December 27, 2020
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
Queen Victoria once visited The Royal Society of London. This is an elite group of brilliant scientists. She entered the elegant room, her Prime Minister by her side. She asked, “Where do all these learned men come from?” He answered, “From babies, your majesty.”
We all do. No exceptions that I am aware of. Though small children have a hard time believing this. They can’t imagine their parents as anything but adults. We just appeared by spontaneous generation fully grown and ready to be moms and dads.
Hard to believe as it might be, we all came from babies. We all grew up through infancy, childhood, and adolescence. At one point, we were all 12 years old. Pity our poor parents when we were 12 years old. Even Jesus was once 12 years old. We read about it in our scripture lesson.
Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom (Luke 2:41-42).
It says the reason they went to Jerusalem was the Passover, but since it also says Jesus was 12, we can assume they also went there for Jesus’ Bar Mitzvah. That’s a big deal in the Jewish faith still today, and Jesus no doubt experienced this rite of passage. It marks the transition from childhood to adulthood.
But still you’re 12. You can hardly call a 12-year-old an adult. When you’re 12, you think you are. But you aren’t. Our featured image today is Jesus at age 12. You may recognize this. It used to be in the old church downtown. When this church was built, it was installed in the back of the sanctuary. The choir and the pastor had a great view of it. Last Monday it was re-installed in the perfect place. I can’t wait for you to come back to church to see it.
We don’t usually think of Jesus at this age. Without a beard. When you’re 12, you can’t grow a beard. Though when I was in junior high, we had kids at various stages of puberty, including a few who could grow a beard. But that is rare.
The Bible tells us about baby Jesus. That’s all we’ve been talking about for a month now. And the Bible tells us about grown-up Jesus. That’s the Jesus we know best. Only in this one place does the Bible tell us about Jesus while he was growing up. While he was driving his parents crazy, as I think pretty much all 12-year-olds do.
It was on the way home from Jerusalem that we have the family drama. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus lived in Nazareth. Nazareth is 65 miles from Jerusalem. That’s a long way to walk. It would have taken them three or four days. They had traveled as far as they could go in one long, hard day. Maybe 20 miles. As Mary and Joseph were getting ready to settle down for the night, they couldn’t find Jesus. There were a lot of people traveling with them, so they assumed he must be with somebody else. But he wasn’t. He wasn’t anywhere. Which meant they had to retrace their steps, 20 miles of steps, looking for him.
As a parent I can imagine they were worried and they were angry, plenty of both, and both at the same time.
They got back to Jerusalem. Maybe they walked all night, maybe they got some sleep first and then got an early start the next morning. But when they get to Jerusalem, they went straight to the Temple. Maybe they had a hunch. And sure enough, that’s where he was, debating theology with the rabbis.
And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? (Luke 2:48-49)
The King James says, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business.” That must have hurt.
It says they didn’t understand. I’m sure they didn’t. But it says Jesus was obedient to them. Which probably means he followed the path they wanted him to take. They wanted him to inherit the family business – to be a carpenter like his dad. They wanted him to “be about [his] father’s business.” So those words he spoke in the Temple have this kind of double meaning. Which father’s business?
Jesus was obedient to his parents. He learned carpentry to please them. But he was torn. I can imagine that from this time on there was more than the average tension between parent and child. We are told Mary pondered this. It’s not the first time she pondered. It won’t be the last.
A few years later, after her son is fully grown, there is more family drama. This time people come to tell Mary that her son is doing crazy things. This is embarrassing. She goes with her other children so they can see for themselves. (Yes, the Bible does say Jesus had brothers and sisters.) He is preaching to a large crowd and word reaches him that his mother and brothers are there. He says, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” He points to the crowd and in a voice loud enough to make sure his mother can hear, he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers” (Matthew 12:49).
That must have really hurt. Poor Mary! She knows her son is special. The angel told her, Elizabeth told her, the shepherds and the wise men told her. All these scriptures we read during Advent. She knew her son was going to be great someday. For 12 years she has pondered this, thinking about it, praying about it. She probably had some mental picture of what she thought her son would be.
Then that moment in the Temple, she realizes painfully that it is not going to be the way she thought. Not at all. She had her plans for her son, but he had his own plans. Actually, God had his own plans. Twelve-year-old Jesus wants to stay in the Temple. His mother says, “Son, why do you do this to me?” He says, “Mother, why don’t you understand me?”
No one understood him, not even his mother. She was no different from anyone else. It wasn’t until after the Resurrection that anyone really understood him. Like Mary, they all had something else in mind for him. They wanted him to be who they wanted him to be. And the same is true of you and me. Would you agree with that? We listen to Jesus when he says what we want to hear. When he doesn’t, we tune him out.
And so Mary is like us. Mary is held up as a role model not because of her great wisdom, not because she had great insight into the divine nature of her son. Mary is a role model because of her faith. Even though she didn’t understand, still she believed. And so not just in the Catholic Church, but in all churches, we honor Mary.
