(A sermon based on Luke 2:41-52 for Father's Day 2013)
I recently, on two separate occasions, gave our children the opportunity to express their opinion, now that they are adults, of what kind of father I have been to them. I did so with fear and trembling. Our son Joshua said, “Well, Sara and I are both reasonably well-adjusted and are doing what we think we are supposed to do. I’d say you did fine.” Our daughter Sara said, “You're the best. The absolute best. And I'll stick to that as long as you keep making your chicken wings.”
I took their insights to heart and I felt fine.
What I always wanted was what all decent parents want: for my children to discover who God made them to be and to spend their lives being that. I am grateful that they are doing that and that they recognize the truly finer things in life, too. And that they have a sense of humor.
After all, we parents believe that our children are a gift from God, that they are blessed by God with unique gifts, and that they can do great good with their lives.
Imagine, then, how Joseph must have felt.
After all, he had been told—and by an angel, no less—that the son that his wife Mary would bear was “conceived of the Holy Spirit” and that he would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20). Talk about high expectations! What a privilege it was to get to serve as the earthly father to such a child!
But then there had been that odd old man named Simeon who, on the day Mary and he had taken little Jesus to have him dedicated at the Temple, had said to 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” (Luke 2:35). He hadn’t liked that part about a sword piercing his wife’s soul. He was a father, not a mother, but he knew mothers well enough to know that their soul got pierced when something bad happened to their child.
Joseph had to wonder how much pain Jesus would have to bear on the way to fulfilling his purpose in life. How much pain would Mary and he have to bear as Jesus found his way?
None of the rest of us has had an angel tell us how special our child is (at least I don’t think so) or have had someone prophesy what kind of pain our child’s life would bring us—but all of us fathers do share some of this experience in common with Joseph. We believe that our children are special, too. And we know that whatever pain they experience in growing up and in being grown is pain that we will feel, too.
The story in today’s text is the only story in the Bible about Jesus’ childhood; perhaps it is indicative of the kinds of experiences that Mary and Joseph had with their son throughout his growing up years. Every child has to come to terms with who she or he is and has to find a way to be who she or he is meant to be; Jesus was no exception and perhaps he had a heightened experience with such development. It’s certainly not difficult to imagine the young Jesus being precocious, inquisitive, and adventurous.
Sooner or later, your child’s search will lead him away from you and when it does, it’s scary and it’s upsetting. And so it was that after his family’s annual pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem for Passover, one day into the journey back home—a journey that would have involved a large party of family and friends traveling together—Joseph and Mary realized that Jesus was missing. When they finally found him after three days of searching—it’s not hard to imagine how frantic they would have been—they located him conversing with the teachers.
Mary said to him, “What’s the matter with you? How could you do this to us? We’ve been worried sick about you!” We’re not told what Joseph said but it was probably something like, “Yeah, listen to your mother!”
That’s when Jesus said it. I don’t know that he had never said it before, but I have a feeling this was the first time. “Did you not know that I must involve myself in my Father’s affairs?” So there it was: there were two fathers in the house—the earthly father Joseph and the heavenly Father God—and the heavenly Father had greater claim on Jesus and on his life than did his earthly father. And the twelve-year-old Jesus was coming to realize it.
Jesus didn’t say what so many young folks at some point say, namely, “It’s my life and I’ll do what I want!” (or something like that). Instead he said, “It’s the life that my heavenly Father has for me that I must live.”
Still, Jesus went home and was obedient to his parents. But we all know that things were never the same between Joseph and him because now they both knew that Jesus’ life was not about the carpenter’s shop but was about whatever calling the heavenly Father had placed on his life, a calling that would be challenging, difficult, and painful.
Our homes have two fathers, too, and the claims of the heavenly Father on our children are more important and more enduring than our claims. That can be hard on us. But it can also be liberating for all of us. Make no mistake about it, though—if our children believe that the path down which God calls them is difficult and even dangerous, it is our place to affirm and to support them.
It appears that Joseph did not live to see the final outcome of Jesus’ life; we never see him again after this incident and we assume that he died before Jesus began his public ministry. But he saw him on his way.
Let’s see our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren on their way. They need to be about their heavenly Father’s business, too …