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To view this Sunday’s bulletin, click here: Second Sunday after the Epiphany 2012 (it may look a little bit goofed up at first because the words wrapped around; all the information is there)

“Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. 43 After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (luke 2.41-52 niv84)

The other day I was chatting about child-rearing with someone, and that person commented, “Imagine a sinless two-year-old.” We both fell silent for a moment as we thought about it. How odd that would be. Imagine – no whining, no back-talking, no disobedience at all. I don’t mean to single out two-year-olds – every stage of a child’s life brings new parenting challenges. The sinful flesh resists and is defiant even in little children. It’s part of what makes parents feel like our heads are going to explode, even though we still love our children. We love our children but we don’t always love the way they behave.

Mary and Joseph didn’t have that problem. Imagine what it must have been like to raise God’s Son as your own. “Jesus, can You bring me – oh, thank you” — even before the words are out of your mouth. He never had to be disciplined, never talked back, never did anything He wasn’t supposed to. He was literally the perfect Child. A lot of people have wished to know more about Jesus’ boyhood and early life, but really everything we need is contained in our gospel for today. What’s in our gospel for today is all that we know about Jesus between His birth in Bethlehem and His baptism in the Jordan River at age 30. If you want to know what Jesus’ childhood was like, it was this: “Then He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them” – except for this day. On this one occasion, Jesus does what His parents are not expecting and causes them no little amount of grief and worry. He also teaches them, and us, about the individual callings God has placed each of us into, and how God’s Word and the seemingly non-religious parts of our lives intertwine. Let’s listen in as Jesus teaches us about Duty and Delight.

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem, along with nearly all the rest of the Jews, for the feast of the Passover. While the men were required to go, the women were neither required nor forbidden. They could go if they liked, so Mary made sure to go. They probably started taking Jesus along every year as soon as He was able to keep up with them. Once again we see that Jesus’ parents were pious, God-fearing people, and they raised their Son the same way.

This Passover was especially exciting for Jesus because it was the first one after He turned twelve. When a Jewish boy turned twelve, he was considered old enough to be responsible for following God’s commandments on his own. He might be referred to as a bar mitzvah – a “son of the covenant”. Modern Jews still observe this milestone in a boy’s life. Many times they throw a big party to celebrate. Jesus probably didn’t have a big party, but He was seen as being a little closer to adulthood. He’d taken another step toward being a responsible grown-up follower of God. His twelfth birthday would have made this trip to Jerusalem extra special. Luke mentions Jesus’ being twelve because this ties in with His behavior a few verses later on.

So they go to the Feast, and they’re in Jerusalem for at least two days. Two days was the minimum requirement for attending the Feast, and a lot of people left after the first two days, although some might stay as long as a week. They stayed and worshipped, and then they started back home again. Jesus wasn’t with Mary and Joseph right away, but this didn’t bother them unduly. People often travelled in large groups for safety and for company for these kinds of events, and Mary and Joseph probably reasoned, “He knew when we were leaving and where we’re going to stop for the night – He’s probably with His friends or our relatives.” They were travelling with so many people that they knew that Mary and Joseph probably figured that He was fine.

Then they get to the place where they’re stopping for the first night – and He’s not there. They start asking around and looking, and nobody’s seen Him. Uh oh. Any parent who has lost track of a child knows the sinking feeling that Mary and Joseph felt. First there’s the shock, then the fear set in, and maybe even a little panic. As soon as they can, they headed back to Jerusalem and start looking for Him. One day’s travel north, one day to travel back to Jerusalem, and then one more day of looking for Him was plenty long enough. By this time they’re frantic and nearly worn out because they can’t stop wondering where He is. Mary and Joseph are almost sick with worrying. They’re trying not to think the worst that could happen to Him in this city full of strangers. This wasn’t Nazareth, a small but friendly town where everybody knew everybody else. Who knows what could happen to Him here? So they keep looking.

This was part of their duty as parents. Mary and Joseph would never have chosen this for themselves. God laid this burden on them when He made them Christ’s parents. The suffering they felt, the worry and the tension that tied knots in the pit of their stomachs, was God’s doing to them. Why would God put them through this? Why does God make us suffer without a cause many times? For the same reason that Mary and Joseph did: so that we will seek His Son, search for Him with everything we’ve got, and cling to Him like a drowning man hangs on to a rope.

And Mary and Joseph do find Him, in the last place they expected. They went back to the temple, maybe to retrace their steps, maybe to pray that God would give them their Son back – and what do they see? They see Jesus, sitting in the middle of the teachers and conversing with them! Jesus probably wasn’t the only one talking with the teachers that day. During the feast the teachers often gathered with students in public areas to discuss God’s Word and learn. Some of these informal gatherings were open to anyone who wanted to listen, and Jesus probably went from group to group, talking to all the teachers. Mary and Joseph, as simple Galileans and simple believers, would never have dreamed of sitting in on one of these discussions themselves – yet here’s their Son, talking with the teachers!

Not only is He talking with the teachers, He’s actually teaching them! Teachers often sat in the synagogue or when meeting with their students, and here we see Jesus sitting among them as a twelve-year-old Boy. He talked with the teachers on equal terms, and more than equal terms. The teachers had never seen a Child like this, who had the mental capacity and the knowledge and the insight to show them wonderful things out of the Law.

