Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 27, 2009

2009.12.27 “Where’s Jesus?”

Central United Methodist Church

Pastor David L. Haley

The First Sunday after Christmas

“Where’s Jesus?”

Luke 2: 41 – 52

December 27th, 2009

Every year Jesus’ parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up as they always did for the Feast. When it was over and they left for home, the child Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents didn’t know it. Thinking he was somewhere in the company of pilgrims, they journeyed for a whole day and then began looking for him among relatives and neighbors. When they didn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem looking for him.

The next day they found him in the Temple seated among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. The teachers were all quite taken with him, impressed with the sharpness of his answers. But his parents were not impressed; they were upset and hurt.

His mother said, “Young man, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you.”

He said, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?” But they had no idea what he was talking about.

So he went back to Nazareth with them, and lived obediently with them. His mother held these things dearly, deep within herself. And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people.” – Luke 2: 41 – 52, The Message

       In just a few days we will make one of those subtle but seismic shifts of the calendar that will leave us all slightly confused: the jump from 2009 to the Year of our Lord, 2010.  It marks not only the end of a year, but another decade of our lives. 

Perhaps, in preparation, we should all look up a picture of ourselves from the year 2000. Remember that? Y2K?  The celebration of another millennium, as it dawned around the world?  The sad thing, is I remember it like it was yesterday.  It fact, it seems like it was only yesterday? 

For most of us, a comparison of pictures of ourselves in 2000 and now will reveal only subtle changes, the differences which occur over ten years in life of a “mature” human being:  weight gained or lost, an increase in wrinkles, hair changing color like trees in autumn.  Character; we call it, trying to make the best of it.

For the young among us, however, the changes can be shocking. Everyone here knows how much difference a year can make in the life of a child.  In a year a child can shoot up with 4 or 5 inches of new growth, act with new emotion, energy, and insight, and speak up – literally – with a new voice.  As kids enter adolescence, one short year can transform a child into a young man or woman in body, mind and spirit. (Or more typically, and unfairly: in body, but not mind or spirit.)

This is exactly what happens with Jesus in today’s Gospel. This is the Sunday in the church year known as Holy Family Sunday, when we take a break from our own unholy families to check in with what happening with the holy family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – after Bethlehem.  We may be surprised to see that Jesus is no longer a baby in a manger (it’s amazing how much he’s grown in two days, isn’t it?) Now he’s a twelve year old visiting the temple in Jerusalem.  It’s a sneak peak into Jesus’ childhood and our only up-close and personal view of Jesus as a boy but not a baby, as a child but not an adult.

Part of what Luke is trying to tell us is that, from early on, the Holy Family was a family of holy habits:  they observed all the rituals and traditions of Judaism.  How does Proverbs put it?  “Bring up a child the way they should go, and when they are old, they will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

One of those holy habits they observed was a journey to Jerusalem in observance of the festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles; although in practice, it was customary to make the trip to Jerusalem for only one of those occasions.   

Though not arduous, the trek from Nazareth to Jerusalem was an eighty mile journey, which took three or four long days of travel. Families on a trip would travel together in a caravan, which contributed not only to safety, but to the festive atmosphere of an extended family outing.

Luke indicates that while Joseph and his family made the pilgrimage every year, it was the year Jesus turned twelve that the trip took an unexpected  – and memorable – turn. While it might be remembered as the year Jesus took a serious interest in spiritual things, it would more likely be remembered by Mary and Joseph as the year they “lost” Jesus.

All of us who are parents can connect with the emotions experienced by Mary and Joseph in today’s text.  Ever turn your back on your child, only to have him or her not there when you turn back?  As a father, I could share multiple stories, from toddlers to teenagers.  (Anna)

 Traveling together in a caravan, at the end of the first day’s journey back toward Nazareth, Joseph and Mary are horrified to discover that Jesus is not among them. (“Where’s Jesus?” “I thought he was with you!”) Joseph and Mary immediately head back to Jerusalem, frantically searching for Jesus.

Like parents, their minds must have run wild with all the possible scenarios, both comforting and chilling. Maybe Jesus had fallen in with another caravan?  Maybe he had fallen among the packs of thieves and hoodlums that dogged the heels of such caravans, looking for easy prey? Maybe he was ahead of them, anxiously waiting for them to catch up?  Or maybe Jesus had been lured by the sights and sounds of the big city and didn’t want to be found at all? Maybe their son was with good people who would take care of him? Or maybe he son was all alone, hungry, cold, and frightened? At such times, your mind goes wild.

When the text says Joseph and Mary finally found Jesus after three days, most commentators count the first day as their journey towards Nazareth, the second day as their trip back to Jerusalem, and the third day as their first actual day of looking for Jesus in the city.  You know the rule: “Start at the last place seen,” so it seems likely the temple might be one of the first places they would have looked.

