“According to Custom”

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom (Luke 2:41-42).

There’s something about the start of a new year that presents us with promise and possibility. We know that turning the page of the calendar or counting down the seconds that lead us to 12:00 a.m. on January 1 doesn’t really change our lives. The life we have now is the same life we had a few days ago, or six months ago.

But maybe change is possible.

Maybe we can become different in some way.

Some of us embrace this possibility with very specific statements. We make resolutions that express what this desired change will look like. Others of us, having made too many resolutions that were soon abandoned, stay silent in our yearning for change.

In the field of behavioral / neuroscience there’s a fair amount of literature that has emerged on the power of forming “habits.” The changes we yearn for at the start of a new year won’t likely happen in a singular moment of steely resolve. Significant change seems to happen in small and incremental ways.

There’s a difference between making resolutions and forming habits.

Identity Before Ministry

As we begin a new year at Grace Church Bethlehem, we’re continuing our journey through the Gospel of Luke. On New Year’s Day Marnie transitioned us from “Luke: The Nativity” to “Luke: The Mission.” In the early weeks of this year we’ll be giving our attention to the things that Jesus said and the deeds he performed.

Luke builds a bridge from the Christmas stories to Jesus’ ministry by giving us a glimpse of the adolescent son of Mary and Joseph. Only Luke tells this story of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem when Jesus is twelve years old. As Marnie explained on Sunday, this story is significant because “before Jesus can take up his ministry, he has to double down on his identity.”

Jesus’ public ministry started when he was thirty years old. But his sense of who he was, his identity and relation to God the Father, began to take shape long before that. That’s what Luke allows us to see in the adolescent Jesus.

Luke doesn’t explain how this happened – but he does show us something important about the context in which Jesus’ identity emerged. Jesus’ family lived “according to custom.”

They practiced certain habits that provided a foundation for a certain kind of life. One of those habits was an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover (2:41).

Habits for A New Year

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. On a recent podcast interview he stated that “habits are behaviors that embody the kind of person we want to be.” In other words, habits – and that includes the smallest repeated behaviors – express our identity.  

What habits are seeking to cultivate or change in the year ahead?

I’ve sometimes been critical of going to church as “a matter of habit.” The example of Jesus seems to confront me with my error. The adult Jesus went to the synagogue “as was his custom” (Luke 4:16). The adolescent Jesus made pilgrimage to Jerusalem “according to custom.”

Our practices shape our identity. Habits form who we are.

For Jesus, a foundational practice was being “in my Father’s house.” We’ll take a closer look at that tomorrow.

For today, take a look at your habits. What do thy say about who you are? What habits would allow you to become the person God is calling you to be?


Gracious God, we know too well the limits of our good intentions and firm resolve. We look to you and your grace for the life we yearn to live in this coming year. And yet, we are not passive in our quest. Use the simple practices that we are able to do to shape us into the people you have called us to be. By your Spirit, be at work to shape the likeness of Jesus in us, the one in whose name we pray. Amen.  

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