We also honor her for the parent she was. She models something that is so important for parents. We believe in our children, even when we don’t understand them. Mary never understood her son, but she didn’t stop believing in him. She never left him. She was with him all the way. She was there at the manger and she was there at the cross. No one else can say that. She was there at the beginning and she was there at the end. She never understood, but she never left.
Mary is our model of faith. That’s the first thing I want to talk about today. Mary’s faith. The second thing I want to talk about is Jesus’ vocation. His calling. What he’s going to be when he grows up.
People ask if I always knew I was going to be a pastor. The answer is no. It wasn’t until I was 21 that it was clear to me. Since then, I have been either a seminary student or a pastor serving a church for 43 ½ straight years. The only break was one term of seminary when I dropped out to propose to Helen. It’s is rare today for someone to just have one job. You have to be nimble. You have to versatile. You have to be daring. You have to be ready to seize the opportunities when they come.
But even though we might have many jobs, we really only have one calling. And that’s the calling that comes from God. Jesus experienced that calling in the Temple. Unless we’re LDS, we don’t have a Temple we can go to. But we do have a church. Not that we can go to it quite yet. But the church is not a building. The church is a body. The body of Christ. It is in the church that we learn who we are and what God expects of us.
What do you suppose it was like for Jesus? When did he know who he was and what God expected of him? The birth stories indicate that it was clear from the beginning. John’s Gospel does not include a birth story, but begins with this verse: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Which seems to say that the mission of Jesus was known not just before he was born, but at the beginning of Creation.
Luke is the only one who includes this story about Jesus at age 12. It’s a story that suggests that even though the unique nature and special mission of Jesus was known from the beginning, it was not clear to him until he was 12. That day in the Temple, with the rabbis, with his parents wondering where he was, was the day Jesus knew.
Which means he was like us. We all go through a time of soul searching at some point in our lives. Who am I? Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with my life? For most of us, adolescence is a time we struggle with these questions. And so it was in adolescence that Jesus discovered, “I must be about my Father’s business.”
So what does that say to us? It says that if Jesus is our model, we too must be about our Father’s business. This is not the unique calling of the Son of God. It’s for all of us. We all have a calling from God. We all were known before we were born. God knows who we are and what we are capable of. We need to find out. Whatever business we might be in to make a living, our Father’s business is why we are here.
The word is “vocation.” It comes from a Latin word that means “to call.” Your vocation is your calling. Not to be confused with “vacation.” Vacations are good too, but your vocation is the reason you are here on this earth.
The vocation of Jesus was “Messiah.” So that one is taken. None of us is called to be Messiah. But we are all called to something significant. No one else is quite like you. No one else can do and be and become what you can do and be and become.
I’ve noticed that some people think that if they are really serious about their God-given vocation, they have to become a pastor. God does call people into pastoral ministry, but it’s not for everyone. There are many ways to serve God. If you’re way past 12 and you are still searching and seeking and trying to figure out what you are going to be when you grow up, you are not alone.
I can’t tell you what your calling is. Only God and you together can figure that out. But here are a few characteristics of a true calling from God:
- It’s going to be about giving, not just consuming.
- It’s going to be about growing, not just coasting.
- It’s going to be about greatness, not just happiness.
- It’s going to be about others, not just about you.
Lee Atwater would have had his 70th birthday early next year. But he died when he was 40. He was a mover and shaker in the Republican party. He was called a “political hitman.” He was loved and he was despised, depending on your politics. He was anything but a people pleaser. He was on a rocket-fueled trajectory to heights unknown when a brain tumor cut his life short.
I’ve saved something he wrote shortly before he died.
A lot of people think life is about acquiring wealth and power and prestige. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with the truth, but it is a truth that this country, caught up in its ruthless ambition and moral decay can learn on my dime. I don’t know who will lead us through the 90’s, but they must be made to speak to the spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.
What he was talking about has a word. Conversion. It’s a spiritual word. It was to do with individuals as well as nations. Lee Atwater wrote those words 30 years ago, but they are just as relevant now as then. Nature abhors a vacuum. All kinds of bad stuff rushes in to fill it. A spiritual vacuum. I don’t know of a better and truer diagnosis of what ails us.
Conversion and vocation are related. There is not a conversion in the Bible without the question: “What does God want me to do now?” And the answer: “I must be about my Father’s business.”
The psychiatrist, Karl Menninger said it like this: “The secret to mental health is finding out what you are supposed to be doing and then doing it.”
One of the more obscure Christmas carols is one of my favorites. It’s called “Once in Royal David’s City.” There’s a line in this hymn that refers to Jesus growing up.
Jesus is our childhood’s pattern;
Day by day, like us he grew.
The point is, he was like us. He was once a child. He had to grow up. He had to decide: Who am I? Why am I here? What does God want me to do? He asked these questions. He struggled with them. And he found the answer: “I must be about my Father’s business.”
O God, you have called each of us to more and better than we have yet discovered. The ending of one year and the beginning of another is the perfect time to ponder that calling. May we be silent and listen. The same letters in those two words: silent and listen. May we be hard on ourselves or gentle on ourselves, whichever we most need right now. Above all else, may we allow you to do your thing in us, so that we can grow up into the person you want us to be. In Jesus’ name, Amen.