Second Sunday after Christmas · Luke 2:40-52 · January 4, 2009
By Gerhard Bode
The Gospel reading for the Second Sunday after Christmas again locates Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in the Jerusalem temple—twelve years after Jesus’ presentation there as an infant. The boy—Jesus’ return to his “Father’s house” re-identifies him as the promised Messiah in the person of God’s own Son, and anticipates the revealing of himself as Savior to the world highlighted during the upcoming Epiphany season.
This text, recorded only in Luke, is unique in the Gospels as the sole narrative of events in Christ’s early life between the Flight to Egypt (Mt 2:13ff.) and the start of his public ministry.
2:41 The imperfect verb tense indicates that Mary and Joseph customarily went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. As evidenced by the previous pericope, they were attentive to the requirements of the Law.
2:42 Jesus is twelve years old, the age at which youth began advanced instruction in the Jewish religion and participated more fully in its festivals. The ascent of the group to Jerusalem for the Passover looks ahead to Jesus’ later entrance into the city on Palm Sunday when again he will go to his “Father’s house” and accomplish his work as Savior.
2:44—46 Understandably, Jesus’ three-day absence would be of great concern to Mary and Joseph. Their anxious searching for Jesus typifies their efforts at grasping his true identity and purpose.
2:46-47 Jesus comes to the Jewish religious teachers as a pupil, hearing them and asking questions, but he also assumes the role of teacher, amazing them with his understanding and answers. The setting here is key: the temple is the place where the Word of God is proclaimed and service to God is rendered. Jesus’ activity here is linked to God and his Word, in a sense, setting the theme for his future work and ministry.
2:48 The nature of Mary and Joseph’s amazement does not appear to be the same as that of the religious teachers, as indicated by Mary’s question and statement to Jesus. Her question: “Son, why have you done this to us?” may reflect a combined feeling of relief and irritation. The question is understandable given that Mary appears focused on the parent-child relationship which she and Joseph have with Jesus. At the same time, it may be that Mary was astonished by Jesus’ apparent lack of concern for the ordeal she and Joseph had endured for the last three days, and was amazed at the boldness of a mere boy engaging the learned teachers of the law.
2:49 Jesus’ first recorded words in Luke’s Gospel speak succinctly, both to the purpose of his mission and his relationship to his Father (implying his divine Sonship). His initial question to his mother, “Why is it that you are seeking me?” is closely connected with the question that follows. Jesus seems to suggest that their searching for him was unnecessary; they should have known where he could be found. Jesus’ phrase “of my Father” contrasts with Mary’s previous statement to Jesus: “Your father and I, greatly distressed, are looking for you.” While recognizing the parent-child relationship existing between Mary and Joseph and himself, Jesus implies that they do not fully understand the nature of the relationship between him and his divine Father, his identity, and the work of salvation he will accomplish.
2:51 Jesus returns to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph and is obedient to them. Mary treasures these words and events in her heart—perhaps still trying to grasp the fact that her child is both a human being and at the same time God’s own Son.
2:52 In these few words, Luke summarizes the next 18 years of Jesus’ life.
I. Narrating the Narrative
Beginning with a simple paraphrase of the Gospel account may be a helpful way of approaching the text. (See notes for the Suggested Outline for the First Sunday After Christmas.) Given the uniqueness of the text as the sole pericope detailing events in the life of Christ between his early childhood and adulthood, a retelling of the events may be helpful. Key emphases of the narrative retelling may be: 1) the journey to Jerusalem for the Passover in fulfillment of the Law; 2) Mary and Joseph’s anxious search for Jesus; 3) Jesus engaging the religious teachers in the temple; 4) Jesus’ explanation to Mary that he must be at his “Father’s house”; and 5) the family’s return to Nazareth and Jesus’ subjection to Mary and Joseph.
II. The God-Boy Jesus Christ
This pericope lends a unique perspective to the Incarnation. The Christ child is also the Son of God, fully human and fully divine. He is God who obeys the Law’s command to observe the Passover feast. He is a boy who refers to the Jerusalem temple—the house of God—as “my Father’s house.” He is both God and human, increasing “in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man” (2:52 ESV). Key here is Jesus’ awareness of himself as the Son of God with a specific mission.
III. God’s Promise is being Fulfilled
The God-Man Jesus Christ, the Promised One, arrived to bring reconciliation between God and humanity. Christ came to bring his people into a right relationship with his Father and accomplished that work just outside the walls of the Jerusalem temple—on Calvary. There God the Father would forsake his obedient Son and lay upon him the punishment of all our disobedience. After three days, God would raise his Son from death to life again to ensure our victory over sin and death. Christ’s reconciling and victorious work for us means that we too may call God our “Father,” not in the same sense as Jesus does, but in a very real and enduring way, since the relationship between God and humanity restored by Christ is now perfected and complete. Christ is the perfect fulfillment of God’s promises of redemption, celebrated during the Christmas season.