In the 8th century before his birth, the prophet Isaiah announced Messiah’s coming: “Unto us a child is born.” (Isa. 9:6)
“There is a childhood into which we have to grow, just as there is a childhood we must leave behind.”
(19th c. Scottish novelist, poet, and theologian George MacDonald)
Jesus’s tells us that unless we become like little children, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God.
The childhood into which we have to grow is to share is that of the True Child, Jesus Christ.
When I retired two and a half years ago, after 46 years of parish ministry, I set myself some goals: to study, to read, to travel,
to spend time with Diana and our adult children and their families. Along with these goals and permeating all of them, though distinct from all of them, was my desire to enter more deeply into the Father’s love. To put it another way, to live my life more fully in the consciousness that I share in the childhood of the True Child of the Father.
My earthly father and I weren’t terribly close when I was a boy. I longed for a father’s love; in the last dozen years of my dad’s life we became much closer than we had ever been. But our hunger for a father’s love, can only be satisfied by the love of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I’m freer these days to put into practice Jesus’ profound teaching that we must become like little children to enter the Father’s Kingdom.
They journeyed for safety’s sake in a caravan with other villagers from Nazareth, Mary and Joseph and the Child, now 12 years of age. Only St. Luke in his gospel, lifts the veil from these hidden years of our Lord, to reveal this one episode in his childhood. Yet what an incredible insight the passage gives us!
Of course, there’s a lot about those hidden years of Jesus’ life that we can deduce from his teachings in the four Gospels. Jesus’ life was formed by his wanderings in the hills and valleys of Galilee, the rich and luxuriant north of Israel, bordering the west side of the Sea of Galilee, with the Golan Heights visible across the Lake to the east, and Lebanon just a few miles to the north. The vivid images of Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God were derived from his life in those green hills: the shepherd leading his flock, and leaving them in the sheep-fold while he looked for the stray; the neighbour looking desperately for her lost coin; the birds of the air, so carefree, the olives ands figs ripening at the Father’s hand. The many hints of his Father’s love afforded by Nature, already built a deep consciousness of his relationship to God long before the Temple episode.
But now, we imagine Jesus, with pounding heart, as he makes the ascent up the Temple Mount. Before him is the great marble platform 6 modern city blocks long and higher than a medieval cathedral, truly a wonder of the ancient world. This Passover was the preparation for another Jerusalem Passover, some 21 years later, when the Child, now matured, would lay down his life for his friends of all generations, so that we too might become True Children of our Father.
Thinking him to be with friends and relatives from the village, his parents begin their trek back to Nazareth. Too late, they discover he is not with them, and panic-stricken as any parent would be, they spend a sleepless night waiting for dawn and the chance to return to Jerusalem. After three days they find him in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to their teachings from the Law, the Psalms, and the prophets, asking them questions, including some which these learned elders had never before considered. This True Child knows for certain that for this he came into the world. And all who heard him were amazed. It would always be like that. He taught as one having authority and not as the teachers of the law.
We can all sympathize with Mary’s outburst, her overwhelming anxiety now free to express itself in anger: “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
“Why were you searching for me, Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lit. “in the things of my Father”)
“Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?”
He knew the business of carpentry. Already he helped Joseph with his work, and he’d continue for another 18 years to do so. It’s not that he didn’t honour his Mother Mary and his earthly father Joseph; as we’ll see he was more than content to return with them to Nazareth, and to spend 18 years of active waiting with them. But the True Father of this True Child was the Lord God Almighty.
Jesus’ childhood is not immature manhood. Unto us a Child is born – our Lord’s childhood is an Eternal Fact. The Child chooses to stay in His Father’s house, dealing with the things of his Father, because that’s where his real life is trending – toward the things of his Heavenly Father.
His mother’s common-sense “Why have you done this to us?” is completely understandable. But even the Blessed Virgin Mother who treasured these things in her heart, couldn’t see that this Child had a higher calling than the carpentry shop. Joseph was a wonderful earthly father; but he was never meant to fill the father-hunger of our Lord.
If we would become and remain little children, we must be careful not to let common-sense rob us of our hunger for the things of God.
Herbert O’Driscoll speaks of “a kind of spiritual youthfulness that is not immaturity”…a yearning that regards our relationship with our Heavenly Father as “perpetually exciting” and a hunger for a deeper awareness of Him throughout every day. All of this includes common-sense, but transcends it.
In the Temple in those three days, the Child has eyes only for his Father.
He hears the Father’s Word in the Scriptures of the Old Testament.
He listens to the commentary of the teachers and elders.
He’s captivated by the beauty of His Father: his glory, his holiness, his love for his people Israel.
Jesus knows beyond a doubt that He is the true Son of the Father.
What his Father showed Jesus in the Temple in those three days was that he alone is True Child of the Father in Heaven.
In the words of the Nicene Creed: this Child was “Begotten not made; being of one substance with the Father.” When in John’s Gospel Jesus says “the Father and I are One” he doesn’t just mean that they are one in purpose, or one in their feelings about life, or one in their ideas about the Kingdom… He means they are substantially one. They both share in the substance of Divinity. One in the person of Divine Fatherhood and the other in the person of Divine Sonship. But so close is this metaphysical or ontological union that each has his own Divine Personhood; but both share in the substance of divinity throughout eternity. The Child shares the identity of his Father by nature; Jesus invites us to Him that we may become children by adoption and grace.
We can imagine Jesus would have liked to stay in the Temple longer. Instead he returns with Mary and Joseph to the carpenter’s shop, for a long period of Waiting, of learning Obedience to his earthly parents. By simple acts of obedience cheerfully offered to Joseph, Jesus learns obedience to his Heavenly Father. “Son, pass me the hammer. Help me lift this timber, it’s pretty heavy.” “Of course, my father.”
In the 18 years leading to the beginning of the most important calling this world has ever seen, Jesus works the knowledge of God the Father into his brain, his nervous system, every cell of his body, his mind, conscious and unconscious and his imagination. Jesus waits with patient expectation. In this Waiting Time of training, and obedience, the true Child becomes the most mature man that ever lived! Finally the Day will come when the True Child at his Father’s bidding is sent out to seek other children eager to receive the Kingdom.
What does this True Child offer US in this Christmas-tide?
He wants to create US to be true children of his Father.
“God is our Father, but we must open our hearts to Him to become his children, His sons and daughters. Nothing else will satisfy Him, or us, until we become one with our Father.”
Unto us a child is born… yes, but he is born UNTO us so that he may be born IN us. We must be born again!
When the little children came to Jesus and were turned away by the adult-minded disciples, Jesus was indignant: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter into it.” ((Mk. 10:14-16)
Friends, are you sufficiently a little child, that you want to come to Jesus? Has becoming an adult left you skeptical, unwilling to commit, cautious, unimaginative? I don’t mean we are not to ask questions – Jesus spent those three days asking questions. If the hunger for God has been filled with lots of things that never really carry the freight, why not ask Jesus to give you a share in his Eternal Childhood?
Let me repeat: “Nothing else will satisfy Him, or us, until we become one with our Father.”
Heavenly Father, we value all you have given us in life that has made us mature adults. But we ask you now in this Christmastide, to restore or even to create in us the Child-likeness of the One True Child, your Son Jesus Christ. Give us Jesus’ faith, his excitement, his yearning to know you, to obey you, and to fulfill your will for his life. Let every area of our lives be ordered by our receiving of your Kingdom, give us a hearty desire to pray, give us Joy in being about our Father’s business. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.