We don’t spend very much time after Christmas thinking about Christ in his childhood. From the period between his birth until his first public appearance around the age of 30, the Gospels don’t say a lot. St Matthew tells us about things that happened to him, like the visit of the Magi and the flight into Egypt. The only account of something that Jesus himself did before the age of 30 is the story of him lost and found in the temple — a 30 second description to fill 30 years of life!
If we want to imagine what Christ was like growing up, we have to fill in some of the gaps from what we already know. And to do so is not a waste of time. Our Lord will have retained something of his childlike innocence throughout his life. Think, for example, of Our Lord’s sense of humour. He certainly had one (could he have been truly human without it?) but it’s one of those things that is very difficult to convey. The Gospels rarely attempt to do so.
And yet we can still fill in some of the gaps. Our Lord was perfect. He must have had a very good sense of humour then, and could surely have been very funny when he chose to be. When he wanted to, he must have been able to make the disciples roar with laughter as they trekked between the towns and villages of Galilee. And yet always he could have done so without having to resort to anything offensive or indecent. He would never have made a joke that was unkind or hurtful. He can’t have found enjoyment in the suffering of others. That childlike innocence must have stayed with him even as a fully grown adult, yet always without any sense of immaturity.
One of the reasons we might find it hard to imagine his human character in this way is, perhaps, because we so rarely encounter such innocence for ourselves among adults. But it’s not impossible, and just occasionally it does happen. It’s one of the things that made our own St Philip so attractive to people. St John Henry describes him in his litany as a ‘light of holy joy’ and ‘image of childhood’.
We might not always have been as innocent as Christ, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying to share more in those childlike parts of his character that he maintained for the rest of his life. And to do that, we have to think about those hidden years, where even in his obscurity, Christ is teaching us what we should be like ourselves.
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