I received a text message from a parishioner this week asking about a word in her English Bible and what the Greek word behind the scenes “really means.” The same scene plays out in the narthex, the fellowship hall, and in the ICU. Sometimes it is about interpreting the text. Other times it is about interpreting the times or an event in their life. Our people have questions. We have questions.

As those called by God to declare and proclaim His revealed truth to our congregations and communities, it is only natural that our people would look to us for answers. More often than not, I find myself quickly responding with a clear answer (at least one that is clear to me) I have “used” many times before. Or else I will jump to the other extreme and invoke the mysteriousness of God’s hidden will and the unsearchable depths of His ways that are beyond our ways (which can have the rhetorical force of implying we should not spend any more time searching into the things God has not revealed in His Word).

Luke 2:40-52 raises all kinds of questions for us as readers, even as it raises multiple unanswered questions within the text itself. One question the preacher might want to briefly address is the glaring, “How could they lose Jesus?” An understanding of how the extended family and community might travel in caravan, and a reminder that many children experienced more “free-range parenting” than “helicopter parenting” just a generation or two ago than they do today, can suffice.

But that is not Luke’s focus. Luke, instead, concentrates on questions about the identity of Jesus. Specifically, he centers in on questions about the identity of Jesus and how His mother experiences those questions. Most of the narrative is told from the perspective of His parents, with an emphasis on Mary. “Now His parents went to Jerusalem…And when He was twelve years old, they went up…And when the feast was ended, as they were returning…His parents did not know…they went a day’s journey…they began to search…they did not find…they returned…they found…And when His parents saw Him, they were astonished. And His mother said to Him…” You get the idea.

As those called by God to declare and proclaim His revealed truth to our congregations and communities, it is only natural that our people would look to us for answers.

Luke focuses on questions about the identity of Jesus and how His mother experiences those questions. What do they find Jesus doing in the Temple? “Listening to them and asking them questions.” In verse 46, Jesus is the one asking the questions. In verse 47, Jesus is the one answering the questions: “And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” Jesus is apparently quick to pick up on the rabbinical method of discourse though questions, because His interchange with Mary is marked by three unanswered questions.

First, Mary asks her question on behalf of Joseph and herself: “Son, why have you treated us so?” To which Jesus responds with two questions of His own: “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” And none of the questions are answered. In fact, Luke explicitly tells us in verse 50 that Mary and Joseph did not understand.

The episode of the boy Jesus in the Temple raises questions. It raised questions for Mary (and Joseph) and it raises questions for us. A preacher might explore how the questions this text raised for Mary may be the opposite kinds of questions it raises for us.

We can summarize the heart of Mary’s question like this: “What does it mean that my little boy is the Son of God the Father?”

We can summarize the heart of our question like this: “What does it mean that the Son of God the Father is Mary’s little boy?”

Some thirteen years earlier, Mary heard God’s Word of promise through Gabriel and God miraculously accomplished just what He said He would do. But from that point on, Mary and Jesus appear to have a typical mother-son relationship. This reading begins and ends with images of a normal child developing, behaving, and relating to his parents in the normal way: Growing, learning, traveling, submitting, and increasing in wisdom and stature.

For Mary, the odd part is when Jesus goes off by Himself, plays the part of rabbi in the Temple, and speaks enigmatically in response to a seemingly straightforward question. Up until this exchange, and immediately after it, everything was largely normal. Again, we can summarize the heart of Mary’s question like this: “What does it mean that my little boy is the Son of God the Father?”

We can summarize the heart of Mary’s question like this: “What does it mean that my little boy is the Son of God the Father?”

But I suspect that for most people today, we stumble over the opposite side of things. Once more, we wonder, “What does it mean that the Son of God the Father is Mary’s little boy?” We are used to Jesus going off and doing His own thing. We know His propensity for parables and hidden sayings. We know He will follow His Father’s hidden will, no matter the shock it might lead to in others or the cost it would bring upon Himself.

But what does it mean for Jesus to have learned? We can go to categories like His “State of Humiliation” and kenosis, but it is difficult to wrap our minds around reconciling Luke 2:40-52 with Colossians 1:15-20. How does the second Person of the Trinity submit to Mary and Joseph (note verse 51 has them, including Joseph and not just her)? How could Jesus, very God of very God, increase in favor with God?

In acknowledging these difficulties and in holding these two questions in tension, the preacher can invite the congregation into a faith in Jesus which is more nuanced and truer to real life than any concise and comfortable answer would lead us to experience.

Because, despite the pastor often being in the role of Bible Answer Man, many in our pews (especially our young people) do not feel the Church is a safe place to ask their real questions, to have doubts, and to struggle with what they feel they are supposed to believe.

Our culture is deeply dogmatic on nearly every conceivable topic, and people feel pressure to have a strong opinion and answer about everything. In our context, it can be deeply refreshing to hear someone in the Church express humility and acknowledge the difficult questions we have as we wrestle with our own faith. Being clear about where we have questions allows us to be clearer about where we have conviction. It lets us say, “Here is what I do not know. Here is what I wonder. He is what I struggle with. But here is what I do know...”

It is in this firm transition that our confident proclamation can really shine. Because rather than pretending to know everything, which leads to a self-confidence, we can have humility in our ignorance and confidence in what God has clearly revealed in Jesus. Jesus is the One who finds the lost. Jesus is the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Jesus is the very son of Mary who takes on our flesh, takes on our sin, and reconciles us to the Father.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 2:40-52.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 2:40-52.

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Walter Maier III of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 2:40-52.