The gospels present Jesus Christ extensively at his birth, we have a glimpse of him when he was 12 years old, and then we see him starting his ministry when he was about 30 years old. His ministry lasted for three years. Thus, there are many more years where we know nothing about his life than years we know about. At the time of his birth, we are told that Mary accepted the will of God to become the Mother of Jesus, the baby was born in Bethlehem, and that his mother hid in her heart all the things that the shepherds and the priests at the temple told her. We encounter Jesus again when he became a part of the synagogue’s minyan (a quorum made up of Jewish males who passed their 13th birthday). His parents found him in intense conversation with the elders of the temple, which led to a conflict with his mother over the purpose of his life.
The next 17 years are summarized in these words: “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:51-52) When he starts his ministry, it is interesting to read about the conversations in his childhood city. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where did this man get all these things (teachings)? And they took offense at him.” (Matthew 13:55-57) At the start of his ministry, we do not read anything about Joseph, but he is known to his community as the carpenter’s son.
I am writing this column while reflecting on the ways that Jesus and our children grow up. From time to time, we want to speed up the growth of our children or the people who come to our churches, so they can become adults and leaders of the church. One of my favorite illustrations is that toast is good, but burnt toast is less desirable. In a couple of the churches where I served, people who had a banking background were put in charge of the church’s finances. This seemed like a great idea, but we became a savings bank instead of expanding our offerings for the Kingdom of God. It took a number of years for those people to mature and see that God did not call us to be a fiduciary trust, but a place where we spend our resources while trusting that God will replenish them and believing that we can never outgive God.
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My wife and I raised four daughters. Now that we have four grandchildren, it is a lot of fun to observe from a distance all those things that we did as we raised our own children. We cannot speed up their progression; they must meet each milestone in their own time. During those first few years, there are lots of diapers, spit up, and sleepless nights. Then the terrible twos begin, and we see the identity of the child come through—stubborn, quiet, playful, artistic, or challenging. Then you observe the trajectory as they grow. The early elementary years often bring trips to the emergency room, emerging interests, and those yearly pictures where we see how quickly our children are growing.
Then comes what I call the temple visit. Without saying it out loud, the child’s eyes say, “Tati (Buni) are you aware that I know so much more than you do?” I remember that our firstborn had read more books than I did by the time she was twelve because she has a phenomenal speed-reading ability and could read several books in a day. Her son and I had breakfast at one of my favorite places and we agreed that he would not bring any screens. Instead, we decided that we would discuss mythology, which is one of his favorite subjects. I fared very well on Greek and Roman mythology, but failed miserably at Viking mythology. I took him home and as we opened the door he shouted to his mother, “I beat Buni at Viking mythology!” He turned thirteen this month, and becomes a part of the church minyan. I am looking forward to his challenges to his grandfather and his parents.
For the brevity of this article, we shall skip over college life and dating with one exception. Our family rule was that our daughters could not date anyone who did not have dinner at our table. If they survived the lively dinner conversation and we felt that they were respectful of us and our daughter, dating was allowed.
I do not know if Mary ever expressed how proud she was of her son. Did she say to her friends that she was proud that he learned so much from her husband Joseph and has become an excellent carpenter? Did she ever say, “Do you see that he looks exactly like me?” These are blessed years for me, when I can ask other people: Do you know that my daughter has a blog? Do you know that my daughter speaks Swahili? Do you know that my daughter’s work takes her around the world to test medical equipment? Do you know that my daughter is in a doctoral program?
We can celebrate our churches and jobs in the same way. Do you know that our church has the best deacons? Do you know that our church has sent this many people into the pastorate? Did you know about the excellent pastors who graduated from our seminary or the students who became professors themselves?
We celebrate milestone and birthdays, but there is so much work that goes on in between those highlights. Those events are short, but the work in between consumes our energy, brings white hairs to our heads, and makes our prayer life deeper as we pray that God will protect and bless the work of our hands that God has entrusted to us.