And Jesus increased in wisdom, and in stature, and in favour both with God and man.
I do not pretend to understand these words. I preach on them because the Church has appointed them for this day. And most fitly. At Christmas we think of our Lord's birth. What more reasonable, than that we should go on to think of our Lord's boyhood? To think of this aright, even if we do not altogether understand it, ought to help us to understand rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ; the right faith about which is, that he was very man, of the substance of his mother. Now, if he were very and real man, he must have been also very and real babe, very and real boy, very and real youth, and then very and real full-grown man.
Now it is not so easy to believe that as it may seem. It is not so easy to believe.
I have heard many preachers preach (without knowing it), what used to be called the Apollinarian Heresy, which held that our Lord had not a real human soul, but only a human body; and that his Godhead served him instead of a human soul, and a man's reason, man's feelings.
About that the old fathers had great difficulty, before they could make people understand that our Lord had been a real babe. It seemed to people's unclean fancies something shocking that our Lord should have been born, as other children are born. They stumbled at the stumbling-block of the manger in Bethlehem, as they did at the stumbling-block of the cross on Calvary; and they wanted to make out that our Lord was born into the world in some strange way -- I know not how; -- I do not choose to talk of it here:- but they would fancy and invent anything, rather than believe that Jesus was really born of the Virgin Mary, made of the substance of his mother. So that it was hundreds of years before the fathers of the Church set people's minds thoroughly at rest about that.
In the same way, though not so much, people found it very hard to believe that our Lord grew up as a real human child. They would not believe that he went down to Nazareth, and was subject to his father and mother. People believe generally now -- the Roman Catholics as well as we -- that our Lord worked at his father's trade -- that he himself handled the carpenter's tools. We have no certain proof of it: but it is so beautiful a thought, that one hopes it is true. At least our believing it is a sign that we do believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ more rightly than most people did fifteen hundred years ago. For then, too many of them would have been shocked at the notion.
They stumbled at the carpenter's shop, even as they did at the manger and at the cross. And they invented false gospels -- one of which especially, had strange and fanciful stories about our Lord's childhood -- which tried to make him out.
Most of these stories are so childish I do not like to repeat them. One of them may serve as a sample. Our Lord, it says, was playing with other children of his own age, and making little birds out of clay: but those which our Lord made became alive, and moved, and sang like real birds. -- Stories put together just to give our Lord some magical power, different from other children, and pretending that he worked signs and wonders: which were just what he refused to work.
But the old fathers rejected these false gospels and their childish tales, and commanded Christian men only to believe what the Bible tells us about our Lord's childhood; for that is enough for us, and that will help us better than any magical stories and childish fairy tales of man's invention, to believe rightly that God was made man, and dwelt among us.
And what does the Bible tell us? Very little indeed. And it tells us very little, because we were meant to know very little. Trust your Bibles always, my friends, and be sure, if you were meant to know more, the Bible would tell you more.
It tells us that Jesus grew just as a human child grows, in body, soul, and spirit.
Then it tells us of one case -- only one -- in which he seemed to act without his parents' leave. And as the saying is, the exception proves the rule. It is plain that his rule was to obey, except in this case; that he was always subject to his parents, as other children are, except on this one occasion. And even in this case, he WENT back with them, it is expressly said, and was subject to them.
Now, I do not pretend to explain WHY our Lord stayed behind in the temple.
I cannot explain (who can?) the why and wherefore of what I see people do in common daily life.
How much less can one explain why our Lord did this and that, who was both man and God.
But one reason, and one which seems to me to be plain, on the very face of St. Luke's words -- he stayed behind to learn; to learn all he could from the Scribes and Pharisees, the doctors of the law.
He told the people after, when grown up, 'The Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. All therefore which they command you, that observe and do.' And he was a Jew himself, and came to fulfil all righteousness; and therefore he fulfilled such righteousness as was customary among Jews according to their law and religion.
Therefore I do not like at all a great many pictures which I see in children's Sunday books, which set the child Jesus in the midst, as on a throne, holding up his hand as if HE were laying down the law, and the Scribes and Pharisees looking angry and confounded. The Bible says not that they heard him, but that he heard them; that they were astonished at his understanding, not that they were confounded and angry. No. I must believe that even those hard, proud Pharisees, looked with wonder and admiration on the glorious Child; that they perhaps felt for the moment that a prophet, another Samuel, had risen up among them. And surely that is much more like the right notion of the child Jesus, full of meekness and humility; of Jesus, who, though 'he were a Son, learnt obedience by the things which he suffered;' of Jesus, who, while he increased in stature, increased in favour with MAN, as well as with God: and surely no child can increase in favour either with God or man, if he sets down his elders, and contradicts and despises the teachers whom God has set over him. No let us believe that when he said, 'Know ye not that I must be about my Father's business?' that a child's way of doing the work of his Father in heaven is to learn all that he can understand from his teachers, spiritual pastors, and masters, whom God the Father has set over him.
Therefore -- and do listen to this, children and young people -- if you wish really to think what Christ has to do with YOU, you must remember that he was once a real human child -- not different outwardly from other children, except in being a perfectly good child, in all things like as you are, but without sin.
Then, whatever happens to you, you will have the comfort of feeling -- Christ understands this; Christ has been through this. Child though I am, Christ can be touched with the feeling of my weakness, for he was once a child like me.
And then, if trouble, or sickness, or death come among you -- and you all know how sickness and death HAVE come among you of late -- you may be cheerful and joyful still, if you will only try to be such children as Jesus was. Obey your parents, and be subject to them, as he was; try to learn from your teachers, pastors, and masters, as he did; try and pray to increase daily in favour both with God and man, as he did: and then, even if death should come and take you before your time, you need not be afraid, for Jesus Christ is with you.
Your childish faults shall be forgiven you for Jesus' sake; your childish good conduct shall be accepted for Jesus Christ's sake; and if you be trying to be good children, doing your little work well where God has put you, humble, obedient, and teachable, winning love from the people round you, and from God your Father in heaven, then, I say, you need not be afraid of sickness, not even afraid of death, for whenever it takes you, it will find you about your Father's business.