Scripture: Luke 2:41-52
It was the Spring in 2014, just a few months, after we had come to Edinburgh. Since it had gotten warm, we were finishing the last remnants of unpacking and taking care of the boxes that had been thrown into the garage back in January. Connor, who was four at the time, was playing in the backyard. I had to take something or another to the front of the house, and when I came back he was gone. The panic started fairly mildly, and I went inside the house looking for him. My wife quickly confirmed he was not inside. The sense of panic and urgency started to increase. Quickly, I checked the garage. Not there either. My heart started to beat faster. I ran around the alley, looking to see if he wandered that way, I even called his name. Nothing. At this point the worst case scenarios started playing out in my mind. With no place else to check, I came into the church. There I found him, in the kitchen. I do not remember what exactly was going on over here, but Miss Rae Jean had come out the pantry door for some reason and Connor followed her back inside. All told, he was probably “missing” for less than two minutes. However, those 120 seconds were some of the scariest of my life. I tell this story, because I can in some small measure begin to appreciate how Mary and Joseph must have felt. Their child was missing for way more than 120 seconds, and they had miles of area and an entire city to search for him.
One of the doctrinal things that not just us, but all branches of Christianity believe, is that Jesus was perfect. This means he never, once in his life sinned. Now I affirm and sincerely believe that to be true. At the same time though, having a small idea of how many grey hairs Jesus must have caused in this scripture, I have to wonder how doing something that causes that much panic is not somehow sinful. Of course it was not, as Jesus chose to honor his Father in heaven. Jesus scared his parents by choosing to put his Father in heaven first in all things. As we journey into a new year, this morning’s scripture challenges us to ask ourselves can we make a similar commitment?
This morning’s scripture covers the one story in the gospels we have of Jesus as a boy. On the surface level this story is a little odd, and it raises some questions. This is one of those scriptures that really requires us to put ourselves into it, so that we get a better understanding of just what is going on.
The first question, is just how on earth did Mary and Joseph lose Jesus? It seems like having your kid with you would be a must before traveling, and when they started they probably did. This event happened at the end of the Passover festival. In Jewish law there are three major festivals that all Jewish males are to attend, and during the first century the way this was attended was by journeying to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. The Passover was the big one, and it is likely that many of the towns and villages of Galilee emptied out as those who were able made the journey to Jerusalem. If everyone is going to the same place by the same way, it makes a lot of sense to travel together. There is safety in numbers, there is immediate help if needed, and resources can be pooled and shared. It is likely that every year Mary, Joseph, and Jesus made the same trip, with the same people. They were not journeying with strangers, they were traveling with a dozens strong caravan of family, friends, and close acquaintances. Given that, it begins to make more sense how they lost track of Jesus. They were with people they felt safe with, and they had made this journey for several years. They were probably used to a young Jesus running being with friends as they walked the journey. There had probably been other years where they made the journey and from the time they started in the morning, to the time they made camp, never saw Jesus as he was somewhere else within the group. I can imagine that first night, probably somewhere around Jericho, when everything began to settle and Jesus did not come and find Mary and Joseph. I can imagine how the initial uneasiness, turned into panic, which blossomed into full hysteria as they began to imagine the worst case scenarios.
The other head scratching thing about this story, is how Jesus spent three days without parents in the temple courts. After all, that is the same amount of time that Kevin Mcallister is Home Alone and apparently everyone is cool with Jesus hanging out in the temple courts. Again, in the context this begins to make a bit more sense. First, Jerusalem still would have had excess people. Passover was the biggest of the three annual Jewish celebrations, and it is likely that those who had to travel far may have planned a longer stay in the city. Second, the temple courts was the “third place” of the city. It was the place people congregated and went to. There were always traveling rabbis, teachers of the law, and other people present to engage with, learn from, or debate with. Given all of that activity, a single boy would not have garnered that much attention initially. It was not even that odd for a twelve year old boy to engage with the teachers of the law. The book of Jewish tradition, the Talmud, records oral traditions that date back to before the first century. One of the things it contains is the “age of majority”, at what age a boy is to fully engage in Jewish religious life. If you are familiar with the idea of a Jewish bar mitzvah, that is what it is about. The Talmud sets the age of majority at 13, but does state if a child is ready before then, they should be included before then. At twelve, the teachers of the law would have seen Jesus as a boy moving into the age of majority. Jesus was at an age where he was supposed to begin carrying and engaging fully with the Jewish religious practices, and likely the Jewish religious teachers were thrilled when the young Jesus first showed so much interest. That initial impression likely developed into absolute awe as Jesus began to show how much he knew and he understood.
