Growing in Wisdom and Years
December 30, 2018 Speaker: Matt Benton
Passage: Luke 2:41–2:55
Merry Christmas everyone! Yes, its still Christmas. In the Church Christmas isn’t just one day, it’s a multi-day season, twelve in fact. So if you ever wondered about that song, the Twelve Days of Christmas, it isn’t about some over extravagant gift giver, it’s about giving someone a present for all twelve of the days of Christmas. Christmas is a season because the news of that day, the news of Christ’s birth is so earth shattering and world changing that we need time to process it. We can’t just celebrate something this big and then move on. We have to linger on it, we have to think about it, we have to let it change and transform us. But that can only happen when we give Christmas more than just a day.
So today, the Sunday of the Christmas season, is often in the traditional church world the Feast of the Holy Family. It’s when we talk about and think about Mary, Joseph and Jesus and allow the Holy Family to be a model for our families. Which geez, talk about setting a high bar. If parenting isn’t hard enough you’re going to be compared to the Mary and Joseph and the Son of God.
The truth is, though, we don’t have a ton of information about the Holy Family dynamics. Mark and John basically begin with the adult Jesus. Matthew gives us one story that we’ll talk about next week but we don’t much see the family dynamics. In Luke we get two stories of Jesus as a child. But on the whole the Bible skips from infant baby Jesus to adult Jesus.
Today we are going to talk about the one story we get that really shows the Holy family dynamics. And we’re going to learn from the Holy Family what it means to be a family. Because I’ll tell you what our families have a lot to learn, don’t they? I mean I remember one time when I was younger, I was about 12 or 13 at the time my family took a trip to England. And we were going to, I think, the Tower Bridge to tour it and walk across it and then go to other places in that part of London. And we get to the tube station and buy our tickets and as we are going down the stairs we see that a train has just arrived and we all want to get on it. I’m at the head of the line and so as soon as I get off the escalator I move quickly to get into the train. And as I’m getting on I hear the signal that the doors are about to close. And I look behind and no one else from my family has gotten on the train. I guess I sprinted from the stairs and they moved at a more normal pace. And I see this look of horror on my mom’s face because her not old enough to do this by himself son is about to be on a tube in London by himself. So she just starts shouting out the stop I’m supposed to get off on shouting it over and over again until the train has gone out of sight. And then she takes what I can only assume is the longest tube ride of her life until she got to the stop and saw me sitting happily by myself waiting for the next train. I knew what stop we were supposed to go to, I knew what I was doing. But stuff like that happens to our families, I’m sure you all have a similar story from your family. But I’m sure there’s no way, no way no how, that something like this would ever happen to the Holy Family.
Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” 49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
The NRSV translate’s the final verse: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”
So I want to do a few quick highlights before getting in to the crux of today’s message. The first highlight is yes, Mary and Joseph lost Jesus. Quick sidebar, do you ever wonder if Mary and Joseph are up in heaven being like “of all the stories from parenting Jesus, this is the one that makes it in the Bible?! Not the time I comforted Jesus when he had a nightmare, not the time Joseph taught Jesus how to make a table. This one. When we lost him the one time!” But I do love this story. I love this story because its so very real life. This could happen to any of us, this has happened to all of us. There’s a crowd. A kid does his own thing. And you’re left with all the worst case scenarios running through your head. And when you find the kid the kid’s like “of course I was in the toy aisle, where else did you think I’d be?” When my mom got off the tube in London she asked what I was thinking getting on the train by myself and I said, “Of course I ran to the train, I thought we were trying to catch it? And what were you worried about, I knew where to go.”
I love that its human because it reminds us that the Bible is full of humans. Often we can put the characters on the Bible up on a pedestal, like they have a faith or they exhibit a faith we can only dream of. Peter helps us out in that by generally being a dolt, but Mary, the Holy Mother, the one who said yes, the God bearer. She lost Jesus, she literally lost God incarnate. She had one job! It’s a reminder to us in this Christmas season that the God who comes to be with us in Jesus Christ truly comes to be with us; He doesn’t come to be with the perfect ones, the ones who have it all together, the ones who don’t really need a savior to begin with. He comes to people like you and me, people who are doing our best to as the kids say adult. People who are trying to keep it together and consider it a win if we make it from the beginning of the day to the end of the day without losing it.
Second highlight: fun crucifixion and resurrection foreshadowing. Mary and Joseph travel a day without him and then upon realizing he’s gone they search their traveling company. Because travel was dangerous, it was much safer to travel in large groups. And it was an annual festival so you would travel in a big company from a town like Nazareth to Jerusalem. And kids hang with kids, all of this is totally normal. But Mary and Joseph don’t find Jesus so they go back to Jerusalem. And they search for three days. Of course its three days. They spend three days in hell trying to find the child they’d lost just as Jesus will spend three days in hell, and Mary and Joseph and the disciples too. And where is it they find Jesus, after three days of him being gone? In the Temple, the place of the very presence of God.
