A sermon preached by Dale Ann Gray at First Congregational Church on December 28, 2003
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Luke 2:41-52
We were driving up the coast of Maine to see a total eclipse of the sun. It was 1960-something. We had just stopped for gas and a restroom break. All six of us (mom, dad, and the four kids aged 6-12) climbed back into the Volks Wagon Microbus, and we were off again. After about a half hour my dad asked Chuck a question. No answer. "Where's Chuck?" He's not in the car. We were one short. "Oh my gosh, we left him at the gas station!" Dad immediately turned the car around and went back to find him. Their twelve-year old son left in a strange place, my parents were anxious indeed!
What do you suppose Mary felt when she and Joseph had traveled an entire day before they realized their party was one short? We don't have to do too much guessing, because Luke tells us she and Joseph were filled with anxiety. They had finished celebrating Passover. God had once again been remembered and thanked for delivering the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. God had been praised for the landmark founding of the nation of Israel. Every year they went up to Jerusalem. Every year it was a three-day journey. Every year Jesus grew a little bigger, a little more independent.
Luke does not tell us that Jesus asked permission to stay in Jerusalem. In fact, it's fair to assume that he did not. His mom and dad did not know where he was. They thought he was riding with his cousins, or with some of their neighbors. After checking all the possibilities, their fears were confirmed. He must be back in Jerusalem. They had to travel back an entire day's journey, perhaps fifteen to twenty miles, then spend another day searching the city. That also means that Jesus had to spend a couple of nights in Jerusalem alone at twelve-years-old. Can you imagine what fears must have plagued Mary and Joseph? Can you hear their conversation? "What could have possessed him to be so irresponsible?" "Oh, God, keep him safe!" "Where might he be?" "You check the market, I'll check the inn. Let's meet back at the temple." And there he was sitting with the rabbis asking intelligent questions Poor Mary. Poor Joseph. What a mix of emotions. Relief, anger, frustration, love, joy, and more anger. Every commentary I read blamed Mary and Joseph. They elaborated in great detail, on what it meant for Mary and Joseph to be so anxious, to experience the sin of anxiety. All I can say is those commentators must have never left a child behind. Jesus was only 12. He did not ask permission. He did not consider his parents' care and concern for him. They were worried sick, and exhausted from their search.
Would our theology come tumbling down and lie in ruins at our feet if Jesus behaved like a twelve-year-old? I'm sure the theologians and biblical scholars are correct in their dissection of this passage, that it plays an important role in identifying Jesus as "Son of God," that it rounds out the infancy narratives with a coming of age story unique to Luke. But for us, right here, this morning, it gives a glimpse into the real life dysfunction of family during the holidays. Jesus was a child, a boy, not yet thirteen, the age later recognized as the beginning of manhood. When confronted with his lack of consideration, did he apologize? No. He did what any self-respecting twelve-year-old would do; he blame shifted. THEY should have known! And I'm sorry, but I think he gives a fairly smart-aleck answer. "You really should have known Duh! I'd be in my Father's house." Well, what's Joseph? Chopped liver? Joseph, who stood by Mary, pregnant before their marriage Joseph, who raised Jesus as his own son Joseph who, with Mary had searched high and low for their missing son for three days! Don't you think Joseph may have had a few choice words for Jesus at that moment? I bet Mary and Joseph gave Jesus lectures 29-B, C, D, E, and F. You know the one about letting mom and dad know where you are the one about asking permission to go somewhere the one about not talking to strangers the one about being considerate, respectful, obedient to your parents the one about honoring your parents the one about treating others the way you'd like to be treated. Mary and Joseph must have given Jesus a lot of his later material in that temple lecture.
The very next sentence in our text leaves room for this interpretation. It says, "THEN he went down to Jerusalem with them AND WAS OBEDIENT." "Then" as in "after that" as in "as a result of this" "THEN HE WAS OBEDIENT TO THEM."
Family life is hard especially around the holidays. We have an idea about what family life OUGHT to be We have a God-placed understanding and yearning for wholeness: peace and love and raucous laughter and quiet and safety. But so often, families are not that at all. Families are filled with emerging adults, toddlers, babies, elders, anxious parents, demanding in-laws. Just when we want to hear more and more about our kids' lives, that's about the time they begin to withdraw. That's when they decide to stay in Jerusalem, to linger too long at the gas station candy counter.
Holiday stress wreaks havoc throughout December. We work hard to prepare. We decorate, we bake, we clean, we shop, we wrap, we cook, we travel, we host, we are hosted. We know how things OUGHT to be, but we have no power to make them turn out that way. Tempers flair, feelings are hurt, old scripts are acted out one more time. Wholeness eludes us. In this holy season, we search for wholeness, but families are broken broken by time, and distance, and disaster, and illness, and death. Amidst the brokenness of our lives, where in the world is Jesus Christ?
Where did Mary and Joseph find Jesus? In their search. They found Jesus in their quest for him. Famous mystic and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, once said, "I search for God, therefore I have found him." In Luke's Gospel, just a few chapters later, Jesus' own words are, "Seek, and you shall find." Where is God in the midst of our suffering? That is the answer. God is with us in the midst of our suffering. Just as Mary and Joseph ran through the streets of Jerusalem, calling out, "Jesus! Jesus, where are you?" asking others, "Have you seem my son?" God calls out to us, in our fear, in our loneliness, in our desperation, "Come to me, and rest."
Where in the world is Jesus Christ? Our text says, " as usual, they went up" to Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph found Jesus in their experience, year by year, day by day, moment by moment. We can find Jesus in our experience, both communal and personal. We can find Jesus in our experience as a human family. We can find Jesus in the outpouring of compassion, love, and support for the people of Bam, Iran, where twenty to forty thousand were killed, and 70% of the city is homeless, due to Friday's devastating earthquake. The destruction overwhelms us. And Jesus is there.
We find Jesus in our personal histories, in times of celebration. I saw Jesus, right here, on Saturday, December 13th, at my son, Nathanael's, wedding. As all eyes were glued to the Broad Street doors, waiting expectantly for his bride, Sarah, to enter, I turned to watch his face when he saw her. He was so nervous and tense. The doors opened, and there she was, the love of his life. He melted, and smiled in what Tim Ahrens later described as "dissassociative bliss." I saw Jesus in Nathanael's face.
Just as Mary and Joseph eventually did find Jesus, my mom and dad found Chuck walking up the highway in the direction we had left patiently walking, one step at a time. He was a little scared, but figured we'd find him soon enough. My parents were relieved.
Where in the world is Jesus Christ? Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple with the elders. We can always find Jesus in the temple, sitting with the elders, the wise, the teachers, the rabbis. We find Jesus in a holy place. The easy application is that we find Jesus in church, but what place is not made holy by the presence of Christ? God, who fills all in all, has made the world a temple. Where can we not find God? The Epistles tell us that our bodies are a temple. Look inside, look outside. God is there, in the midst of our suffering, in the midst of our joy, beckoning us toward wholeness. Amen.
Copyright 2003, The First Congregational Church
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