Parenting, as most parents know, can be a terrifying experience. Rewarding, yes, but also terrifying. Somehow you know, that when you hold that little bitty baby in your arms, that you are going to provide a good living for future therapists. I remember when we took Caitlin, my first-born, home. I carried her downstairs, and the nurse accompanied us. I put her in the car seat while her mother got into the car, and the nurse just watched us. I got into the car, started it, and waited for the nurse to say, “Hey, we were just kidding! There is no way we’re letting you take this baby home. You have no idea how to be parents!” But they never did. And her mother and muddled through it, like all parents.
As scary as it was to raise my kids, can you imagine being Mary and Joseph? You are not just raising a kid, you are raising the Son of God. Who, as it turns out, sometimes had his own priorities that differed from his parents.
We actually know little of the life of Jesus beyond the last three years of his earthly life. Two Gospels tell us a little something about his birth, and only Luke, in the passage we heard today, says anything about his childhood. We can read between the lines, but the letters there are very blurred. Joseph disappears after this story, and is only mentioned when people call Jesus “Joseph’s boy.” Which makes me wonder why Luke chose to include this story. Surely no one doubts Jesus’ commitment to be about his Father’s business.
So what is going on here. Why did Luke include this little story?
Two Theories and a third
Different people have different ideas. Some say Luke included to kind of humanize Jesus. Here you see as a kid, he was kind of a discipline problem. Not a bad kid, but he gave his parents some grief, like all children do. That’s one idea, except that in reality this makes Jesus look even more imposing. A twelve year old boy, sitting in the temple with the teachers of the law, amazing them with his understanding of the arcane points of Jewish legalism? That does not humanize him. At twelve my kids were pretty well versed on Harry Potter, and they knew a lot about the Bible, but not enough to amaze a gaggle of pastors.
Others say Luke is showing us how, at an early age, Jesus was committed to God. But again, is that ever in doubt? How many people, after reading the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, who did not include this story, think, “I wonder if he really means it?” That Jesus is committed to God is beyond doubt.
No, I think it is for a different reason, one that we find at the end of the story. The story is strange in and of itself, but the ending is even curiouser. His parent chastise him for giving them grief, and then Luke tells us, …he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
The interesting thing this tells us is that Jesus a) was obedient to his mother after this, and that he increased in wisdom, and in “divine and human favor.” That he grew from a boy to man is obvious. That he grew both obedient and in wisdom gives us an interesting insight into Jesus. And into ourselves. The essence of the Christian life is growth. Jesus, who was fully God and fully human, had to grow into being the Messiah. And we grow into being people of Grace.
Growth is a natural part of life. If you aren’t growing, you are dying, so said that great prophet Bob Dylan. But sometimes we get the impression that our faith is not something that grows. Our theology can contribute to that. If we focus solely on the idea of sin and redemption, (We sin, God forgives us, we try not to sin again) then Christianity is becomes a process, kind of like flossing your teeth. You work every night to keep your teeth clean, and you work on a regular basis to keep your soul clean.
But what if it is more than that? What if the cleaning process is only the groundwork for something greater? What if, instead of the cleaning process, our faith was more like tending a garden than cleaning our teeth? The garden we are tending is our soul, and there some incredible things can grow.
Paul uses a different metaphor.
12As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Clothe yourselves, he says, but with specific garments. Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Forbearance, forgiveness, and love. Like Jesus growing up, who had some things to learn, as we grow spiritually, we have qualities that we should be exhibiting. We are beyond talking about sin and forgiveness here. That is the starting point.
But it is only a starting point. So I understand that Jesus forgives my sins. Now what?
Now comes the fun part. Now we use the information to grow in the grace of God. Its good to have compassion. But to grow in your compassion is even better. It is good to be kind, but to grow in kindness is even better. Humility–that is not a virtue for our day. Or is it? Humility is not the art of thinking that you are worse than you really are, that you are not as talented, not as smart, not as good, not as capable. Humility is when you put your talents to work, not for yourself, but for God. That is true humility. Meekness is not denying the strengths we have. It is when we use our strengths to serve others. And patience….to grow in patience is harder perhaps than all the rest. There is a book called I Prayed For Patience and Other Horror Stories.
But then Paul gives us three other virtues to consider. Forbearance–that is when we have patience with others. That is when, instead of thinking of the worst of other people, we think of the best. Forgiveness–we know what that means, it is just hard to practice at times.
Paul tells us to put on things, and the only way we can do that is to practice them. We practice compassion, we practice kindness, we practice humility, we practice meekness and yes, we practice patience. And when we do that, we grow, as Jesus did, in wisdom and grace.
The Christian life is like a water skier. If a person stops, they sink. But as long as we are growing, we find we are growing closer to God. The more we exhibit compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness and love, the closer we are to God, the more we are like Jesus. And that, in the long, is the goal of the Christian life. Not just forgiveness, but to grow closer to God, to grow more like Jesus.
There is a on old story about two monks, one young and new to the order, and another, older and wiser, a teacher for the young novice. The younger monk ran to his teacher one day, crying, “Teacher, I have seen the light of God in my prayers!”
His teacher looked at him, and as he spoke his whole body began to glow, and he said, “Why not become the Light of God.”
Jesus said we are the light of the world. We glow with the light of God, not by mystical exercises, but by growing closer to Jesus, and we grow closer to Jesus by growing in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, forbearance, forgiveness, and love.
12As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
41Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.