Who cannot identify with the words Mary utters when she finally sees her lost child, calmly sitting in the temple, absorbed in learning at the feet of his elders? “Young man, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you.”  Haven’t we all shouted at our kids when all we really wanted to do was hug them and thank God that they were O.K.?

Jesus’ response is a classic example of the fully human/fully human divine nature of the Christ-child. On one hand, the first words he utters establish the unique intimacy of his relationship with God, even if exactly what he said is not completely clear.

In the text, there is a grammatical lacunae in any translation of young Jesus’ first words. Verse 49 translates literally as “Did you not know I must be in the . . . of my Father.” Translators have variously suggested the blank be filled as “among the Jewish teachers” or “about my Father’s business” or “be in my Father’s house,” although the best guess for a grammatical and theological fit is “in my Father’s house” — that is, the site where divine instruction takes place.

But what it demonstrates is, that even at the tender age of twelve; even before he was legally considered responsible for keeping ritual observances and the laws of the Torah: Jesus felt the embrace of divine love, the special closeness of God the Father.  It is self-evident to this young Jesus that he must be “in my Father’s house.”

On the other hand, the twelve year-old Jesus’ response also reflects the self-absorption so typical of all adolescents. Adolescence is when we stop being defined as our parents’ children and start the struggle to find and be our own selves.  

Parents of teenagers look at the Genesis story of Creation as convincing evidence of God’s wisdom and omniscience, because the Lord God created Adam and Eve as fully-grown people, so that the book of Genesis – troubled enough already – at least didn’t have to deal with teenagers.

      The Gospel of Luke doesn’t tell us whether they had to go through the usual teenager song-and-dance before they left (although in Jesus’ case maybe not): “Do I have to go?” “Why do I have to go? It’s so boring!” After the incident, his twelve year-old response does reflect the self-absorption so typical of adolescents: “Why were you searching for me?” “Duh!” In fact, being highly attuned to it, some parents might even rate this as “talk-back” or “sass.”  I once read that when West Africans heard this text, reflecting their own culture, they couldn’t believe Jesus would talk back to his parents this way.

Although later, as a grown man engaged in public ministry, Jesus will again cause his family pain and confusion as they fail to understand his mission, today it is the gut-wrenching fear for a lost child that causes Joseph and Mary pain, which Jesus does not grasp. Jesus the twelve-year-old does not yet understand how desperate and scared human love can become.

Despite Jesus’ words, despite the sense of rightness he felt in the temple, it is notable that Jesus left the temple with his parents and “was obedient to them” (verse 51). If Mary treasured this incident in her heart, it would seem likely that this experience must have made an impact on the young Jesus as well.  Although in the twelve year old Jesus could not fathom his parents’ frantic search for him, the adult Jesus must surely have understood how powerfully their love for him had driven them.

In fact, Leonard Sweet* suggests that we even read Jesus’ story of the lost sheep, we should keep this experience in mind:

So Jesus told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them ‘Rejoice, with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'” (Luke 15:3-6)

As a child, Jesus’ human parents taught him how hard love will search for the lost. As an adult, Jesus took the knowledge of this intimate, unbreakable bond between himself and the Father on the road.

So that, while he may have declared that “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58), Jesus was never truly homeless. God the Father was always in residence in Jesus’ heart. After his twelve-year old trip to the temple, Jesus learned to take his Father’s house with him wherever he went. From that time forth, Jesus could never be lost or alone: Even in the wilderness. Even as he argued with the scribes and Pharisees he used to learn from. Even as he endured the denseness of his disciples. Even as he separated himself from his confused and doubting family.  Even as he felt the heat of the other’s anger. Even as he faced his betrayal by those he loved most. Even as he hung on the cross at Golgotha.  Always and everywhere Jesus was at home with God’s presence and love. Everywhere he went was home. Everyone was family. And even now, he wants to make his home in us — in you and in me.

So let us enter a new year with anticipation.  Whether we turn 16, 60, or 100 this year, whether we go through adolescence or Afghanistan, into our first home or our last apartment, on wilderness walks or urban commutes — it is the perfect year to inaugurate a fresh beginning in our own relationship with God.  For Jesus the Christ makes it possible for all of us to experience that same immediacy, that same intimacy, with the Divine as Jesus did throughout his life, so that wherever we are, we are always at home in God’s house.

Oh, and wherever you go . . . don’t forget to tell your family where you’re going!

(*This sermon is based upon a 2003 sermon by Len Sweet, in PreachingPlus, “Wherever You Are, You’re Always at Home,” 12/28/03)

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