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A Word to Parents on the First Day of School

"Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work.  He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli, ... son of Enos, son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God." - Luke 3:23, 38

Today I'm taking delight in seeing all of the pictures up on Facebook documenting "first days of school" for many children.  What a joy it is to see the smiling faces of friends' little ones heading off to pre-school all the way up to high school!

Yesterday, we began the journey again with Jesus, starting with him on what amounts to a type of "first day" moment in his life:  his baptism.  Jesus steps forward to assume his calling, and as he does so, the Heavenly Father takes a moment to speak affirmation and express genuine support for His Son, just as parents did around town this morning, giving that last little word of encouragement out the door or giving one more hug at the front entrance to the school.

As parents, we do this for a reason.  We see these moments as sending moments - times when we are placing our trust and hope in the fact that our son or daughter will go forward into that new classroom and grade and will be able to navigate that world full of temptations and pitfalls.  Our hope is that each year, our child will grow more and more into a healthy, free and loving individual.  We want to see our children grow into lives of love and service to the wider world by using his or her unique talents and gifts.

In the same way, God the Father is commissioning Jesus for his own adventure out into the widest school we all enter:  the school of life.  Will Jesus be successful?  Will Jesus pass the test?  Or, will he get tripped up along the way and fail to progress and find the best way to live this life.  Will he settle for something less?

The next passage following Jesus' baptism should give us cause for concern.  It should up the ante on this task Jesus is hoping to accomplish.  In the next sixteen verses, we are introduced to Jesus' family, starting with Joseph and working backwards.  And what we find is a proud heritage, but also one with plenty of cracks in the foundation.  To begin with we start with this curious little addition from Luke  "[Jesus] was the son (as was thought) of Joseph ..." (Lk. 3:23).  No less than five words into Jesus' family tree we see the first battle he will have to fight.  It's the same battle a lot of middle school kids know all about:  the little dints in our family that are ripe for public ridicule.  For that matter, it's the battle we all have to keep fighting.  We all have these dints and dings in our family that others can look down upon or question or point to as proof of our "lower" status.

The challenges don't stop there.  We go on to read those long lists of names that we all struggle to pronounce.  But, of course, as we learned in Bible school, that genealogy includes some individuals who lived lives of splendid faith and brilliantly bold love.  But, it also includes a lot of "skeletons in the closet" moments:  men who pretty much stole anything that you can in life (from birth rites to wives) and tried to grab everything that they shouldn't or were told not to (forbidden fruit).

In short, Jesus' is stepping into this beautiful new calling with a ton of family baggage.  And it all comes to a head at the very end when we read this dynamic, paradoxical truth:  "son of Adam, son of God" (Lk. 3:38).

In those two statements is where all the drama is located.  Whose son will ultimately turn out to be?  Will he end up being like Adam?  Will he come up short and have his own fall from grace?  Will he fail - like God's other child, Israel failed - to live up to God's great hopes and expectations?  Will he not make it through the school we call humanity?  What a heartache that would be for our Heavenly Parent?

Or, will Jesus be able to live up to and into his true identity:  son of God?  Will he emerge from the school of his life fully mature and fully able to love?  Will God who is Love be able to smile over the whole of his life, and be there for his graduation day?  Will our Heavenly Parent continue to find and take delight in the actions and words of his only begotten Son?

We know the answer, of course.  It's not much of a secret.  Jesus does make it all the way through ... beautifully ... faithfully.

Except, the only twist is that this school doesn't end with a grand, public graduation with silly-string, valedictorian speeches and the throwing of caps.  No, Jesus will finish this school well by doing the absolutely most beautiful thing:  completely pouring out his life in love for the sake of others.  He will go where we feared to tread:  into complete trust, into the darkness of loss, into those hardest parts of our humanity that we only really begin to learn about as we pass from elementary school's innocence through jr. high's trials and into sr. high's dramas.  He will not make one single mistake.

That's the good news, and it is a comfort.

As a parent, though, I recognize that it's one thing to know the Bible stories.  It's another thing to keep up the optimism and trust, especially in these vulnerable, raw moments when you are releasing your child out into the wider world.  We know just how hard the journey still is.  We know that our children will have to learn to navigate a lot more than just hallways.  They will have to learn to navigate emotions and an overly-sexualized and aggressive culture.

I think that's why these "first day of school" pictures are so powerful.  We are beginning to release our children out into a world where we know there will be mistakes.  We know there will be bruises and scrapes.  We know that it won't be long before our children will find others poking and prodding their weaknesses (are you really sure Joseph is your father, Jesus?).  We are hoping that our children will manage these difficulties well.  And when we take these pictures, we are pledging to be there for our children through the honor rolls, but also through the teenage heartbreaks.

I've been listening to the group "The Oh Hellos" quite a lot lately, and one of my favorite songs has quickly become, "I Have Made Mistakes."  Parents:  it seems like an especially apt song for us to keep in our back pocket for a few months down the road.  Today, we are filled with hope for the new year.  Our son's hair is (almost) perfectly combed.  Our daughter's hair is neatly braided.  But, we know that as the weeks go by, the daily attrition of life will begin to wear us and our children down.  And at some point, we'll have to face it.  Yup, we are still the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.  We have made mistakes.  We continue to make them.  "The promises I've made, I continue to break them.  All the doubts I face ... all the doubts I face ... I continue to face them."  Each and every one of us seeking to go through this school called life will fall short of the glory.

But, what I love about "The Oh Hellos" song is how the quiet admission of sin and brokenness builds into a strong decree that we will overcome our shortcomings.  We will get beyond our apathy, our fears, and our middle school bullies.  "We are not alone in the dark with our demons."

The good news for each of us as we begin this school year is that the son of Adam and the son of God named Jesus will never leave our side as we make this journey.  We are not alone.

As parents we know we can't always be there for our children.  It gets kind of awkward when you try to sit in those tiny desks!  But we can continue - through prayer and through our love - to hand our children over and over again to him, and we can hope to point our children in the direction of Jesus' life.  We can point to his words and his actions as the common core for this life.

And we can remind them that no matter how many tests they fail (in the classroom or in life), Jesus will not forsake them.  He will not hurt a bruised reed.  We will not turn away anyone who turns to him ... no matter where they end up in the pecking order that is the middle school cafeteria, no matter what kind of family they come from.

Thanks be to God that we've got one who stepped out into the school of life so that we all might find life, help, and salvation ... no matter how old we are.

~Wes


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