If I asked you to imagine Jesus’ childhood, you’d likely picture him as a baby in the manger. But have you ever considered that Christ was once a teenager, too?
In this season that sings of “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes,” we can forget that the incarnation means Jesus became a teen, too. With hormones and growth spurts, with a changing body and a deepening voice, with all the questions and appetite and energy that young people bring.
Teens often get a terrible rap, but the roller coaster of adolescence is essential to our growth — and young people bring enormous gifts to the human family. Their enthusiasm, prophetic voices and optimism are sources of deep hope and renewal.
Still, rare is the adult who would repeat middle or high school. So what does it matter for us — young or old — that Jesus was once 13, 15 or 18 years old?
Jesus’ adolescence affirms the overlooked and underappreciated chapters in our own lives. The one story we have from Jesus’ childhood beyond his birth narratives — the time he was lost and found in the Temple — speaks to our growing callings, our desire for independence and our need for strong role models in faith.
Jesus knew what it was to see the world as a child and then grow taller, stronger and older: to change physically, emotionally and spiritually. He experienced the transformations that teens live daily: the same struggles that adults can be quick to forget when we’re frustrated or flummoxed by the young people in our lives.
What a gift that Jesus blessed our most trying, tumultuous years by living them himself.
There is good news in this truth for all of us, even those with adolescence far-off in the rearview mirror.
In Jesus’ time, life expectancy was typically 30-35 years — a shockingly short life span by our modern standards. But this fact means he lived through what his time would have considered to be young adulthood and even mature adulthood.
While he did not get to grow to be an elderly man, he lived through huge swaths of the human experience during the decades he walked among us.
As a son and cousin, Jesus understood the joys and conflicts of families. He journeyed through friendship with women and men from different walks of life. He labored for decades as a carpenter and then spent three years in public ministry as a teacher, preacher and healer, which means he understood work in many forms.
He knew physical, mental and spiritual suffering — all the ordinary and extraordinary emotions and experiences of human life.
Jesus’ adolescence reminds us that most of the Messiah’s life was not dramatic moments recorded for posterity, but everyday encounters much like our own: hidden or forgotten, but still meaningful.
Ultimately the details of age matter less than the deeper truth that God become one of us, among us, for us. Advent, Christmas and Epiphany celebrate Christ as Emmanuel: with us in each stage of life.
If you look closely in this sacred season, you might just catch a glimpse of Christ in a child’s eyes — or a teen’s smile. Whether you meet a new baby in your family, sit near a cranky toddler at church or try to make small talk with a tween at your holiday table, remember that Jesus was once their age, too.
Jesus, who knew what it was to be young, taught us to welcome the least. May his wisdom soften our hearts to heed his words and hear his echo in every baby’s cry, every child’s shout and every teenager’s voice.