At this joyous Christmas season we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The story of that birth is well-known; the story of His sacrifice is an inspiration to all. But, perhaps sadly for us, we do not know much about His youth; although because of our knowledge of His later life, we can picture the growing Boy.
From reading the scriptures we know that as a little child Jesus was watched over by angels, and His earthly parents were divinely guided. One angelic message was delivered to them about the safety of their Son, telling them that King Herod had a murderous plan. The angel said:
“Take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.” (Matt. 2:13.)
When the death of Herod was announced and the danger had passed, the angel came again, and in another dream he told the loving guardian Joseph:
“Take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel.” (Matt. 2:20.)
When the family arrived back in Palestine, there was still some fear in their minds, and the angel came again and directed them to go into Galilee. And the scriptures tell us that there “the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40.)
Jesus lived in Nazareth, which is toward the top of one of the very rough hills north of the Plain of Esdraelon. This was an interesting place to grow up, and Jesus undoubtedly had all kinds of experiences that would ripen His life for His magnificent future. From the top of the hill Jesus may have seen the military and commercial routes teeming with life and movement and commerce. The rim was precipitous and from this high place, having been angered by His teachings and claims, Jesus’ fellow townsmen once tried to cast Him down headlong, but He escaped from their clutches.
He lived probably not more than fifteen miles from the Sea of Galilee, where He would likely have learned much about clouds and storms and waves and sand and rocks and boats and ships. It was not much farther to the Mediterranean Sea, and here also He may have become acquainted with larger ships and tides and waves and streams and all the material that He referred to so eloquently in the sermons He gave later.
As a boy, Jesus could have climbed the slopes of Mount Tabor, and He may have been familiar with the place where He led three apostles in later years. To climb Mount Tabor would be a real challenge, but one that a young, growing boy might find irresistible.
Jesus also could have walked from Nazareth to the Jordan River, where there would have been numerous live animals in the brush and natural growth. He probably observed nests with bird eggs in them. Undoubtedly He had seen the foxes and had watched them escape into their holes. He also knew of the grass of the field. He knew of the barns where food was stored. He knew of the toil of men and women. Jesus grew up in a builder’s home and He knew of slivers and beams and measurements.
Jesus probably went fishing by Himself many times and helped Mary make bread. He knew of thorns and probably pulled many from His feet. He knew of figs and thistles. Certainly all these experiences were part of His life. And so when He spoke of them the people knew that He had a knowledge of those things.
And most surely Jesus knew sheep and their importance to the people. He had seen sheep without a shepherd wander away and become lost. He said to those who followed Him, “Ye are my sheep, and ye are numbered among those whom the Father hath given me.” (3 Ne. 15:24.)
To all of us He has declared: “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11.)
At this time as we open our gifts and sing happy Christmas carols, we remember that we are celebrating the birth of our Shepherd who gave us the greatest of all gifts, His life.
You boys and girls are His lambs. You, who are now children as Jesus once was, have our love, our prayers, and our blessings at this Christmas season of 1979—and always.