Summary: Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did
For he was our childhood pattern
Day by day like us He grew;
He was little, weak, and helpless;
Tears and smiles like us he knew; ...
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.
(Cecil Frances Alexander, 1848)
It’s the first Sunday after Christmas - the ’Feast of the Holy Family’. That’s how this Sunday is remembered in the Catholic church at any rate, and our Gospel reading this morning does also give us a depiction of the earthly family of Jesus during his childhood such that it seems appropriate for us too to remember the Holy Family today.
We are of course in the midst of a series of traditional feast days so far as Christians around the world are concerned. Two days ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day. Yesterday was the day after Christmas, known commonly as ’Boxing Day’, though as my father always used to remind me it was also ’St Stephen’s Day’ - the feast that commemorates the brutal death of the first Christian martyr, St Stephen. And Tomorrow is the ’Feast of the Holy Innocents’, where we remember Herod’s horrendous murder of the children of Bethlehem as he attempted to kill Jesus as a young child.
Tomorrow is also, interestingly, the Islamic feast of ’Ashura’, which remembers the martyrdom of the prophet Mohammed’s grandson and his family and friends. It is curious, I think, that this Christmas season has become such a time of remembering so much brutality, and yet right here in the middle of all the bloodshed is the Feast of the Holy Family’ where we focus on the joys of the family home - presumably the last place we would expect to find violence.
In truth, this does seem to me like an odd time to remember ’The Family’ for a number of reasons, and not only because of the way this remembrance day is sandwiched in between the memories of so many martyrdoms. Indeed, what struck me as most peculiar about this particular family day is that it is the only day of the year devoted to a focus on the family, and even then only in the Catholic end of the church. For you get the impression from a lot of Protestant churches in particular that the family is basically what Christianity is all about!
Take a look at just about any Protestant church building in this country and you’ll find that their main Sunday service is promoted as the ’Family Service’. The Church indeed is generally recognised as the key institution that elevates and upholds the significance of the family, and in Western society at large ’Christian values’ and ’family values’ are taken to be almost synonymous.
Go to the homepage of Fred Nile’s ’Christian Democratic Party’ and what does it say right at the top of the page? "Promoting Family Values for over 28 Years"! This is fundamental to what it means to be Christian, is it not - to uphold the place of the family in society? And that’s why Fred urges us to resist all suggestions of the legalising of same-sex marriages. For the god-given institution of the family must be persevered!
In truth, ’Christian Family Values’ are generally advocated particularly by those who are most voacl about sticking to what the Bible says though the irony is that the Bible actually has very little to say about the significance of the human family, and in terms of the childhood family of Jesus, this snippet from Luke chapter 2 is all that we get!
That itself is surely surprising! Why do the Gospels say so little about the childhood of Jesus? Why is there only one story in one Gospel giving us any idea of what Jesus was like when He was growing up?
Of course I’m not including the stories that proliferated in apocryphal literature, composed centuries after the earthly life of Jesus. Those who have read the Gospel of Thomas - a book attributed to the Apostle Thomas, but which is generally believed to have been written in the 3rd Century - will remember the highly entertaining stories from the boyhood of Jesus that are recorded there:.
At age 10 the boy Jesus supposedly saves his parents from an attack by a lion, and at age 8 there’s the famous clay pigeons episode where the model pigeons the boy Jesus was fashioning out of clay suddenly turned into real pigeons and flew away!
Then there’s the story of the boy Jesus who is playing by etching some channels in the mud and another boy comes along and mucks up the channels with his hand. Immediately the boy’s hand withers. Another boy plays a joke on the 6-year old Jesus by jumping on his back and he immediately drops dead. Of course the dead boy is raised and the withered hand is restored.