Third highlight: Jesus amazes the Temple elders. Jesus is in the Temple taking part in the religious and theological debates of the time and he’s amazing these learned men. This is an early hint that there’s something special about this Jesus. I mean early on we see there’s definitely something nerdy. Of all the cool shops and stores Jesus could hang out in, Jesus goes to the Temple to debate theology? There’s something strange and wonderful about this child. Something we will continue to discover as we continue reading Luke’s gospel.
But here’s the main point for us today. This story is the one episode we get of the boy Jesus. And it’s a bit of a strange one. It’s a story that is so purely human. Parents lose their child in a crowd. But it’s about the Holy Family so should we expect such a human story? And the child they lose is hanging out in the Temple schooling the elders which is all in all weird. But the child in question is the Word made flesh so is it unexpected?
But the story ends with, and I’m going to stick with the NRSV rendering, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”
And its in this that we find the mystery of the incarnation. What does it mean for God incarnate to grow in wisdom? Years I get, but wisdom? The Divine Word learns? The Divine Word gains experience? In some sense this seems unintelligible. But in another sense its how we make sense of this mystery. We can parse out the Calcedonian definition of Christology but we are still confronted in our understanding when it comes to the intersection of the human and the divine. We want to imagine them being oil and water, a clear delineation point in between the two. But the reality was its messy.
But so it is with our own faith and our own life. On the one hand Christ comes into our lives and that should make it all make sense, right? That should solve all our issues. Christ has come into the world, God is in the world why doesn’t that fix everything? And yet the ways in which God’s being in our lives and God’s being in our world happens is messy. It doesn’t always make sense. It isn’t always clear. But somehow it always works itself out, somehow it always grows.
Here’s the expectations, if we are actively pursuing our faith, we too ought to grow in wisdom as we grow in years. And this to us is the connection between what the church says today is and what our culture has already moved on to.
I’m being stubborn and obnoxious and pedantic in saying its still Christmas. We are still grappling with God’s coming into the world. But the rest of culture has moved on to New Years. And here is where they connect: the child Jesus grew in wisdom and in years. Soon we will mark the passage of one year to the next. How will you grow in wisdom as you grow in a year? How will you move forward? How will you approach the new year?
When I think about growing in wisdom I think about four steps we can take, four different actions we can take to make changes in our lives. The first one is what will we pick up in this new year? What practice, what discipline? What is something you want to add to your life? Maybe it’s a new spiritual practice, like a daily devotion, morning prayer, or joining a small group. Maybe it’s something with your physical health like joining a gym or exercise class, trying yoga, or running a significant race. Maybe it’s something with your emotional health like really taking sabbath, sleeping at least eight hours, or looking into therapy. Maybe it’s relational, this is the year you’ll call your parents once a week or this is the year you’ll heal that conflict with a friend. What thing will you pick up this year?
The second area is what will you put down this year. What will you stop doing? Is there anything in your life that is a unhealthy habit, something that’s not life giving, some area of your life you known you need to change? If you could eliminate one thing in your life that would make you happier, what is it? Is this the year that you put down that thing you’ve known for a while you need to stop doing?
The third thing is what will you return to? How many of us have something that meant so much to us, that was so live giving to us, that we have stopped doing? That we’ve let go by the wayside. What do you look back on and say “a few years ago I did this and it was so helpful and meaningful to me.” What could you return to this year?
And the final thing is what story will you tell this year? What story will you tell about yourself? What story will you tell about your career, your finances, your health, your identity? What story do you want to be telling at the end of this year? And what do you need to do to make sure that by the end of the year you’re telling the story of 2019 you want to tell? You can look at this two ways, what story do you want to tell about yourself as we start the year and how will that influence the year you will have? Or what story do you want to be telling about the year ahead and how can you start with the end and do what’s necessary to get there?
Growing in wisdom is important. We all have to grow in years. Not all of us get to grow in wisdom. Growing in wisdom is about intentionality. It’s about discernment. It’s about prayer. And so I want us to take some time, like serious five minutes of time, and fill out the sheet we are passing around. Fill it out with these four areas. What will you pick up? What will you put down? To what will you return? And what story do you want to tell this year?
Now that we’ve filled this out, the question is what do we do with this. We can write stuff down all we want, the fruit is in the follow through. So take this home with you and put it on your bathroom mirror or tape it to your computer at work or put it someplace you will see everyday. And in doing so, hold yourself accountable. Because growth in wisdom comes through saying who do we want to be and holding ourselves accountable to the journey. What you have written down are the next steps in your journey. Don’t let this fall away; instead may the God who has given you grace to do these things cause you to see them trough to completion.