His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
We don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood. We are given a brief description of the nature of His supernatural conception. Both Matthew and Luke give accounts of His birth. Luke tells us that, when He was just eight days old, His parents took him to Jerusalem, where a man named Simeon, led by the Spirit, took Him in his arms and proclaimed Him the Christ (Luke 2:29-32). A prophetess named Anna, coming to the temple at just that moment, “began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38). So it’s understandable that we struggle just a bit to remember that Jesus too was once a child. And when we do remember, it’s easy to imagine Him being anything but normal. It’s what makes the passage we find in Luke 2:41-52 so meaningful, even if we don’t know exactly what to make of it.
For anyone who has ever had children, worked with children, or even just been around children, this passage starts off as a nightmare. Joseph and Mary had traveled to Jerusalem for their yearly pilgrimage to observe the Passover. We can assume all had gone as expected. Luke tells us the feast had ended, so we can imagine they’d packed their things, joined their caravan, and started on their way back home, another meaningful trip to remember. That is until, after a day’s journey, Joseph and Mary settled down for the night and realized Jesus was nowhere to be found. We can imagine Jesus’ parents rushed back to Jerusalem in a panic. And even though we might be tempted to believe we’d never do something like lose track of the Son of God, it’s hard not to feel some compassion for his parents, knowing they’d spent three days frantically searching before they’d finally found their son.
The Boy Jesus
While we can debate about whether Jesus’ actions were normal or not, it’s hard to ignore the fact that, for Joseph and Mary, Jesus Himself was still very much normal. In spite of all the prophecies—not to mention angelic pronouncements—Jesus’ parents recognized his vulnerability. While he may have been “the Son of the Most High,” for them he was also their son, a twelve-year-old Jewish boy like so many others (Luke 1:32). And a twelve-year-old boy needed protection. He needed his community. And ultimately, He needed to be home with His family.
It’s hard to imagine our God as a twelve-year-old boy. A boy who increased in wisdom and stature and favor (Luke 2:52). It’s much easier to imagine our God as a full-grown adult who could handle Himself, who did not need looking after. But the reality is that the God we find in Jesus is a God so bent on being united with His creatures that He would take on the form of humanity, even that of a twelve-year-old boy.
It’s the mystery we find in the incarnation: a God who takes on our humanity, with all the burden of vulnerability. The thing about vulnerability is that it’s hard. So very hard. So very risky. But vulnerability is also the thing that allows us to admit when we’re scared. It allows us to admit our limitations. And ultimately, it allows us to be fully known. We find that vulnerability in the God-man Jesus, who can be known and trusted—with our lives, our hopes, and ultimately, with our vulnerability.