Jesus is our Lord and Savior, which means we learn from him and we follow his example. That is true even if it is the example he gave when he was just twelve years old. I believe there are two things that we can learn from the example gives us in this scripture. First, when Mary and Joseph find Jesus his response is “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Jesus was compelled to be where God was. In first century Jewish thought, they did believe that God was sovereign over the whole earth, but they also believed the temple was an especially sacred spot. Inside the temple there was the “holy of holies”. This was understood to be the single spot on earth where the presence of God was greatest. It was the understanding of the time that it was only in the temple that one could truly encounter the actual presence of God. From the first century Jewish perspective, Jesus was saying that he would naturally be as close to God as possible, that he would be where God was going to be.
Today from our modern, Christian perspective, we believe that the presence of God is more than just in the temple. We believe that because of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God is with us. We believe that we can encounter God anywhere in the world, but in the gospels we can find at least two specific instances of where we can encounter Christ. First, Jesus said “wherever two or more are gathered in my name, I am among them.” When followers of Christ gather together, we can and we should encounter the divine. If we take Jesus at his word, then that means whenever we gather together it should be possible to experience and know the grace, love, and peace that can only come from God. Quite simply, if that’s not happening then we are doing something wrong as a church because whenever two or more gathered in his name, then God is with us.
However, we go to where God is by doing more than just gathering with other believers. If we could only encounter God inside church walls, then that would not be much different than the temple system. Jesus also made it clear that we encounter him outside our buildings because Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.” We encounter God when we go to where God is, and the whole witness of the bible is that God is where the lost, the hurting, the marginalized, and those in need of hope are. When we give of ourselves and have compassion for those who have gone astray, when we make ourselves present to those who no one else, and when we risk loving those who are unloved then we follow Jesus’ example today and we are going to be where God is.
The second example of Jesus we can follow is to put God first in all things. In this scripture Jesus might have been young but he was not stupid. He had to know that staying behind at the temple complex would have end up scaring Mary and Joseph half to death. When they find him, Mary says as much. Yet this is not a sin because Jesus put God first. Putting God first is honestly harder than we think it is. On the one side, it is easy to let other stuff get in the way. After all, there are good tee times on Sunday mornings and what starts off as an every now and then thing become the norm. Along the same lines in youth ministry I have seen dozen of families drift away because of sports. The traveling youth team that played tournaments on Sundays was supposed to be a temporary thing, but one success led to another and it became a year round lifestyle.
On the other side though, being in ministry I have heard the horror stories of earnest pastors who were so committed to their position that they completely ignored their families, even as they fell apart. Often in those cases, what started off as a desire to put God first, became all about doing the work of the position. They got so busy in all of the church stuff they lost sight of the fact that God was also calling them to be a loving spouse and a parent bringing up their children to fear and love the Lord.
We can avoid either extreme by making the first things, the first thing. This can be done every day by spending a couple of moments in the morning and asking ourselves, “How can I love the Lord my God with my all heart, all my soul, and all my mind this day?” Then in the evening we again take a couple of moments to reflect and ask ourselves, ‘How did I love the Lord my God with all my heart, all my soul, and all my mind this day?” I think this simple habit can do a lot to keep ourselves focused on how we are putting God first in all things.
We are on the brink of a new year, and it is common for people to look at the blank pages of a new calendar with the best of intentions and goals. Let me ask you, as you think of 2019 and what you hope to accomplish or change in your life how has God factored into that? How do your goals for the new year put you in the places where God is? How does your vision for 2019 put God first in all things? If you have already thought about, then you probably have some big, God sized dreams and aspirations for this coming year. I would love to sit down with you and hear about those sometimes.
If you have not fully factored God into your 2019 goals, then I challenge you to do that. I challenge you to consider how this New Year will be a year that God is at the center of all you hope to do and accomplish. May we all seek in 2019 to be where God is in the world and in everything we think, everything we say, and everything we do may we seek to put God first, for his kingdom and glory. Amen and amen.