And the answers He gave! Nobody could put things together like this Child could. Jesus was able as a twelve-year-old boy to see connections among the parts of God’s Word that rabbis who had studied their whole lives had never even considered before. His questions showed more insight than their answers did. When Jesus answered a question, that forced the teachers to stop and think through their own answers, and then Jesus asked them another question that stumped them.

If the President of the United States goes to a 7th grade classroom and asks the students what America should do about the war in Iraq or the national debt or the economy, more than likely he’s just being polite. Either that, or it’s for the cameras. He won’t actually listen seriously and tell his aides, “Write that down – this kid makes sense, let’s try that.” Yet Jesus talked with the brightest and best religious minds of His day, and not only could He have an intelligent conversation with them, He ended up teaching them.

How could a mere twelve year old boy do this? Because He’s God, you might say. That’s not really it, because at this point Jesus isn’t using His divine power very fully or very often. He chose to live under the same limitations which we do, which in this case means that He would simply be a normal twelve-year-old boy. So how is He able to teach the teachers in this way? By the power of God’s Spirit working through God’s Word. This shows you what God’s Word can accomplish. God’s Word is the power that renews us by the transforming of our minds, so that we are ready to trust and serve God. It can take a mere twelve year old boy, someone whom nobody would expect to have this depth of knowledge and insight, and make Him wiser than all the teachers.

That same Word makes us wise unto salvation. It makes foolish the wisdom of the world, and through the foolishness of this same Word that is preached, it saves those who believe. God’s Word gave a young boy the ability to astound the foremost minds of His day; what can it do for you? Think about all the times you run into a perplexing situation, or you have a problem with someone else that just doesn’t seem to have an answer. How often would God’s Word show you a different way that you never saw to come at the problem, or even avoid it altogether? How often does God’s Word speak to the very situation you find yourself in, whether it’s in Proverbs or in Isaiah or in the Gospels or in one of Paul’s letters? If you’re not in God’s Word regularly, if it’s not a part of your daily thoughts and your life, then you won’t know where to turn in God’s Word when you need His guidance and help. How often do we miss out on God teaching us and guiding us in times of trouble, if we’re not familiar with His Word and we don’t search it habitually to know His will? How often would God grant you wisdom and courage and peace and joy through His Word, if only you used it and knew what God was saying to you through it?

Let me let you in on a little secret: I don’t tell people to read and study their Bibles just because I’m a pastor and that’s what pastors do. I don’t tell you to read your Bible the way your dentist tells you to floss or the fire chief tells you to check the batteries in your smoke alarm. I tell you to read and know your Bible for your sakes – because nothing else draws you close to God. Because God’s Word is His appointed means to grow you into a better Christian and to bring you to everlasting life. How else will you know what God’s will is? How else will you have the power to do it? There is no other way. The power of God’s Word is limitless, but we use it but rarely. What would our lives, our relationships, our homes, our souls be like if we took this power more seriously and applied it to ourselves diligently? There’s no limit to what God can do with us and for us.

We could be far better Christians than we are if we filled ourselves with God’s Word, instead of asking all the time, “What’s the least I can get away with doing?” A lot of times we’re more than content to just slide by, never really improving in our knowledge or our faith. Jesus was not like that. He always loved God’s Word, even to the extent of leaving them to worry and agonize that they’d lost Him because He had to be in His Father’s house, about His Father’s business. He delighted in God’s Word and in turn the Word made Him wiser than all His teachers, fulfilling the prophecy about Him in Psalm 119. Jesus atones here for all the times you’ve failed to show the proper attitude towards God’s Word. His diligence and delight in God’s Word covers all the times you’ve groaned or sighed at the prospect of studying His Word – or simply ignored it and went and did something else. For all the times we have not given God’s Word its due, Jesus forgives us. He loved God’s Word in our place. His delight in God’s Word counts for us for righteousness now.

Jesus forgives us everything we lack in our attitude toward God’s Word, and He gives us a new heart that loves and wants to be in God’s Word. Without that we’d never make any progress. It’s similar to New Year’s resolutions. How many of you have made New Year’s resolutions this year? How many of you are still keeping them? If you are, good for you, but most people don’t stick with them. People usually run out of resolve long before the year is over. We all start out with the best of intentions, but then we get busy and tired and first we skip one day, it’s just this once – then two days – and pretty soon it’s been a month and the resolution is long gone. If we approach devotional time in God’s Word the same way we often do our New Year’s resolutions, our devotional life will end up just like our failed New Year’s resolutions. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We have one overwhelming advantage: the Holy Spirit works through God’s Word to draw us closer to God. The Spirit gives us a hunger for God’s Word and teaches us to delight in it. He draws us back to the Scriptures and draws us into them, teaching us to love His Word and value it above everything else. That’s the power of God that is wiser than men and stronger than men.

Your devotional time will really take off if you learn to view time spent in God’s Word as something God does for you, rather than something you do for God. Sure, studying God’s Word is the duty of every Christian, but it’s also our delight. It satisfies us like nothing else does, because nothing else feeds your soul the way God’s Word does. Jesus knew that as a young boy of twelve in the temple, and now He calls you to find out for yourself what God’s Word can do in your life. May it be not only your duty, but also your delight. Amen.