Lord, speak through me and, if necessary, in spite of me that your word may be heard this day. Amen.
I like to read. In fact, I love to read … I have since I was a child. When I read a book … any kind of book … my mind begins to build its own full-length feature movie based on the descriptions the author gives.
Beginning today and over the next several weeks, we’re going to be digging as deeply as we can into what it must have been like Growing up Jesus. Not just at the events, but at everything we can possibly figure out about the culture he grew up in, and the physical, political and religious environment. What was it like to live day to day during the 33 and a half years Jesus walked the earth as one of us? What was Jesus like?
I want us to try to imagine what life was like for Jesus and his earthly family, and I have a specific purpose and goal in developing the Son Light series for you, and that is to do my best to make Jesus more relatable for you in all his forms … as the Logos … the Word that John told us about in John 1:1-5 … as a child who grew up to be a man … and ultimately as the Christ.
Paul wrote more than once that we should have “Christ in us.” If I’m successful over the next few weeks, you will connect to Jesus in such a way that you won’t act on the speculation of what Jesus would do, but will know on a deeper level what he did do, and you … your actions … will become those of Christ in you.
With that said, let’s begin at the beginning … and In the beginning was the Word or Logos. Logos is a Greek word that has three meanings depending on how it’s used. The most common or standard meaning is “a word (lower case w), speech, or the act of speaking” … for example the use of logos (lower case l) in Acts 7:22: “So Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his words [his logos] and deeds.”
The second meaning of logos refers to “the special revelation of God to people” as in Mark 7:13: “thus making void the word [the logos] of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”
The third meaning is the unique meaning. Used in the unique meaning, Word (uppercase W) or Logos (upper case L) personifies the revelation of God as Jesus the Messiah as in John 1:14: “And the Word [ the Logos] became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
John 1 and Genesis 1 both tell us that the Word, the Logos was there in the beginning before anything was created. God wasn’t alone. Both the Word and the Holy Spirit were already there. In our humanness, we tend to consider the three … the Trinity … as three separate beings, but that’s not what John is telling us. In the beginning was the Word, the Logos, and the Word was with God … and the Word was God.
As humans, we tend to visualize God as a solid object, a human form just like us, but glowing with divine light and a face we cannot see. Because we see him in this imagined human form, we have a hard time understanding the Logos, and that makes it hard for so many to accept the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. After all, the idea that God just zapped himself out of his heavenly dimension into Mary’s womb as an embryo, spent nine months developing into an infant, then managed to survive the next 33 and a half years in the 1st Century middle east … and that in the middle of that, He calls himself his son … no wonder there are skeptics and non-believers.
So, for at least a moment, stop visualizing God sitting on a throne with a human body and a blinding light where His face is, stop visualizing Jesus as that guy with long blonde hair and blue eyes, stop visualizing the Holy Spirit as a white dove or even as a non-visible angel, and picture one singular form made entirely of … for ease of visualizing … light. There is no clear and definite outline to the light, but you can sense life and movement. Now imagine the light dividing from one into three lights, then see them coming back together, then separating then coming back together again and again and again at will.
That’s how I see God, how I see the Trinity of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit … as spirit that is able to take part of from itself without diminishing itself in order to be both God and the Son of God and the Holy Spirit all working and existing together simultaneously while still being one God.
But let’s get back to God as Jesus. We covered quite a bit of the story leading up to his birth beginning with Advent. Joseph and Mary’s 10-day trip walking 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem all because Caesar August decided to conduct a first time ever census of the entire Roman empire.
God’s entry into this world as Jesus came to an exhausted mother and her husband who had found the only space available for them to rest and stay was the place where the animals were housed.
God, the Creator of all things, could have with less than the blink of His great Light, arranged for Mary and Joseph to arrive in Bethlehem and find the best of accommodations complete with the finest cloths for wrapping himself in, but He didn’t. He made His entry as the infant Jesus in a space where animals gave birth.
That catches us up to today’s passage from Luke. In just merely reading it, there are things that we as Western Hemisphere Christians may not understand or pay much attention to. For example, that very first line: When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Joseph and Mary were Jewish from the House or line of David. Even though they knew who the infant Jesus was, they would have followed Jewish law to the letter. After all, God, as they knew Him, belonged almost exclusively to the people of Israel. Jewish law required that a woman who had given birth wait forty days before she and her husband brought the newborn to the Temple to be dedicated. No one could enter the Temple if they were considered unclean, and the forty days was the amount of time the Jewish lawmakers felt it took for a woman to become clean again after giving birth.
We don’t have any specific information about Joseph, Mary, and the baby during those forty days, so we have to use what we do know to imagine what might have taken place. First of all, Mary would have needed some time to recuperate. She’d just given birth without any doctors, nurses or epidurals. Second, they’re staying in a stable. Joseph would have been in charge of seeing to their immediate daily needs like food. He may even have had to be the chief cook and bottle washer for those first several days. It’s more likely though, that he would have looked for and found someone in Bethlehem that he was related to who may have provided not only food but a place that the family could come and rest in more normal surroundings than the stable.
While Joseph might have found odd jobs to do here and there in order to replenish their resources, I imagine they spent time just being a normal Jewish family and taking care of baby Jesus. They would have admired him, played with him, loved on him. They would have done all the things we do with our babies … baths, feedings, changing diaper cloths. They’d have done all that and taken care of their own needs as well during the required 40-day purification period.
