The First Place (Luke 2.22-52)
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man (52)
Here are two temple scenes. Jesus is in a holy place surrounded by pious folk. His is a family which performs everything according to the Law.
The words of the godly Simeon echo those of Zechariah (1.76): Jesus will be Israel’s salvation (30). But the Holy Spirit takes Simeon further: not just Israel’s (as he  and Anna  had anticipated), but the Gentiles’ also. Not just Israel’s salvation, but also her glory (32). Little wonder that Simeon now felt he could die in peace.
But Simeon is moved to speak further with Mary. Now echoing Isaiah (8.14-15) and Jeremiah (1.10), Simeon prophesies that her son will bring division – and grief to her as his mother. Indeed, it is a great favor to have been asked to bear God’s Son, but there will be a cost also. That tends to be the nature of partnerships with God – and parenting.
What follows 12 years later is not the sword-through-the-soul moment prophesied, but nevertheless it is a prick to the parental heart. While Joseph and Mary’s role is a special one, they cannot claim their Son’s first affection. That claim is reserved for his heavenly Father, whose will and work will henceforth dictate his every move.
The heart of the narrative is in verses 47-49. Jesus’ behavior draws amazement of two very different kinds from two different quarters: religious leaders and parents. On the one hand, Jesus bears out the comments about his wisdom (40, 52), fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy about the Davidic king (Isa 11.1-3). On the other he asserts his unique relationship to God, his heavenly Father. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” are Jesus’ first recorded words, his last being “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (23.46)
When Jesus returns to Nazareth with his parents some dynamics of their relationship have undoubtedly changed. He is no longer the child (40), the boy Jesus (43). He has grown in stature. This is not the last time Mary will overstep the boundaries of motherhood (8.19-20; Jn 2.1-5), but she and Joseph surely recognize that from now on Jesus will take center stage.
What does giving your heavenly Father first place mean for you?
Heavenly Father, I thank you for adopting me as your child and making me an heir of your kingdom. Help me to see you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly; in Jesus’ name I pray. Amen (based on a prayer of Bp Richard of Chichester, 13th C)
Michael Hewat is currently serving as the Senior Minister at West Hamilton Community Church, New Zealand
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash