The Child Savior

[]Today's Gospel lesson focuses on the Child Jesus. In their book The First Christmas, authors, Marcus Borg and John Crossen, make the case that this event…the festival in Jerusalem when twelve-year-old Jesus is left behind by his parents…is actually part of the birth narrative. We hear about the Infant Jesus being born, the shepherds coming in Luke, the Magi coming in Matthew, and also in Matthew Herod being so threatened that he would have all children under the age of two slaughtered because of his fear, and Jesus, of course, escaping with Mary and Joseph to Egypt. We hear all these things as part of the Christmas story.

But what do we know about the Child Jesus? It is exclusively in Luke's Gospel that we hear about Jesus beyond that first mention of his birth. Following that, we are told that eight days later he is circumcised, and then forty days after his birth, after the time of purification, he is presented in the Temple as was the custom for all Jewish first-born male children to be dedicated to the service of God. And Jesus has that fulfilled through his parents forty days after his birth. And then we have this story, Jesus at twelve years of age traveling with his parents to celebrate the festival in Jerusalem. And we suppose from the text that he has made this trip often. As the text says, it was an annual event for the family. But then when everyone decides it is time to leave, Jesus is left behind. Now, for those of us who are parents, we might say, "How could that be possible? How could you leave your child behind?" We hear stories of people who forget the baby is in the car after carrying the groceries inside. That happens. But how do people leave their child behind when they are walking or in caravan with donkeys or horses, going from one city to another? In those days, people traveled in large groups because it kept them safe from bandits and thieves. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan who was attacked by robbers. So people traveled in groups with extended family and neighbors.

Imagine we were journeying to a festival in Eldersburg and we said, "We'll meet here and then walk together all the way to Eldersburg." It was probably something like that. There's a community surrounding this event, and the community know each other and they're all traveling together. When the parents show up at the time they planned to leave, they assume that Jesus is somewhere in this large crowd of extended family, neighbors and friends so they start heading back and Jesus is left behind. The text tells us that it is a day's journey before they realize, "He's not with us." So Mary and Joseph travel back to Jerusalem to search for Jesus, and it takes them three days to find him. Imagine, as a parent, how scary that would be. They finally find him in the Temple and they are very upset with him, as you might imagine. But then Jesus says, "Why were you looking for me? Didn't you know I would be in my Father's house?" These must have seemed like strange words to Mary and Joseph because the text says they didn't understand what it was he was saying. And yet if we look back in Luke's Gospel, we find the Angel Gabriel telling Mary that, "You will conceive a son in your womb and he will be the Son of the Most High, the Son of God, Savior of his people." And in Jesus saying, "Didn't you know I would be in my Father's house?" there is a connection to the very words of Gabriel being fulfilled from Jesus' own voice.

In the other Gospels, there is a gap in history until Jesus is baptized as an adult. But Luke's Gospel has Jesus as newborn baby, as eight-day-old baby, as forty-day-old baby dedicated in the Temple, and then back in the Temple at twelve years of age when all are impressed at his understanding and the wisdom in his answers. This is fulfillment of those very words that he is the Son of God when he says, "I must be in my Father's house and about my Father's business." In Luke, this is more proof that Jesus is the one proclaimed to come. Jesus' understanding of what was said and the wisdom in his answers was so profound that the rabbis and priests were astonished. And those are strong words. And when we hear that, this is more proof that the Child Jesus is who the angels proclaimed him to be, the Son of God. And the very words that echo from the angel Gabriel come from Jesus' own mouth. So this is one great story: Jesus' birth as an infant until he is a child at the Temple at twelve years old.

Luke is the only Gospel that gives us any information about the Child Jesus. And the only other place we hear about Jesus' birth is in Matthew. If we read Matthew's birth narrative and then Luke's, we see that they are very different. Matthew's version is shorter and centers more on Joseph and includes the Magi, who are absent in Luke. And in Luke it is Mary who is the central figure and prophets who proclaim who Jesus is. So Luke's Gospel is a very rich book for us because it shows that Jesus did have a childhood. We might say that Jesus at twelve years old was obedient to God, but not obedient to his parents, upsetting them a great deal. But then after he realized what they had been through, it says he left with them and was obedient to them, so we see some humanness in Jesus. At this point, Jesus' ministry has not begun, and does not begin until the Holy Spirit comes upon him at baptism. He is still the promised Messiah who has arrived, but he hasn't yet undertaken any of his duties as Savior. Next week we have the story of the Magi, and then the following week we look at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River when we learn more about the Holy Spirit.

So we now know a bit more about the Child Jesus. It gives us a little more fullness as to who Jesus was and helps us to recognize that God was working through the natural process. Jesus had to grow up, and he continued to be faithful in his growing up by traveling to Jerusalem for festivals and being with his parents and continuing to grow in wisdom and in stature through study of the Torah. So Jesus was faithful, and we also can be faithful in that way. We can continue to study, to grow in wisdom and knowledge, and know that God blesses this. That is part of our call. 2010 is right around the corner, a new year and a new start for all of us…hopefully a better year for our nation and for many of us. We can start the new year off on a better spiritual foot by realizing that there is much wisdom and growth possible for each of us. Let us pray on that, let us think on that. And let us celebrate this wonderful joy and this gift of Christ that has been given to us.

December 27, 2009

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