We know from our reading today what happened at the Temple in Jerusalem on that 40th day. Joseph and Mary took the option for the poor, purchased two doves or pigeons to sacrifice, and went into the Temple where they encountered first Simeon who prophesied Jesus would redeem the world and then the prophetess, Anna, who offered prayers and praise to God for the arrival of Jesus and told everyone there of Jesus importance to redemption in Jerusalem. The importance of this passage is that two people who had no connection to Mary and Joseph saw the infant Jesus and instantly knew who he was and that Mary and Joseph were keeping the Jewish laws.
Now we have another blank spot in Jesus’ early life. We know that the Magi came at some point after the 40th day to “the house where Mary and Joseph were living.” How do we know that? Because one of the gifts of the Magi was gold. Mary and Joseph chose the option for the poor when purchasing their dedication sacrifices. They wouldn’t have had to do that if they had the Magi’s gold on that 40th day.
We don’t know, though, how Mary and Joseph went from staying in that stable to actually living in a house somewhere in Bethlehem or the precise date of the Magi’s visit, but we can imagine based on the things we know.
Luke reports in his gospel that Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth after the dedication at the Temple. Joseph most likely would have returned to his trade as a carpenter … after all, he had a family to support and Roman taxes to pay, and Mary would have set about making a home for them and doing all those things parents do in raising a toddler. Through all of that, we can be certain that Mary and Joseph would have maintained their practice of keeping the laws of the Torah.
We know that they did a good job of raising that toddler because Luke tells us that Jesus grew and became strong, filled with wisdom and that the favor of God was upon him.
Although it’s not mentioned in our passage from Luke, most bible scholars feel that the Magi did not arrive when Jesus was an infant, so it’s likely their visit took place in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. That theory is based on Herod’s actions at the time. Remember that, after he met with the Magi and learned the purpose of the Magi’s visit, Herod … being the fearful paranoid guy he was … ordered that all children age two or younger be killed. While it’s possible that Herod was a lot like some contemporary world leaders who believe “huge” is better and more impressive, it’s more likely that he felt what would have previously been murmured rumors about the dedication day scene with Anna and Simeon were now confirmed by the visit of the Magi, and the baby he was seeking was most likely just under two years of age. Not taking any chances, he ordered all children two and under to be slaughtered.
Fortunately, Joseph had that second dream that told him to take Mary and Jesus and go to Egypt. Unfortunately, we don’t know much of anything about the family’s journey to Egypt, so again, we have to imagine what it was like for a man, a woman, and a toddler to travel the 350 miles from Nazareth to Cairo on foot. I would imagine this journey is where the gifts of the Magi came in handy because they would have had to carry with them or purchase provisions along the way. A journey of that length in those days would have taken at least 18 days if they were able to maintain that 20 miles per day pace. More likely it took them 3-4 weeks.
There is nothing official about their time in Egypt, but the Egyptian Tourism Ministry has a working theory based on what is known about the creation of 25 historic sites, mostly churches and temples. They believe that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus spent about three years in Egypt traveling from Cairo or Farama to Qussqam where Joseph had the dream that it was safe to return to Galilee, and then simply followed the same path backward. According to the Egyptian Tourism Authority, the holy family was in Egypt for about three years, after which they returned to Nazareth where they would be safe from the rule of Herod’s son.
We can imagine that, back in Nazareth, Joseph would have returned to his trade as a carpenter and most likely life would have returned to what was then considered normal for a family with a five-year-old.
Jewish children didn’t have schools as we have, so Jesus would have been taught in the home by Joseph, Mary, and their adult relatives that lived in the area. As he grew from toddler to young child, he would have learned how to do simple chores around the home and Joseph may have started teaching him the basics of carpentry. In addition to everyday things, Mary and Joseph would have taught him about their religion … learning the history of their people, their religious customs, and their traditional observances like Shabbat, Yom Kippur, and Passover.
From birth, he would have heard them pray and then learned to pray with them the Shema taken from Deuteronomy and other books in the Old Testament … Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Blessed is His name whose glorious kingdom is forever and ever. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your might. These words that I command you today shall be upon your heart. Repeat them to your children, and talk about them when you sit in your home, and when you walk in the street; when you lie down, and when you rise up. Hold fast to them as a sign upon your hand, and let them be as reminders before your eyes. Write them on the doorposts of your home and at your gates. Amen.
They would have prayed the Shema in the morning and before bed, and one or more times during the day. It was essentially the same to them as the Lord’s Prayer is to us.
Now, we know from the passage in Luke that upon their return to Nazareth, Mary and Joseph had gone to Jerusalem every year to participate in the Passover festival. It was in Jesus’ twelfth year that Luke takes the story back up for a moment. Twelve-year-old Jewish boys usually spent at least part of their day in Torah classes with the rabbis. Clearly from Luke’s gospel, we can discern that Jesus may not have been the typical twelve-year-old Jewish boy in at least one respect. Rather than sitting in Torah class learning from the rabbis, he was sitting in the Temple where the rabbis were learning from him. On top of that, he was doing so without his parents’ knowledge because they were frantically searching for him among the group they’d traveled with for the festival. When they finally found him … if you’ve ever momentarily lost track of a child in a department store … I would say “astonished” is not what Mary and Joseph were feeling. I imagine even though he seemed to justify his adventure, he probably got assigned a few extra chores for a time, don’t you?
What we can surmise is that, despite a few setbacks like having to hide in Egypt for a few years, Jesus would have led a fairly normal life growing up as a Jewish boy in the 1st Century learning all the things Jewish boys learned such as their father’s trade, the Torah and other teachings of the rabbis, and that … as Luke wrote … he increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
Would that we should do the same.
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.