to have descendants more numerous than grains of sand on the shore of sea — is fulfilled in Jesus. Through him, our exile is over, and we are gathered home. Through him, we are now descendants of Abraham. Through him the whole world is blessed.
I’m certain that if a Gospel writer — if God — had decided it was important to have these very specific, amazing, incredible, authoritative teachings of Jesus, we would have had them. Remember the last words of John’s gospel
25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25 ESV)
That’s quite a boast, even in the ancient world, where books were scarce and had to be created and copied by hand. There’s a lot more that Jesus did that we don’t know. And will never know.
And that’s okay.
Because while we wonder and consider what we don’t have, we frequently miss what we do have. Jesus, the savior of the world, God’s promise fulfilled and God himself incarnate, is still a 12 year-old boy. Still not entirely self-sufficient, whatever he might be learning of his father’s craft, however he might be contributing to well-being of his family. Still subject to some kind of human authority.
So, even if we are amazed at his understanding of the teaching of God and of the prophets — and that may be all the more amazing because he likely had little or no formal education in any of it — we don’t understand him when he tells his parents, who have been frantically looking for him for several days, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
I mean, we understand him. As Christians we get it. Because we know the rest of the story. We know who he becomes, we know what he does, and we know how it ends.
But as parents, I suspect we also get that Mary and Joseph didn’t understand this. We share that incomprehension. “My Father? Young man, *I am your father*! We’ve spent days looking for you! And you need to come home with us right now!”
He didn’t have to, this pre-pubescent Son of God who had just amazed everyone with his questions, his answers, and his understanding of the Torah. But he did. “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” He didn’t have to, this Lord and Savior of the world, who would walk on water and calm storms, who would heal lepers and raise the dead, who would feed thousands with a few loaves and a pair of fish and turn water into wine.
But he submitted. God, in becoming human, submitted to the indignity of humanity. He submitted to helplessness, to dependence, to neediness, to sickness and discomfort and the frailties and limits of our bodies — especially as they grow and develop. He’s God, and because he’s God, he had to submit to everything. To feelings, to confusion, to frustration, to uncertainty, to not knowing, to desire, to sorrow, to joy, to friendship, and to love. To the limits of our flesh.
And so, he submitted. To his parents. He didn’t have to. Anymore than he had to submit to the Judean religious leaders who demanded his death, to the mob who clamored for it, or to the Romans who actually killed him. But he submitted, and that’s what’s important for us to know.
He submitted to us. Again and again. God made himself one of us, bereft of divine power, and surrendered to us, dying with us, dying at our hands. Submitting to his parents is really not that big of a deal given what Jesus will face — Satan in the wilderness tempting him, and the cross that he must die upon. The cross that we, the very people came to save, will kill him with.