Sermon delivered by Randy Hyde, pastor of Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock, A.R., on December 27 2009.
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Luke 2:41-52
Admit it now, isn’t it true, that sometimes you get a bit annoyed that the Bible doesn’t give us enough information? It tends to leave things out, to the point that if certain data were included it would make our ability to believe in scripture that much easier and the understanding of our faith clearer.
For example, that thorn in the flesh thing that Paul talks about. He’s left us to conjecture as to what that might have been. And while it has made for some good – not to mention creative – guessing, it would have been a whole lot easier for Paul to have just come right out and told us what it was. I’ve read where scholars have guessed anything from sciatica to problems with women. But who knows? Paul didn’t tell us.
Evidently, the people to whom he was writing knew what it was so Paul didn’t bother to explain it. He didn’t have to. And he might have been embarrassed about it to the point that he didn’t want to mention it… but mention it he did. He just didn’t tell us specifically what it was, and we wish he had. Sure would have made things easier, don’t you agree?
But then again, when he wrote about it he wasn’t writing scripture. At least, that wasn’t his intent. He was just writing a letter to the church in Corinth, not realizing at the time that his words would become sacred to those who followed the faith, even hundreds of years later.
Have you ever watched a movie or television program when, during the dialogue between characters, you realize that what the actors are saying to one another really didn’t need to be said. They should have known already. It is obvious that they aren’t really sharing this information with one another; they are telling us, the viewers, about it. Don’t you wish the Bible did that?
Another example… don’t you wish you knew more about Jesus and his upbringing during his growing-up years? Wouldn’t that give us a deeper insight into the kind of person he was, tell us more of how and why God incarnated his holy presence in the carpenter from Nazareth? Sure you do. I know I do.
Last week, if you were here, you may recall that I suggested Jesus got a lot of his topsy-turvy ideas from his mama. I used her prayer-poem, called The Magnificat, as an example of that kind of thinking… where the first shall be last and the last first, the selfish rich will become destitute and the powerful will be brought low… that sort of thing. But in the final analysis, a suggestion is all it is. It is pure conjecture. Why? Because, while the scriptural story may hint at such a thing, it doesn’t come right out and tell us. Don’t you wish it did?
Lately, I’ve been reading David Pryor’s autobiography. I have had the pleasure on a few occasions of meeting the former governor and senator since moving to Little Rock, and have found him always to be cordial and gracious in every way. His book is very readable and down-home, just like it ought to be. Just like you’d expect it to be.
He’s a native of Camden, you know, and though he is fifteen years older than I, I have found many of his childhood experiences to be much like mine. There’s just something about growing up in a small town, whether it’s located in the northern or southern portion of Arkansas, that instills the kind of values of which we can all be proud.
I’ve been fascinated, not only by what Pryor experienced but that he can recount these early occurrences in such vivid detail. It provides a lot of insight into the kind of person he was to become. Don’t you wish the same were true when it came to Jesus?
Not that others didn’t try. There’s a whole mother lode of stories in The Apocrypha from Jesus’ childhood that didn’t make it into scripture… and for good reason. Some of them are so outlandish as to suspend belief. For example, you’ll find the story of his taking a dead bird in his hand and then releasing it alive so it can live to fly again.
That’s not what I’m interested in. I don’t want fables. I’d like to know how he was brought up, what it was that his mother and father taught him, the experiences he had that contributed to his unique perspective of life. What was it that made Jesus so obviously special? Was he born with this innate sense of Godliness in him, or were there contributing factors along the way that eventually caused him to understand his incarnational nature? Did his parents tell him the stories surrounding his birth, so that from the very first day he could understand them, he knew he was destined to do the Lord’s will in a way that had never been done before?
There was an article in the newspaper this week telling us that archaeologists have discovered a typical first-century house in Nazareth, Jesus’ home town. Nazareth was a small hamlet, thought to be inhabited only by about 400 people at that time. So, the archaeologists are conjecturing that Jesus and his friends, his siblings perhaps, actually played in the vicinity of this home.
I find that rather fascinating, don’t you? In fact, anything we can learn of Jesus’ childhood just whets our appetite to learn more about him and his ways.
When Jesus becomes an adult, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between him and his mother, not to mention the rest of his family. There is no mention of his father Joseph, at least not beyond the story we read earlier… which we’ll get to in a minute. But there are glimpses of those times when his mother attempted to influence him and the direction he would take in his ministry, only to be rebuffed by her son who let her know – at times a bit rudely, it seems – that how he conducted his ministry was really none of her business. “Woman, what have you to do with me? My time has not yet come.” Remember, he said that to Mary at the wedding in Cana.
Where did that come from? Was there always a feeling on Mary’s part that while Jesus belonged to her he never really was hers after all? Was there tension in the household when Jesus insisted on doing it his way and not hers? Did he often fall back on the idea that his way was the right way because it wasn’t really his way but was his heavenly Father’s way? Did God get in between Jesus and his mama?
Have you ever wondered about such things?
It certainly seems to have started at a young age, which brings us to the story we read earlier. The family travels from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover. It was an annual tradition. Luke does tell us that much. What does that mean? It means that this wasn’t Jesus’ first turn around the temple block. He had been there before, had seen the massive structure built by Herod as a monument less to God than to Herod himself. He had smelled the sacrifices, heard the raucous sounds of the money-changers, knew the place in and out. After all, little boys will wander around such a place and discover every nook and cranny. It comes from being little boys.
I’ve seen the little ones who have been granted parole from our nursery after worship is concluded. If they can get to the sanctuary, the long aisles just invite them to run and run while an exasperated parent – usually the mother – chases after them. Don’t you imagine the same was true with little pilgrim boys in the temple?
But not this time, not for Jesus. Twelve was a magic age for boys, then and now. It marks the threshold of that time when a boy starts becoming a man, when a boy begins to stretch his wings to see if he can fly. And could the boy from Nazareth fly! No more running through the temple to find enticing and mysterious corners. No more getting in the way of those who were trying to conduct their business, whether their business was commerce or religion. Jesus, now twelve, finds that it is time to sit at the feet of the wise teachers and learn from them.
Except, Jesus didn’t seem to learn as much as he taught. When it came time for the festival to be over and the family began their journey back home, they assumed he was with the others who had come with them. Travel in those days was not always safe, and pilgrims found it better to travel in groups and caravans. Jesus had always been trustworthy before when it came to staying with their fellow travelers, and his parents simply thought that since he wasn’t with them, he was with those they knew. That’s the way it had always been before.
What they found is that sometimes assumptions can get you into trouble. Finally, when they realized he wasn’t among their relatives or friends, they knew he had stayed behind in the HolyCity. So they immediately went back to retrieve him.
Don’t you know it was a frantic time for them? Three whole days they searched for their son, and when they finally found him he was in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. But he wasn’t just asking questions. Luke tells us that “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (vs. 47).
The festival is over and the pilgrims have left to go back home, wherever home may be. Kind of like today. Our annual Christmas festival has been concluded and those of us who are here today have made note of the quietness of the morning. Those of you who had family with you for Christmas probably saw them off this morning, if not sooner. There may be those of you who have had your regular place in the pew taken over by a stranger during Advent or on Christmas Eve. You have now ensconced yourself safely and comfortably in your normal spot.
Ah yes, things will be getting back to normal.
When Mary and Joseph found their boy in the temple that day, the place was quieter than just a few days before. Only the teachers remained. I wonder how many of them hung around just to listen to the young Nazarene, in awe of his understanding and ability to decipher the ways of God? Come on in and sit down. Listen to what he has to say. The festival is over so there are plenty of seats available.
Mary and Joseph, of course, weren’t interested in what Jesus might have to say. They’ve got a few words of their own, don’t you know. “Child…” That’s a clue right there, isn’t it? Mama still looks upon her son as a child. But he’s now twelve, Mary, twelve. He’s not a child anymore, and the sooner you start realizing that… well, the better it will be for the both of you.
In that day, and in that culture, twelve was the coming-of-age time when any red-blooded boy would have bristled at being called a child. “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
And what did Jesus say in response? We would expect an apology, but no. Nor does he give her a hard time about calling him a child. Instead, in astonishment he asks, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
And here we are, at one of those places and moments in scripture where we wish the writer had given us more detail. Luke doesn’t really tell us how Mary reacts, only that she and Joseph didn’t understand what he meant. But I have a feeling that Jesus’ words struck Mary in her heart in a way that ran deeper than would have a slap to the face. Suddenly, and with great force, it comes to her. “He is not a child, and he is not mine. Not really. No longer. Now he is meant for Another. I no longer can lay claim to him, for my son belongs to God.”
It wasn’t as if she hadn’t been warned. The angel who announced her miraculous conception had told her as much. And the old man Simeon, remember him? When Mary and Joseph had taken their eight day-old son to the temple for his dedication, Simeon told her, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Had that day come, when the sword was being thrust into her heart and soul, when God was going to come and lay claim to his son… her son? She may have thought so, but we all know – and the scriptures do tell us this… explicitly – she doesn’t yet know what her sword will yet come to be. Not until she stands at the foot of his cross.
“I must be in my Father’s house” he says to her. “I must be in my Father’s house” The time had come; Mary could do nothing about it. Like Hannah, who gave up her son Samuel to the ministry of Eli, Mary must now let go of her son who had been given to her by means of God’s Spirit.
For Mary, the temple was a place of letting go. And do you know why she had to do it, why Jesus had to let her know that he had a calling to fulfill that would be more important than even is love for her? Because of you, that’s why. And me… and all those whom he came to save. And for that, we can be most grateful.
Lord, we come to your temple to find Jesus. It is here that our Lord is about your business. May you find us faithful in seeking to do the same. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.