Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 27, 2015

2015.12.27 “Always at Home” – Luke 2: 41 – 52

Central United Methodist Church
Always at Home
Pastor David L. Haley
The First Sunday after Christmas
Luke 2: 41 – 52
December 27th, 2015


“The Holy Family” Stained glass by Edie Schutte Martin


“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


With Christmas Day 2015 receding in the rear view mirror, in only a few days we will turn the page on another year, that is, if any of us still use paper calendars with pages to turn. I always find it always a bit shocking, the first time I write the numbers of a New Year, don’t you? In fact, most of the time I feel like I should be writing not 2016 but 2011 or 2008 or ever further back; where do the years go?

For most of us, it’s not the numbers but the images that rattle us. A comparison of pictures of ourselves now and in 2010 or 2005 and now would hopefully reveal only subtle changes, the differences that occur over five or 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 radical. Everyone here knows how much difference a year can make in the life of a child; in a year a child can shoot up 4 or 5 inches, act with growing maturity, and speak up – literally – with a new voice. As kids enter adolescence, a year can transform a child into a young man or woman in body, mind and spirit. Can I just say that as Pastor, I am always amazed how fast our children and youth are growing up, it seems every time I see them I have to raise my head a little higher. This is – of course – one of the great joys of being a Pastor, to watch our children and youth grow up and become independent, mature young adults.

In today’s Gospel, this is also what happens to Jesus. This “1st Sunday after Christmas is known as Holy Family Sunday, when we take a break from our own unholy families to see what’s happening with the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. When we last left him Jesus was a newborn 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 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 the holy habits they observed was an annual journey to Jerusalem in observance of the festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. 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. Families on a trip would usually travel together in a caravan, which contributed not only to their 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 a frightening and unforgettable turn. While it might be remembered as the year Jesus showed a serious interest in spiritual things, it would more likely be remembered by Mary and Joseph as the year they “lost” Jesus.

Traveling together in a caravan, at the end of the first day’s journey home, 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, worried sick, frantically searching for Jesus.

All of us who are parents can connect with the emotions Mary and Joseph likely experienced. Ever turn your back on your child, only to have him or her not there when you turn back around? Personally, when my children were small, I hated department stores with all those clothes racks; it’s so easy to completely lose a small child in there. Once in China, when my daughter was small, we were standing in front of an open elevator. At the last minute, she suddenly got on, and the doors closed! AHHHHHH! I ran down two flights of stairs to where the floor where the elevator had stopped, and found her under the watchful company of the hotel chef.

Like most 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 that trailed such caravans, looking for easy prey? Maybe he was ahead of them, waiting for them to catch up? Or maybe – lured by the sights and sounds of the big city – Jesus was still in Jerusalem and didn’t want to be found at all? Was he was with good people who would take care of him. Or, was he all alone, hungry, cold, and frightened? At such times, your mind goes wild.

When the text says Joseph and Mary finally found Jesus THREE DAYS LATER, most commentators count the first day as heading toward 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. (Who would have slept?) You know the rule: “Start at the last place seen;” so it seems likely the temple should be one of the first places they looked.

Who cannot identify with the words Mary utters when she finally sees her lost child, calmly sitting in the temple, listening and 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.” (For those who think it’s too mild, remember this was the Virgin Mary here.) Haven’t we all shouted at our kids when all we really wanted to do was hug them and THANK GOD they were OK?

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 what he said is not exactly clear.

In the text, there is a grammatical blank in the translation of young Jesus’ 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,” although the best guess for a grammatical and theological fit is “in my Father’s house.”

But what it demonstrates is this: even at the tender age of twelve; even before he was legally considered responsible for keeping ritual observances and the laws of the Torah at age thirteen: Jesus felt the embrace of God’s love, the special closeness of God his 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 typical of all adolescents. Adolescence is when we desire to stop being defined as our parents’ child, and start the struggle to find out who we are, and be ourselves. Need I say this? Adolescence is a tough time to be a parent. And for that matter, to be an adolescent, a “teenager.”

It has been said that 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 wouldn’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 for Temple, although, in Jesus’ case maybe not: “Do I have to go?” “Why do I have to go? It’s so boring!” Afterwards, however, his twelve year-old response does reflect the self-absorption 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 story, in the context of their own culture, they couldn’t believe Jesus would talk back to his parents this way.

Although later on, as a grown man engaged in public ministry, Jesus will again cause his family pain and confusion when they failed 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 – especially love for our children – 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 seems likely this experience must have made an impact on the young Jesus as well. Although the twelve-year-old Jesus could not grasp his parents’ frantic search for him, the adult Jesus surely must have understood how powerfully their love for him, had driven them to search for him.

Leonard Sweet* suggests that when we 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 would take this knowledge of the intimate, unbreakable bond between himself and the Father – even greater than the love of a Father or a Mother – on the road.

So, while Jesus 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), he was never truly homeless. God the Father was always resident in Jesus’ heart, which may Jesus – everywhere he went – always at home in his Father’s house. From that time forth, Jesus would never be lost or alone: Not in the wilderness. Not as he argued with the scribes and Pharisees he had once learned from. Not as he endured the denseness of his disciples. Not as he separated himself from his confused and doubting family. Not as he felt the heat of the other’s anger. Not as he faced his betrayal by those he loved most. Not even as he hung on the cross at Golgotha. Always and everywhere Jesus was at home in God’s presence and love. Since everywhere was home, everyone was also Family. Even now – we believe – he wants to make his home in us — in you and me – such that wherever we go, we too may find ourselves at home in Our Father’s house. Do you feel that way?

Therefore, let us enter a new year with expectation and anticipation. Whether we turn 16, 60, or 100 this year, whether we go through teen age or old age, whether we move into our first home or final apartment, where we go on wilderness walks or urban adventures — 2016 will be the perfect year to make ourselves at home in our Father’s house, to kick back and experience all people as family. Jesus the Christ makes it possible for all of us to experience this same immediacy as he did throughout his life, so that wherever we go and wherever we are, we are always at home in God’s house.

Oh, and one more thing: wherever you go – don’t forget to tell your family!

(*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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