Luke 2: 41-52
In two days Jesus has gone from being an infant to being a teenager…
Now we have to imagine a kind of village tramping trip to the festival in Jerusalem. My family has no problem with this because they’ve just been off to another great holy-of-holies, the Hollyford Valley for a 4 day tramping trip before Christmas.
In the days before cars that was how ancient Jews celebrated Holy Days – they went tramping… to the temple… as an extended family. It’s a wonderful time with great high points and then they leave Jerusalem and travel back towards home… panic…3 days journeying with the whole family and they realize Jesus is not with them (apparently that was when “Jesus” started to sound like a swear word)… I love that detail. They say it takes a whole village to raise a child. Imagine all the babysitters! Imagine being able to go for three days without missing your child! They must have been having a ball.
The teenage years are the time when identity is formed… when you start to distinguish yourself from your parents, when your peers have the greatest influence on you. When your malleable life is profoundly shaped in very significant ways that differ from the hopes and fears of your biological parents. The days of rebellion and conflict. Here is Jesus teenage world captured in a lovely little snippet of a story – even in one sentence: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?
He wasn’t talking about Joseph… I don’t know about you but I found the bill-board in Auckland hilarious (show slide). It seemed to me that in the controversy that followed, those that concerned to protect the virgin birth and those concerned to debunk it, lacked a sense of humour in equal measure.
Poor old Joseph!
So when Mary and Joseph (in spite of the stresses of their marital life) finally find their young teen Jesus in the temple he blurts out. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?…Has he got no sense of respect for his biological Father? Wait a minute… the tradition tells us that Joseph is not the biological Father….Poor old Joseph
Like it or not, this story lands us plonk in the middle of a debate about the Incarnation and the Virgin birth.
It’s not like the church believes in the incarnation, because of the virgin birth. It’s very much the other way round. The conviction that God is with us in history, by being incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth is not first of all a response to birth stories, it is first of all a response to the resurrection of Jesus. It was only because of the resurrection that people even considered the divine origin of Jesus’ life… don’t get me wrong… current research says they came to conclusions about the divine significance of Jesus very quickly. The earliest writings we have tell of Jesus’ life originating in God… in a unique way, in a way significant for history. To cut a long story short though… in my view the stories of a virgin birth are, like the Genesis stories of creation, an ancient way of telling an important truth. And it is a truth we need to tell also. But the stories were first told by people who didn’t understand rocket science… Just as the stories of Genesis were told by people who had no idea about the millions of years and of processes involved in the divine creation of the universe and of human life, so the writers of the Gospels imagined that in order for God to be incarnate in human flesh the genetic material of the biological Father somehow had to be eliminated. For in their view the Mother was merely a seed bed, providing no contribution to the child to be born… abracadabra, virgin birth.
You see, if you think about it, and the church’s philosophers and theologians have thought a lot about it over two thousand years, the incarnation of God is not the delivery of something at the moment of conception, it isevery moment of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Every moment is both divine and human life in history.
Human genetic material becomes in his life, divine genetic material.
His life, although fully human, is also unique [pause].
His life becomes (in its humanness) the genesis of newness in humanity. Because of him a new humanity is born.
It doesn’t matter in the slightest whether Luke writing his gospel understood about the science of birth – and what kind of a miracle it might have taken to produce the life of Jesus. But what does matter is that Jesus life is not business as usual as far as human life is concerned. Whatever miracle it took, his life, from birth till death is an act of divine grace, an interruption of humanity as usual. Something completely outside it all, enters into it all so closely and intimately.
That’s what the gospel stands or falls on. Not on the virginity of Mary at the time of conception.
So when Jesus gets to his teenage years this interruption becomes even more pronounced. The gospel of Luke hints at this with today’s phrase. Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’
Here is a teenager, like all other teenagers, for whom the influence of his well-intentioned but sinful parents is not the defining reality of his life.
However here also is a teenager, unlike other teenagers, for whom the influence of his peers (peer pressure) is also not the defining reality of his identity. Here is a boy discovering that the God of Israel is his life.
There’s not a lot more we can say about the mystery of the incarnation…
Jesus like all other children grew up, changed developed. Unlike all other children his whole life was a turning towards his Father. A movement into his Father’s household which was also lived out in the midst of an alien household in the midst of the human economy – the place where he was eventually crucified.
And because he lived among us in this way, because he lived his life among us, in the Father’s house, we can live also. All our houses have been interrupted forever. And in him, by the Holy Spirit we too can undergo the true teenage revolution… we too do not need to be defined by our peers, going right back to our Neanderthal peers. The really important revolution of identity, the really important rebellion against authority happens when we start to follow Jesus into ‘the Father’s house’.
May this be your teenage rebellion in 2010!
Bruce Hamill (Caversham 27th December 2009)