T HE little family from Bethlehem had only been in far-away Egypt for a year when news came that the cruel King Herod was dead, and God's word came once again to Joseph, telling him it was now safe to take the young Child and Mary His mother back to their native land. But before they reached Bethlehem they heard that Herod's son was now king, and that he was as cruel as his father had been; so they were afraid to go on, and instead they turned aside from the road and went by the winding path that led through the valley to Nazareth. There, in the quiet little village among the flowery fields, they made their home again, and Joseph once more took up his trade of village carpenter.
The Baby Jesus was but a little child when they first came to Nazareth, but He soon grew into a strong, tall boy. Only His sweet mother could have told us stories of His wonderful baby days, but all these precious stories she kept in her heart. We only know that Jesus grew "in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man," that He must have been the happiest child that ever lived because He never did anything wrong, but was kind and unselfish and full of love, first for His mother and then for every one else. He loved all God's creatures too, and the flowers and the birds. Afterwards when He became a man, and was teaching the people, He often spoke of the many things He had learnt to love as a child in the little village of Nazareth—the coloured flowers that made the fields so beautiful in spring, and the common brown sparrows which were of so little value, but which were in His Father's care.
So the years passed, until the Boy Jesus grew to be twelve years old, which was the age when Jewish boys were allowed to go with their parents for the first time to worship at the beautiful Temple at Jerusalem.
It was in the month of April that the great festival called the Passover was held, and great crowds of people wended their way along the roads that led to Jerusalem from all the villages and towns round about. It was pleasant to travel along the winding road down the valley, through the flowery fields of Nazareth, to rest under the cool green shade of the trees during the mid-day heat, to pitch white tents at night, and rest until the sun rose next day and the journey once more began. It was a wonderful journey for the Boy Jesus; and when, on the fourth day, they came in sight of Jerusalem, the great city, and saw the sun shining on the golden roof of the beautiful Temple and on the dazzling white marble of its pillars, it must have filled His heart with a great happiness. He knew all about the history of that holy city, and that the great Temple was His Father's house, but there were many other things He longed to know, many questions He wanted to ask.
All through the days of the festival the Boy Jesus was to be found in the wonderful Temple. But it was not the call of the silver trumpets, the sight of the hundreds of white-robed priests, the beauty of all the exquisite coloured marbles, or the glory of the golden treasures that drew Him there. He wanted to listen to the great teachers who taught in the Temple; He wanted to ask them questions, and to learn all that He could about His Father's house.
So, when the festival had come to an end and the people had started on their homeward journey again, Mary found that her son was missing. They had gone on for a whole day, thinking He was with the other boys, but at night discovered that He was not there at all, but must have been left behind.
Sorely troubled and in great distress Mary and Joseph turned back at once, and for three nights and days they never rested while they searched for Him. They looked through all the tents pitched outside the city, they searched through all the city itself, but in vain. At last, on the third day, they went to that part of the Temple where the great teachers were assembled together, and there in their midst they found Jesus, who sat listening, and asking questions.
"They found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors."
The poor tired mother's heart was sore with grief and anxiety.
Never before had her son caused her any pain or trouble, and now, as she
stretched out her hands to Him, she cried out the reproachful
"Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing."
Ah! but she was forgetting that He was not only her son but the Son of God, that before everything else He owed obedience to His Father, and must prepare for the work He had been sent to do. Surely she should have known that, and should not have been so troubled and afraid.
"How is it that ye sought me?" said Jesus, wonderingly. "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?"
He did not mean to hurt His gentle mother, but she must understand that God's work came before everything else. It was necessary to tell her that. But afterwards He rose obediently to go with her, leaving those learned men to wonder who this Boy could be who had asked such deep questions and showed such wonderful wisdom.
It was not time yet to begin the great work, and Jesus was ready to go back cheerfully and obediently to the little home at Nazareth, to work with Joseph in the carpenter's shop, and help His mother in the house. But all the time, day by day, He was learning to prepare Himself to be ready for the time when His work should begin.
The Boyhood of Jesus at Nazareth