December 27, 2015
My two oldest nephews loved to watch the movie, Home Alone, when they were little. My nephew, Jordan, especially loved it because he really liked “the traps.” I have vivid memories of Jordan and my dad sitting on the sofa together with a bowl of popcorn between them watching Home Alone and laughing and laughing.
Just in case you know nothing about this movie, it tells the story of a little boy named Kevin who was accidentally left home alone over Christmas. His large extended family was taking a trip to Paris for the holidays and in the shuffle of wrangling so many kids and adults into airport shuttles and onto a plane, Kevin got left behind. When the rest of the family finally makes it safely on the airplane, Kevin’s mom keeps thinking that she forgot something. But she can’t figure out what. After the plane takes off and is ascending to cruising altitude, Kevin’s mother suddenly sits up from her seat and screams, “Kevin!” In the meantime Kevin is home alone but holding his own. He manages to reunite a cantankerous old neighbor with his estranged son, and fend off robbers who discover that this little kid is home and unsupervised. They think that this house will be an easy target, but they’ve never met a kid like Kevin before. That’s where the traps come in.
In order for this story to be plausible you have to believe that an entire family could leave home, board a plane for another country and forget one of their children. Although I think the movie is funny, before I had children I couldn’t imagine anyone forgetting their child. Then I became a mom. It’s not that I have forgotten my children somewhere, but losing a kid in a crowded mall or even outside in the backyard happens. I know.
I know and because I know, I can relate to the panic and fear Mary and Joseph must have felt in today’s gospel story. This is a story unique to Luke, and it is the only story we have in our canon of Jesus as a child. While Kevin in Home Alone was eight, Jesus was twelve. According to Jewish custom, twelve was still a child, but Jesus was on the cusp of manhood so he should have known enough not to get separated from his parents. As implied in the text, Mary and Joseph were devout Jews and they made the trip to Jerusalem to Passover as religious law required. It was about a three day trip on foot. They would have traveled in a large company of extended family and fellow sojourners. So when they headed for home, I can see how they would have thought Jesus was with other family members. I suspect that the idea of “it takes a village to raise a child” was more than just a nice saying at that time. So even if they weren’t minding Jesus, they certainly believed another person in their group was. What a terrible shock to go and look for him only to discover that he was nowhere to be found. Nowhere! Everyone thought he was with someone else. I don’t care who you are or in what period of time you live, when your child is missing, you’re terrified. Mary and Joseph would have felt the same sick feeling of fear and panic that any of us would feel if our child went missing. Jesus was gone. So they turned around and headed back the way they came. Indeed they retraced their steps all the way back to Jerusalem. They searched for three days. Three days! Finally they found him in the temple sitting with the rabbis. Not only was he listening to and questioning the teachers around him, he was amazing them with his wisdom and understanding.
Can you imagine the absolute relief Mary and Joseph felt when they saw him sitting there? Oh thank heavens, he’s safe! After their panic subsided, can you also imagine the anger they felt when they saw him sitting there?
Mary’s first words to her son were much calmer and far more restrained than mine would have been.
“Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” Jesus responds, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
They didn’t understand the meaning or point of his words, but he goes back to Nazareth with them and obeys them from that point on.
Once when I was a teenager, my mother asked me where I was going and I said, “Out.” I don’t recall her exact reply, but it was definitely not an affirmation of my independence. What would she have said had she and my dad been looking for me for three days and I had responded as Jesus did. “Why were you searching for me?”
I realize that the title of my sermon is a bit misleading. Jesus wasn’t a teenager in this story. Teenagers as we understand them didn’t exist then. But do I hear a bit of adolescent tone in his voice? In the past when I have preached sermons on this passage, my answer has been, “Absolutely not!” Jesus was not being a smart alec teen. He was not sassing his parents. He was just being who he was. He was just being Jesus, the Son of God.
But why wouldn’t he have been giving them attitude? Why wouldn’t Jesus have been acting and thinking and speaking as an adolescent? He was human. He was probably well into puberty. Even though children then may not have acted like the teenagers we know – and love – they were still teenagers. They were still trying to figure out what it meant to become adults. They were still making that rather rocky transition from childhood to adulthood. Was Jesus any different?
Here’s the thing: when it comes to Jesus’ humanity, we embrace him as being born a baby and we cling tightly to his human death on a cross in his 30’s. Yet when it comes to that time in between, maybe we are a little bit glad that we do not have more stories from his childhood. Because then we would have to deal with his being a child, and a teenager and a young man. What does it mean that Jesus was fully human as a child and a teenager and a young man? He probably fell down a few times learning how to walk. He most likely got tired and needed naps. Maybe he broke a bowl or a lamp and was afraid to tell his parents so he claimed ignorance. Perhaps the mythical creature Idunno lived in Jesus’ home as well. Maybe he liked a girl. Maybe his skin broke out. Maybe he felt guilt over something he did or didn’t do. Maybe he felt regret or remorse. Maybe he was just as awkward and gangly and silly and goofy and sassy as the rest of us when he was growing up.
That’s the reality of our belief that Jesus was fully human as well as divine. Jesus had to grow up. Jesus was born in the messy way that we are all born, and as we well know, the messiness doesn’t end when the baby is cleaned up and handed to his mama. Life just gets messier and messier.
Yet isn’t that what is so wonderful and astonishing and powerful about the incarnation? It means that God was born into the mess. Believing that Jesus was and is the Son of God does not mitigate the fact that he had to grow up, same as us. He wasn’t born as a human then floated through childhood. He didn’t walk across the water of adolescence. He had to grow up. He was a child. He was a teenager. Childhood is messy for a multitude of reasons. Adolescence is messy for many more. In adolescence we are trying to figure out who we are and why we are. We are trying to become our own person. In more psychological terms, we are trying to differentiate from our parents and our family of origin. Isn’t that what Jesus is doing here? He was not only growing up; he was growing into who he truly was and who he would become. We hear at the end of our passage that Jesus continued to increase and grow in wisdom. It seems to me that his staying behind at the temple was to do just that. He was trying to increase and grow and become who he truly was – and is. Perhaps he thought the same thing that every teenager has thought for ages? “My parents just don’t understand.”
So maybe there was some teenage snark in his response to his parents. I like to think that there was. Because that is one more example of his being as human as I am. Jesus had to grow up. He had to increase in his wisdom and understanding.
Knowing that the One who came for my sake also had to grow up, to increase in his wisdom gives me hope; not just that my own teenagers will do the same, but that I will do the same. I am much wiser at 50 than I was at 30. Certainly I am wiser than I was at 20, only I would not have believed that then. But I know that with all I know, there is so much more that I do not know. I continue to need to increase – in my wisdom, in my prayers, in my compassion, in my love.
Jesus had to grow up. Jesus had to increase in wisdom and understanding. So do I. So do we all. Thanks be to God for this story that reminds us that increasing in wisdom is a lifelong adventure. And thanks be to God for loving us so much that he was born into this messy life and grew up in this messy world and lived this messy human existence; not for his sake but for ours.
Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia!” Amen.