Sermons That Work

Adolescence, Christmas 2 – 1998

January 04, 1998


This Gospel lesson is the one window we have into Jesus’ life in early adolescence. But we really can’t appropriately use the term adolescence in this context. Entrance into adulthood was pegged at the 12th year in that culture.

So the visit to the Temple in Jerusalem was a time of transition for the 12 year old Jesus. The visit marks entrance into his destiny as Savior and Lord in a self-aware way, not a look back into childhood.

It is helpful to think about the transitions in our own lives in order that we may understand this story about Jesus. Remember what it was like to go from elementary to Junior High or middle school? There was the excitement of a new place, new friends, and new experiences. There was also the anxiety about the new place, all of those strange people and all of that unknown territory. When all of that was mixed with puberty and that set of new insights, feelings and issues. It is a miracle that we survived. For some of us the miracle was that our parents, teachers and friends let us live. Tragically, some young people do not survive this transition. The teen suicide rate, the stories of teens incarcerated and the drug scene as it involves teens are all sign-posts calling attention to the perils of this time in life.

We still require 12 year olds to make decisions that will guide or disrupt the rest of their lives. This doesn’t seem fair. It probably isn’t fair. But it is the way it is.

Jesus was the embodiment of the Gospel. There was every thing riding on him. Can you imagine the pressure. There is evidence in the text that he had profound insight into who he was and what he must be about with the rest of his life. And he acted upon that and stayed in the Temple. That time in the Temple marked a transition in his life. It also marked a time of transition in the lives of Mary and Joseph. This was one more experience for Mary to hold and wonder about as she loved and cared for Jesus. It says that Jesus went home and was subject to his parents. Now we know that this was a major transition. Can you imagine submitting to authority as a 12 year old? Can you imagine what it must have required of Jesus with his awareness of who he was? Jesus knew what he was going to do when he grew up. Many very wise adults will confess that they really don’t know what they are going to do when they grow up. Most of us never have the kind of clarity that Jesus had. But, we aren’t assigned with task of being God incarnate with the salvation of the world as the objective.

There are three things to reflect upon in this text. First, it is appropriate for us to reflect on the ministry of the church with and for 12 year olds. Those of us who survived that passage frequently forget its perils. We should be mindful of them. Children at that point in life need much love and support. The Church can bring two very important gifts to them. The Church can provide safe places where they can be with their own kind. They are going to be with their peers. We can do something to have that time be safe and wholesome. Next we can provide relationships with adults. These adults can love, care for and guide them even though they are not the children’s parents. There is no substitution for parents. But relationships with loving, patient, tolerant adults can be an important resource for a child of 12. And, most importantly, we can share our faith. We are called to love them in order to spend eternity with them.

The second thing to consider is the meaning of the transitions in our own lives. Life seems to be an endless sequence of changes. We enter into different relationships, change jobs, grow older and they all bring change. There is usually some sense of loss when there is change in our lives. Frequently the new possibilities are slow in being realized. Transitions are inevitable. Resisting transition is inevitable.

Always remember that Jesus knows about this. He made some passages in his life. He knows what you are going through. Remember what St. Paul said about transitions, “Nothing can separate from the love of God.”

Finally give praise to God for Jesus, who as a 12 year old knew what lay before him and accepted it. The consequence of that acceptance is our acceptance by God into heaven.

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