For most of us, it’s a roller coaster. There seems no higher privilege when you are looking at your baby fast asleep in her cot; or when your little son has just won the 100 metres race at school sports’ day; or when your daughter has just graduated from university; or simply in those intimate moments when you get to share their lives, no matter what age or what stage they are.There seems no greater pain when you are faced with a rebellious child who wants to go his/her own way, regardless of the consequences; or when your child has been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease; or when your teen or young person is broken-hearted and you want to carry their pain for them and can’t.
Mary and Joseph had the greatest privilege any parents could wish for, certainly any Jewish parents of the day would have wished for: to be the ones chosen to parent the baby Jesus. Yet it could also be argued that they faced greater pain than any other parent: as their boy grew up, they began to realise what was ahead of him – and of them. Let’s use a little snapshot from their story to provide us with an example of both the pain and the privilege of parenthood. You will find it in Luke 2:41-52.
Mary and Joseph had been to the temple in Jerusalem for one of the annual Jewish feasts. This had required a 70-mile journey from their home town in Nazareth. After one day’s journey on the way back home, they discovered Jesus was not with them and they had to retrace their steps.
V.46-48 ‘After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And 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.”
Anyone who has temporarily lost a child will know the tremendous sense of relief when he or she is found – but it is often mingled with at least some degree of anger at the distress the unknowing child has put the parents through. Here we see a very human side to Mary as she personalises what was not personal – ‘why have you treated us so?’.
Being a parent is hard. The job doesn’t come with a manual and we all learn on the job. Sometimes we personalise what is not personal. Sometimes we react with anger. As parents, we probably never thought it was possible to love another human being so fiercely as we love our own children. But we perhaps also never thought another human being could make us so mad as our own children seem able to do. It is often when we become parents that we realise how desperately we need help, not just in coping with our children, but also in coping with ourselves. We find out things about ourselves that we never knew. God often uses parenting to show us how much we need help ourselves.
Joseph and Mary certainly needed help as parents. If they were surprised to find their boy In the temple with the rabbis, they were even more surprised by his reply when Mary rebuked him for causing them so much distress.
V.49-50 ‘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’.
If parenting is a tough job, then parenting for Mary and Joseph had extra demands. Jesus was no ordinary child. Their task was unique. They didn’t understand who he was. No doubt there would be plenty more moments like this as they would seek to parent this extraordinary child.
Paul Tripp says, ‘Parenting is hard, but there are few things in life that rise to this level of importance. God has chosen parents to be primary instruments in the shaping of a human soul.’
For Joseph and Mary, this privilege was even more evident, because they were being asked to parent a very extraordinary child. Even at the tender age of 12, Jesus understood who he was. He knew that his real father was God, not Joseph, and he knew that the temple was his Father’s house. Here he was in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
Yet the next verse tells us:
V.51 ‘And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.’
That has to be one of the most amazing verses in the bible. The God who is the Creator of the universe, the One who holds the world in his hands, the One who flung stars into space, has first confined Himself to the womb of a peasant girl, then has been born in a manger with animals standing by, and now he submits himself to Joseph and Mary – young, inexperienced first-time parents who don’t understand who he is.
Not much wonder we read in the next verse:
V.51 ‘And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.’
Earlier we read her of her pondering in her heart what the shepherds had told her about how they had heard of the birth of Jesus. No doubt, as Jesus grew up, Mary had a lot of moments to treasure, a lot to ponder.
For this baby in the manger, this 12-year old boy talking to teachers in the temple, this one whom Mary and Joseph had the task of parenting, was none other than the Son of God. Mary cradled him in her arms – but he held her breath in his hand. Joseph would no doubt teach him his craftsmanship of carpentry – but one day he would carry a cross of wood. He would willingly die on it. Why?
Because he was no ordinary child. Yes, in one sense he was the son of Mary and Joseph – they had been given the privilege of being his parents. But he was in actual fact the Son of God, the Redeemer. While on the one hand, Joseph and Mary met his needs as he was growing up, he had come to meet their needs – and the needs of us all. He came to rescue us. He knew we couldn’t do life on our own. He knew we couldn’t cope with our own failings, never mind those of our children. He knew we would keep messing up. He knew we desperately needed help.
“The good news of the kingdom is not freedom from hardship, suffering, and loss. It is the news of a Redeemer who has come to rescue me from myself. His rescue produces change that fundamentally alters my response to these inescapable realities. The Redeemer turns rebels into disciples, fools into humble listeners. He makes cripples walk again. In him we can face life and respond with faith, love, and hope. And as he changes us, he allows us to be a part of what he is doing in the lives of others. As you respond to the Redeemer’s work in your life, you can learn to be an instrument in his hands.” Paul Tripp.
Does that sound too good to be true? That’s why Jesus came. Maybe you realise you can’t parent on your own. Maybe you’ve lost sight of the privilege of it and just feel the pain of it. Perhaps you’ve messed up as a parent and need his help to start over again. Maybe you’re weary of the relentless physical demands of parenting little ones. Maybe you are exhausted from the draining emotional demands of parenting teens. Maybe your heart has been broken one too many times. Maybe you just don’t know where to turn.
Whatever your needs are, come to Jesus. He can forgive you and help you start over again; he can give you rest; he can give you wisdom; he will take you on an incredible journey which will not only change you but also allow you to be an instrument of change in others, not least your children. There can be no greater privilege.