A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ark., on May 8, 2011.
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, ¨ and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’*
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Jesus Is Named
21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Jesus Is Presented in the Temple
22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;* this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.*27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon* came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon* took him in his arms and praised God, saying, ¨29 ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant* in peace, ¨ according to your word; ¨30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, ¨31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, ¨32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles ¨ and for glory to your people Israel.’
33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon* blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
36 There was also a prophet, Anna* the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child* to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
The Return to Nazareth
39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
The Boy Jesus in the Temple
41 Now 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 travellers, 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.
Human children take longer to rear than most other creatures, so it’s no surprise that human mothers have a lot on their minds and hands. Luke’s Gospel provides us with a unique summary about the boyhood of Jesus. What can we learn about what a mother goes through from that summary?
Motherhood is thoughtful work. As we can see from Luke’s account of the boyhood of Jesus, his mother had a lot to think about. As if it weren’t enough to be a young woman raising her first child, things kept happening to remind her how special her child was. Every mother knows that her children are special. But strangers would approach Mary and say that about Jesus. Shepherds did it. Magi did it. Simeon and Anna did it. Yes, Mary had lots to think about and ponder concerning her son.
This is also true for any other mother. It doesn’t matter whether a child is well-known or unknown. Every child has a potential that will be shaped and influenced by the people he or she encounters. Motherhood is thinking work. Whether and how well a person thinks about how a child is nurtured, fed, clothed, and communicated with—and by whom—matters a great deal with growing humans. Jesus was smiled upon, prayed over, admired, commended, and influenced by the people he met through his mother. And Mary must have pondered what the people she met said about her child, and what impact such expectations would have on her as a parent.
Mothers must be thinkers! They must think for their children. They must think with their children. They must think apart from their children. And sometimes they must think against what their children want if they are to prevent the children from being harmed. Mary was a thinking mother because motherhood is thoughtful work.
Motherhood is prayerful work. People who are smart enough to think a lot should realize the need to pray a lot, so it stands to reason that motherhood is prayerful work.
What can be prayerful about motherhood? Mothers can ask God for help and wisdom in dealing with their own anxieties. After all, any honest parent will tell you that children can be cause for much anxiety. Is my child healthy? Is my child safe? Is my child eating right? Am I doing this or that thing right? You get the picture.
Mary had these anxieties. Jesus was her first child, so she had to learn the art and science of motherhood. Jesus was a child whose very existence threatened the political sensitivities of King Herod, so Mary had to run away to Egypt with Jesus and her husband. Jesus was a promised child—according to Simeon and Anna (the prophetic senior citizens who we read about at Luke 2:25 (Simeon) and 2:36 (Anna)—so Mary pondered the strange thoughts these people had about him.
As children age, they become more intrigued by things outside the immediate family. Curiosity is normal—actually healthy—in a child. But every mother knows the anxiety that Mary must have experienced when she couldn’t find her boy among the band of relatives returning from the Passover Festival when Jesus was twelve. What mother hasn’t dealt with these anxious thoughts?
• I haven’t heard or seen the child. Where is he/she?
• What is that child doing?
• Who is that child with?
• Why doesn’t that child come home?
• When will that child come home?
• What in the world is the child thinking to be gone so long without letting me know where he/she is?
So Mary’s concern for her twelve-year-old son resembles the concern any mother would have for her child if she couldn’t find him or her. At the same time, every mother has to learn to trust God with the anxiety that comes as children grow and become increasingly able to explore life on their own.
As Mary learned with Jesus, that time comes sooner than a parent might expect. Mary wasn’t prepared for Jesus to be interested in the great moral issues of life at age twelve. Aside from the major anxiety she must have experienced when she couldn’t find her son for three days—think about that and you’ll shudder—Mary had to deal with his weird reaction to her exasperation. Mary’s question exposes the anxiety: “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” Jesus’ reply must have only heightened the frustration for his mother: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Yes, there comes a time when parents and children don’t understand each other. That time came for Mary and Jesus, and will come for every parent and child. This is a time for patience and prayerfulness. God knows we’ll need lots of it.
Mothers go through all this to nurture children for God. The anxiety, prayer, thoughts, and other labors of parenthood are all necessary in order to transform infants into influential agents of divine love and truth. That’s what mothers have to go through to produce people for God. Thanks be to God for the people who do this divine, glorious, blessed, and life-changing work.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.