LUKE 2:41-52

JANUARY 1, 2012




            A pastor performed a wedding several years ago.  A very precocious seven-year-old boy was the ring bearer.  At the wedding rehearsal, the soloist asked Pastor Tom when she should begin singing.  He told her, “After the vows.”

            She wanted a more specific answer, so she asked: “What are the vows? I’ll need a cue.”

            At that point, the seven-year-old ring bearer turned to the soloist with an exasperated look, and said: “The vowels are A-E-I-O-U. There is no Q!”

            We never know what to expect from a child.

            Children surprise us, and sometimes they drive you us out of our minds, and that even included a moment when Jesus was a child. 

            There is only one story from Jesus’ childhood that made it into the bible  Many other stories did not.  You see, like any other towering figure in human history, there were myths and legends that grew up about Jesus.  Some of these were collected in books rejected by the early church when they canonized or finalized the books of the bible.  For example, the Gospel of Thomas, which didn’t make the final cut, includes a story about the boy Jesus molding sparrows out of mud on the Sabbath.  When he was scolded for working on the Sabbath Jesus breathed life into the birds and they flew away.   In another story a bully tried to pick a fight with Jesus, but when the bully went to punch Jesus, the bully’s hand just withered up and fell off!  Another story tells us about Jesus and a friend playing on the roof of a house.  The friend fell off and was killed.  Jesus jumped off the roof and brought his friend back to life.  All kinds of wild and exaggerated stories were told about the boy Jesus.  But the early church was suspicious of them.  The early church worked hard to separate fact from fiction.  So, many stories were left out.

            The story that did make it into scripture is the one that occurred when Jesus was twelve years old.  That’s the time when a Jewish boy celebrates his Bar Mitzvah.  This sacred event marks the transition from boyhood to adulthood.  The celebration of the teenage years is a relatively recent occurrence. In ancient times you moved directly from childhood to adulthood.  The idea of teenage rebellion was absurd.  There was no time.  There were too many responsibilities that had to be taken care of.

            Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, roughly an 80 mile road trip from Nazareth.  When Jesus was twelve, however, things did not go as planned.  After the Feast was over, his parents started home.  Unknown to them, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.  Thinking he was in their company, Mary and Joseph traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for Jesus among their relatives and friends.  When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.

            Every parent has wondered how Mary and Joseph could have gone a full day’s journey from Jerusalem without realizing that Jesus was missing.  One reason could be that they didn’t have to worry about the kinds of things happening to their kids that we worry about today.  The world has changed.  Also, they were a part of a large company of family and friends traveling together.  What could go wrong?  Still, when they could not find Jesus for three days after they returned to Jerusalem, it must have driven them crazy with worry.  Those of you who are parents can relate.  No wonder Mary asked sternly, “Son, why have you treated us like this?  Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

            Jesus’ answer seems a little impertinent.  “Why were you searching for me?” he asked.  “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  In other words, parents can be so dumb at times, right?  Then Luke adds, “But they did not understand what he was saying to them.”  It would not be the last time that Jesus’ family did not understand him.  Every family has been there, especially as young people approach their teen years.

            As we begin the new year, let’s use this story as a jumping off spot to see how we, as adults, can do a better job of relating to young people ... not just as parents to children, but adults to teens and pre-teens   As we begin the new year, let’s remember three things.  First, let’s remember that pre-teens and teenagers are a work in progress ... and that included the boy Jesus.

            Some of you may be familiar with the research on the adolescent brain which was reported in Time magazine in 2004.  According to research by neuroscientists, the human brain does not fully develop until the age of twenty-five.  It appears that the brain matures from back to front, with the areas that control physical coordination, sight, hearing, and other skills maturing throughout the childhood and teen years.  The prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain the part that controls critical thinking, judgment, self-control, and other high-functioning skills is the last to mature. With this in mind, it makes sense that teens seem more impulsive, emotional, and indecisive than adults.  The teenager’s brain is still going through the maturation process, and many teenagers do not have the necessary neural pathways in place to delay gratification or prioritize their time.  One researcher jokes that Avis, the car-rental agency, must employ some good neuroscientists, because they don’t allow anyone under the age of twenty-five to rent their cars.

            That is not a slight at our teens.  It is simply a statement of fact.  Maturity takes time. Some young people, like some adults, are able to control their impulses and their emotions better than others.  But, while that maturing process is going on, there can be challenging, stressful, tense times between youth and adults. It’s natural.

            So let’s remember teens are a work in progress.  Secondly, let’s remember teens, even though they don’t think so, need mature adults to guide them.

            The writer Adair Lara says that children, when they are young, are like dogs. That is to say, when children are young, they’re affectionate and love being around you.  But when they hit the teen years they start acting like cats ... distant and finicky.  They make you feel unneeded.  Still, our teenagers needs us and our affection, she says.  Just change your approach.  Be available and let them come to you.  When they do, don’t smother them or cling too tightly.  Let them have their moods and offer them understanding.  The teen animal, says Ms. Lara, can be tamed with your unconditional love.

            Even though they may not think they need us, they do.  And even though we may  feel like they don’t need us they do.  While they grow into maturity, they need mature adults to guide them along the way.   

            This brings us to the last thing that needs to be said: all of us need to know that someone is there for us. We need that at any age.

            A few years ago Tom Beaudoin wrote a book titled Virtual Faith.  He was writing about his own generation, which has been dubbed Generation X.  He said that the most fundamental question young people today ask is: “Will you be there for me?”  He said, “We ask . . . parents, friends, partners, society, religions, leaders, nations, and even God: ‘Will you be there for me?’” 

            All of us at any age ask this question of one another as well as of God.  When we are young, we ask it of our parents.  When we are aged, we ask it of our children.  Will you be there for me?

            Barbara Lohrbach says that her son David’s favorite color was black.  His clothes were mainly black and he wore the big wide leg pants with lots of metal studs. He had the big chains and collars that looked like dog collars.  And he’d dye his hair sometimes blood red, sometimes very black, sometimes teal.  One of the grandmothers at her church pulled Barbara aside one day and said, “Now Barbara remember that this is how David needs to express himself.  He’s searching for his identity, and it cannot look like you.  And remember that it’s only hair and clothes and that he’s still coming to church. So pick your battles carefully.”    And then this grandmother told Barbara about her grown son, whose father had a fit when the son’s hair was shoulder length in high school.  She said, “I told my husband . . . it’s just hair. Let him have it while he still can.” And then they laughed because her husband’s head was as bald as a bowling ball.        Unknown to Barbara until later on was the kindness of one of the men in the church extended to David during those teenage years.  When this man, named Jerry, died of cancer, David was greatly saddened.  Barbara didn’t know the connection and asked why he was so upset.  David told her that Jerry was the one grown-up who would come and talk to him during coffee hour.  Didn’t matter how weird David looked, Jerry would come over and ask him how school was going and talk about lots of things, but never . . . never how David looked.  He was one of the reasons David kept coming to church.

            Every young person needs to run into a Jerry, someone who will accept them unconditionally, just as God accepts each of us unconditionally.