Growing up fast

by Lowell Chilton

A sermon for the people of the Lutheran Church of the Cross, Berkeley, CA.
The texts are: 1 Samuel 19-21,26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52

I grew up in Tennessee, mostly. After college I moved out to Seattle for a job. Not long after I moved to Seattle, eight or nine years ago, I started volunteering with the youth group in the church I joined.

As is common in many youth groups, a favorite activity of this youth group was the lock-in. Despite my best efforts planning devotions and educational activities, the highlight was usually some variation on turn off the lights and hide.

Back then there was a kid, maybe 13 years old, who was small enough to fit under a small prayer table in the hallway during those hide in the dark games.

Now that kid is as taller than my shoulder, and I am quite tall. This summer I took him out for beer to celebrate his 21st birthday and he came to my moving away party, at a bar.

Time moves quickly doesn’t it. Certainly feels like it today. Jesus was only born two days ago and already we’ve moved on to when he is twelve. Where did the time go?

It seems a little jarring to have just been celebrating the incarnation, the birth of God into the world as Jesus of Nazareth. And now he’s a pre-teen. And like most pre-teen boys I know, he’s showing off, doing what he wants to do, and angering his mom.

All the other Gospel writers skip over this part of God’s time on Earth as Jesus. Mark and John don’t even talk about the birth. John the Baptizer starts foretelling things and then there’s this dude named Jesus preaching and getting followers.


Our ancient creeds skip over this too. To be fair, they also skip over Jesus’ adult ministry. They go from being born to Mary to suffering under Pontius Pilot. It often seems as though Jesus came into the world ready for ministry.

And yet, none of us go from birth to adulthood in one fell swoop. We all grew up, shaped by the world around us, by our relationships with our parents, and by participating in the life of the church.

Despite being God incarnate, Jesus was no different. As God incarnate, Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. As fully human, Jesus grew up surrounded by family, friends, parents, and the practice of religion of the day.

Last week we heard the Magnificat, the Song of Mary to some. Mary sings this song to Elizabeth, but it was probably not her original song, but rather music from her life of faith.

The Magnificat is remarkably similar to the song that Hannah, the mother of Samuel, the other prodigious youngster we heard about today, sings when she finds out that she is pregnant with Samuel. It is thought that this song or a version of it was a part of the worship practice in Mary’s day.

Since Mary spontaneously bursts into church music at learning of the pregnancy, it seems likely to me that she probably continued in her faith practices. She and her husband Joseph brought up Jesus in the life of faith of their household, teaching him the ancient songs and scriptures.

A part of this life of faith was going to Jerusalem every year for the Passover festival. We only have mention of the family going for Passover, but they likely would also have gone twice more each year, for Sukkot and Shavuot.


When Jesus was twelve, they made the trip for the Passover festival as usual and on the way home they noticed Jesus was missing.

It took them a whole day to notice.

Now they weren’t travelling alone, they were traveling with a large group. It was probably normal for the kids to find each other and walk together, roughhousing and goofing off.

So when he doesn’t show up when they stop for the night, they freak out. They talk to all their neighbors, trying to find out if anyone saw him. Finally, someone tells them that Jesus turned back into the city not long after they left it.


Mary and Joseph rush back to Jerusalem, which is another day’s journey,
they search everywhere-there were a great many pilgrims to search through,
and finally find Jesus at the end of the third day.

In the Temple.

Three days later they find him in the temple being a bit of a show off, impressing all the teachers with his questions and answers.

Now, he is the Son of God, and also God, but perhaps he has these great insights in part because he grew up with the religious formation of Mary and Joseph.

And because he made the yearly pilgrimage. And because he had friends and family and knew the world.

Upon finding him, after three days, his mother rightly gets angry with him:

Child, why have you treated us like this?
Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.


She is past angry, she is furious. And what does Jesus do.

He mouths off at her.

Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that it is necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?
(NRSV modified (“I must be” -> “it is necessary for me to be”))

I like to imagine Mary responding to this with: “What did you say to me?” and a quick smack on the back of the head.

My great-grandmother says that this Jesus’ first miracle, that he survived back-talkin’ his mama like that.

In the midst of that back-talk though, Jesus was also letting it be known that he knew that he was called to teach, that he was the Son of God, and that he had a destiny to fulfill in the temple.

In this moment, in the temple, Jesus is both a prodigy and a jackass. He is fully human and fully divine.

That’s pretty powerful.

That God would so long for connection with humanity, and indeed with the whole of creation, that God came into the world as a baby.

A baby who grew up.

And in the process of growing up, learned the patterns of the faith from his parents and teachers, absorbed the patterns of life from the world around him, and engaged fully in the world around him, including being a smart-mouth to his mama on at least this one occasion.

That kid from my youth group has grown into a fine young man, but I sometimes still see the kid hiding under the little table in the hallway.

And before we know it, that little kid who was showing off in the temple is hanging on the cross, with his mama crying at his feet. And yet he lives on with us as we carry on the Church of Christ.

As we carry on the Church of Christ, we grow up with the faith and practices of the Family of Christ, of the Body of Christ.

And whether it is the faith of our childhood or something we come to as adults, we grow up in the patterns of the faith:
Christmas and Easter,
Birth and Death,
Baptism and Communion.

Today we are still celebrating the wonder and mystery that is God incarnate, that is God choosing
to live life as a human,
to have a mother and father,
and to be a child.

Let us cherish this moment,
let us dwell in the mystery of God incarnate having a human childhood,
let us not force Jesus to grow up too fast,
but also let us never forget what Jesus does for us when he grows up.