Mostyn Road, 31 December 2000
Dwell in You Richly
The trouble with Luke's telling of the life of Jesus is all the things he has to leave out! Of all Jesus's childhood, adolescence and, indeed, young manhood, we only get this tiny glimpse. And there is so very much we don't know, which makes it very awkward, at times, to know what to make of this glimpse of an adolescent Jesus, such a tiny glimpse.
When my daughter was adolescent, I spent a lot of time with this story! It was so encouraging to know that Jesus, too, in his time, had gone off to do his own thing without reference to his parents, and when they had remonstrated, he was like "You just don't understand!" And sometimes people said "But, of course, it was different for Jesus!" But was it?
2. Jesus' Life
You see, we know so very little. All we are really told is that they went to Jerusalem every year for the Passover, and that this year, Jesus was twelve. And that is significant. You see, from time immemorial, Jewish boys have become, at the age of 13, a man. They are required to keep the commandments, and they may take their place in the synagogue, taking their turns at reading the Scriptures. Their presence helps to make up the "minyan", or quorum, that is required before Jewish people can have a service. And so on. Nowadays, this transition is marked by a ceremony known as a Bar Mitzvah, where the boy in question reads a passage of Scripture during a special service in the synagogue, and makes a speech, and then there is a bun-fight afterwards. In Jesus' day they didn't do that, but the rising-13s would have expected to be called upon to read the Scriptures in public any time after their 13th birthdays. So I am quite sure that those who taught the classes of 12-year-olds really concentrated on the Scriptures, to ensure that the boys knew their Bibles really thoroughly, and would be able to make a good showing whatever portion they were asked to read.
So Jesus, at 12, was engrossed in Bible Study. And, for him, it became more than an interest, more than something he had to study at school if he was to get good marks and avoid trouble. It became a passion. Now, here is where we get a little stuck, because it simply isn't clear how much Jesus knew about Who he was, when he was 12. We don't know whether Mary and Joseph had told him anything about his conception, or that Joseph was not his natural father. We don't know whether he knew there was anything special about him at all. I hope he didn't. I hope he had a really happy childhood, quite untouched by these things.
And probably he did. God, after all, had chosen Mary to be his earthly mother, and Joseph to act as "Dad" on purpose. But nevertheless, as Jesus studied the Scriptures, became engrossed in them, God helped them become real to him.
And, of course, Jesus had endless questions. I'm sure his parents did their best to answer him, but perhaps they didn't know all that much themselves. And his teachers, perhaps, didn't have the time they would have liked to answer his questions - or perhaps he wanted to go more deeply into these things than they cared to do in an academic environment. Who knows? Once again, we are not told.
But we do know that when he reached Jerusalem that year, he found all that, for then, he was seeking with the scribes in the Temple. They knew. They could answer his questions, in the way that the folks back home in Nazareth could not. They could deal with his objections, listen to him, wonder at his perspicacity at such a young age. I hope they weren't laughing at him; it's not clear from the text, but they might have been.
And Jesus, typically adolescent, totally forgets about going home, forgets that his parents will have kittens when they find he's not with them, forgets to wonder how he's going to get home, or even where he's going to sleep - or, perhaps, thinks a vague mention of his plans was enough. . . . No, his parents didn't understand; of course they didn't. How could they? It was, perhaps, the first glimpse they had had that he was somebody very special. Maybe Mary remembered the events surrounding his birth. In any event, they were not aware of what he was talking about.
Of course, later on, Jesus knew that searching the Scriptures was not enough. Remember what he said to the Pharisees:"You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life." He knew that you needed more than just the words on the page - but at twelve years old, this was what had intrigued him, fascinated him, to the point of ignoring anything else.
3. Dwell in you Richly
So what does this story have to teach us today, this last day of the year Two Thousand? After all, those of us who don't, or who no longer, have adolescent children don't need to take comfort in the fact that Jesus was adolescent, too?
I think it's about the Word of God. From our first reading, you remember that Paul wrote to the Colossians: "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly".
Now, I don't know what Paul meant by that. After all, he had no knowledge of the New Testament - the Gospels hadn't been written when he wrote that, and I highly doubt that he ever expected his letters to have the status of the writings of, say Moses or the Prophets. For him, the Scriptures were the Law and the Prophets. I don't know whether he meant them, but I'd be highly surprised if he did.
Because we do know that Jesus is the Word of God. The Bible can tell us about Jesus, but it is not the same as knowing Jesus for ourselves. We can be indwelt by Jesus - you know that, I am sure, as well as I do, if not better. We can be filled with God's Holy Spirit - again, you will know that better than me, perhaps. And I rather think that when Paul encourages us to "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly", that is exactly what he is encouraging us to do. He is encouraging us to welcome Christ into our hearts - as we sang, just a few days ago, to the Holy Child, "Be born in us today".
As we enter this new year - and the purists will say that we enter the new century and the new millennium, what's more, tonight - could there, do you think, be a better verse to take with us: "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly."
The boy Jesus studied the Scriptures, and they seem to have awakened in him an enormous thirst for the things of God; a thirst that his parents, and his local teachers, couldn't satisfy; a thirst that only discussion with the learned ones in the Temple could begin to assuage. And, of course, gradually Jesus grew up to know the One revealed in the Scriptures, and to know, also, that they pointed to Him as the Redeemer of the World. He told the Pharisees to come to Him to have life. Let us, in Two thousand and One, do that too.
"Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly."
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