This Sunday in worship I was helpfully reminded of how the Revised Common Lectionary was developed to help churches cover all the important bits of the story of God’s people. So, the pastor continued, we move from Jesus’ Advent to Epiphany to the Baptism of Jesus.
Wait! I fear we’ve missed an important story, especially important for where the Western Christian church is currently situated. Oh, the story I’m missing does show up once, on Christmas 1 in year C, a Sunday known for its record low attendance. I’d like to hear this story right after Epiphany every year, even if it does only appear in the Gospel of Luke, which is featured in year C.
The story I’m referring to is the story of the boy Jesus in the Temple, Luke 2:41-52. Why am I passionate about hearing this story about Jesus’ childhood in worship each year?
· First of all, it’s the only story we have that gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ childhood. If Christian formation is a lifelong process of Christ taking form in us, those on the childhood stretch of that process need to be able to connect with Jesus as a child, too, and as a shepherd, saviour, Prince of Peace, etc. Adolescent children often regard Jesus as a friend. Hearing this story annually in worship could help strengthen that bond, while it affirms and blesses the integral role of children in the family of God.
· Secondly, in Luke 2:41-52, Jesus is presented to us as a child who asks good questions and from whom one can learn. “After three days [of searching, Mary and Joseph] 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”(vv. 46-47). Donna Marie Todd, storyteller, writer and editor of The Biblical Storyteller (www.nbsint.org ) suggests in the 2013 outreach issue that there are no more right answers, but that the church is now tasked with asking the right questions. Who better to learn to ask good questions from than Jesus, who was already amazing the religious leaders with his questions before his Bar Mitzvah? Focusing annually on Jesus as an inquisitive, insightful, and seeking child of faith could help guide the church as it moves from a stance of having all the answers to one of learning to ask and live with the right questions.
· Thirdly, a “Boy Jesus in the Temple Sunday” could help parents identify with Mary and Joseph when they are frightened or perplexed by their own children, or are ashamed of a lapse into parental negligence. Knowing Mary and Joseph forgot about their child; and that they had difficulty understanding his choices could help parents accept themselves as less than perfect parents and help the church’s families become helpfully transparent with each other.
· Finally, this story reminds Christians of the importance of the Passover practices in the faith and identity formation of growing children. Ralph Milton, in Lectionary Story Bible C, does a lovely job of setting this story of Jesus’ childhood into its Passover context, a context in which children ask the important questions for rehearsing the Hebrew Salvation story. Passover celebrations still have much to teach Christians about valuing children’s questions as an important part of growing in faith. Perhaps this in one more area where “a little child shall lead them.”
So here’s my little rant for expanding the Lectionary’s storyboard for the life of Christ. What do you think? Can we build worship routines for telling the big story of God’s people in ways that honour and learn from Jesus as a child? I hope so.