* Raymond E. Brown, An Adult at Christmas, The Liturgical Press, 1978, pages 37-50
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Many years ago, when I was growing up, we went on family vacations to the mountains. To get there was a good day’s drive, and another full day to get back home.
Year after year, we went to the same cabins with the entire family, and I mean the entire family – aunts, uncles, cousins, babies, kids, teenagers, friends of my parents, and sometimes my sister and I were invited to bring a friend or two along.
Everyone would pile into these behemoth station wagons. The kids sat in the far back so that the adults didn’t have to listen to us, and all the sleeping bags and suitcases and kitchen gear was piled on the roof.
When everything was loaded, off we went in this long caravan of avocado green and drab brown Buicks and Chevys, heading on up U.S. 50, the dads behind the wheel, their primary mission to “make good time.”
Sometimes I rode in my parents’ station wagon, but most of the time in someone else’s. It was always more fun to be riding in a different station wagon than your dad’s. When we got to a gas station, I might change cars again. I rarely arrived in the same station wagon in which I started.
When vacation was over, the caravan of station wagons loaded up kids and cribs and kitchen gear and headed on back down the mountains, and I might be riding in my Uncle Stan’s station wagon or my Uncle Bert’s.
So, when I hear today’s gospel reading, I find it perfectly understandable that Mary and Joseph misplaced Jesus after they came home from their yearly trip to Jerusalem with their extended family.
I can hear Joseph pulling into the garage in Nazareth and saying to his brother: “Hey, I thought he was riding with you.”
And I can just see the look on Mary’s face, telling Joseph to load up, we are going back to Jerusalem and that kid will be so grounded when we find him.
I also find it very believable that when they found Jesus, the know-it-all 12-year-old told his parents, “What are you so worried about? I knew where I was. And I had something much more important to do than just hanging out with my boring old family.”
If Joseph was anything like my dad, he would have given the son-of-God a stare that could turn steam into ice, and then a sharp order to get into the car and say not another word, period.
The gospel story ends by assuring us that Jesus was obedient to his parents ever after.
I’ll bet he was.
Well, what do we make of this story today? What’s it doing here? Is it about how to deal with your teenager? Probably not.
Raymond Brown,* the preeminent New Testament scholar of our time, makes a compelling argument that this vignette was inserted by the gospel writer from an unknown source, and that it doesn’t fit well with the rest of the Gospel of Luke.
Brown notes that the ancient art of hagiography – hero-worshipping biography – usually had at least one legendary story showing the heroism of the hero as a youth. This fits the genre. Besides, Luke needed something to fill the gap between the birth story at the manger and Jesus’ adult ministry.
Scholars also will tell you this story today has a Christological purpose, showing that Jesus knew he had a higher calling even at a young age but that everyone else was puzzled from the start.
That’s all fine with me, but there is another point in this story that I find interesting. Please notice: Jesus is studying. He is asking questions of the most learned rabbis of his time. He is asking questions of his faith and the religion of his ancestors.
If Jesus needed to study, don’t you think we do too?
As I go about being your priest, I am sometimes struck by how people don’t start asking questions about their faith until they hit the shoals of life.
What often happens is they discover what they were taught in Sunday school years and years ago doesn’t hold up very well. They wait so long, catching up is hard to do.
Let me ask you: How many of you would settle for a sixth grade education in your personal and professional life? Why would you settle for that in your religious life?
And while I hope the sermons we give on Sundays feed you, it may not be enough to sustain you when life gets challenging.
And while I believe prayer on Sunday is a very good thing, that also is not enough. Just as each of us needs to eat more than one meal a week to feed our body, so do each of us need to pray more than once a week to feed our souls.
So this coming year, I am challenging each of us to be more intentional in our spiritual life through prayer and study.
I would like each us to set aside time every single day for prayer. Give yourself 15 minutes a day – that isn’t very much – but it will add up. Find a regular time that works for you. Keep at it.
If you aren’t sure how to pray, buy a prayer book. If you can’t afford one, I’ll give you one. If the prayer book isn’t working for you, go to a local book store. You will find many books that will feed your prayer life. Find what works for you.
If you are already praying each day, take a little time this week to examine how that is going for you. Is it still working? What might need tweaking?
Next, I am challenging us as a faith community to study together in the new year.
And study is for all ages. If you have children, get them in the Sunday school. If you have teenagers, get them into the youth group, and then please join the parents group that meets at the same time.
We will have a stellar line-up of adult forums on Sunday mornings after our worship, and I hope you will plan to stay for that.
Come to our Wednesday community night, and join one of the groups like our Centering Prayer group, or our women’s Bible study or the Shalom group for young adults.
Or on Wednesday evenings, Paula Kettlewell leads a book discussion circle, and I lead a class starting next week exploring the basics of the Christian tradition.
If you are a University of Virginia student, you are invited to dinner and discussion across the street at our Canterbury House on Wednesday evenings.
In the new year, we will form new small groups. Some will meet here the daytime, others will be dinner groups in homes. We will pick a book, or a film, or some other topic to spring off from.
And you don’t need to wait for me to get started. Pick a few friends, pick a book and study together. Ask the hard questions, don’t settle for pat answers.
I want to underline something: Prayer and study go to the very essence of life; God made you for this but you need to exercise the spiritual muscles to get anything out of this. This is not just another activity like soccer games and music lessons.
I guarantee intentional prayer and study will transform you and that will transform this parish. You will find that you have a reservoir of strength you didn’t know you had in those times when you need it the most.
As a parish community, we will see more deeply our connections to each other and the hurting world beyond these walls, and we will see more clearly what we are to do for each other and for the world beyond.
The important thing is to get in the car and go. We all might be riding in a different car, but we are all going to get where we are going together because God will get us there. AMEN