Parents sometimes look at babies with fondness as they remember their own children's early years. They may say: enjoy them while you have them for they grow up quickly. When I think of how the Sunday lectionary reading races towards Jesus' baptism following Epiphany it feels like the post-birth years are not important, that the only focus is on Jesus the adult. It seems disrespectful of the hard work of Mary and Joseph, the growing spiritual awareness that leads Jesus to affirm later in his life vocation and call, and the great numbers of people who cared for him in his formative years.
The 28 years of care, love, protection, questioning, exposure to another culture, religion and language are foundation blocks on which Jesus' ministry will be built.
Read some of these post-manger and growing up stories. They are not chronological and are differing episodes of Jesus' early years that each gospel writer wanted their readers to hear. Hear the influence of so many on his life, the 'village' that raised him.
The wise ones find Jesus on Mary's lap in their rented house, in his 'terrible two' phase. Joseph supports his family as a carpenter. (Mathew 2:1-12).
He is circumcised a week after his birth and given the name Jesus. (Luke 2:21).
Jesus is presented in a ceremony of purification in the Temple where an offering is made; two elderly people, Simeon the priest and Anna the prophetess speak incredible words about him in their prayers and blessings. Mary being told he will be a sign of God for others but bring her much sorrow. (Luke 2:22-38).
The holy family escapes the tyrant Herod and flees into Egypt for Jesus' formative years in a different culture, language and religion. (Matthew 2;13-14).
After God speaks in a dream Joseph brings his family to Nazareth. (Matthew 2:19-23)
When Mary and Joseph return to Nazareth Luke writes that : 'the child grew and became strong, was full of wisdom, and God's blessings were upon him.' (Luke 2:39-49).
Jesus went to Jerusalem at Passover where he had his Bar Mitzvah at 12 years, becoming a man and reading the Torah in public. He engaged the Jewish teachers with questions and listened to them. Mary and Joseph were astonished at this. When they returned home Mary treasured all these things in her heart. 'Jesus grew both in body and in wisdom, gaining favour with God and with men.' (Luke 241-52).
As I read these growing up stories,
I pray for all families, parents and children.
I pray that we can together be the village that raises them well.
I pray we listen to Jesus' early years and appreciate the many who influenced his life and later ministry.
I pray that we continue to follow this one we call Light of the World, Mary's Child, Saviour.
When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the shepherds have found their way home,
The work of Christmas is begun.
'I am the light of the world, you people come and follow me.'
If you follow and love you'll learn the mystery of what you were meant to do and be.
(Jim Strathdee, 1967)