THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
1st Sunday after Christmas
His Father’s House
Luke 2: 41-52
41 Now every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents[a] saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”[b] 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years,[c] and in divine and human favor.
The story we have just heard this morning is the only story in the Gospels about Jesus as a child. Of Jesus’ young life, of Jesus’ life as a child we know very little except for this story about the time that 12-year-old Jesus taught at the Temple and reminded his parents that this is the place they should have expected to find Him.
Even though this event would have been frightening and stressful for Mary and Joseph, we get the feeling that this story—the time Little Jesus got lost in Jerusalem—must have been one that the story told often, as one of their classic family stories.
In my own extended family, whom I saw just a few days ago in BC, we have many such stories, maybe not about children being misplaced, but about many other kinds of misadventures that turned out alright.
Every year around Christmas, when enough family is gathered together, these stories inevitably come out, and in the remembering and the retelling there is always a lot of laughter.
I suspect many of you have had similar story-telling experiences with friends and family this Christmas Season.
Why are these stories so important to us?
Why are these stories so foundational in our families and our churches and our communities?
What is that childhood experiences (Jesus’, our family’s, and ours) teaches us about family and faith and life?
Well, in the case of Little Jesus in-particular, Christians are interested in learning about who Jesus was in order to learn more about who Jesus is. The same Jesus who is still risen and still with us until the “end of the age” shares a life and a story with the same Jesus who was once found by his parents in the Temple after three days of being missing.
When we call on Jesus in prayer.
When we try to live our lives in accordance with our faith in Him and His faith in us, it is helpful to know as much about Him and His life as possible:
Who was he? What things did he say?
What things did he do? What was he like as a child?
In this way, we are also reminded of Jesus’ humanity – yes, Jesus is a man who raised Lazarus from the dead, healed the sick, walked on water and died to save us from sin… but he was also:
-a man who ate with his disciples and
-a man who worked as a carpenter
And long before any of that
-He was a boy who knew the Scriptures, who felt at home in the Temple, and who once gave Mary and Joseph the fright of their lives by remaining there to teach long after they had left.
And it is in Mary and Joseph’s experience of this story that we learn a very important lesson.
In the story we read this morning from the 2nd chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Luke teaches us about the incredible wisdom and the incredible faith that the boy Jesus has, by telling it to us through Mary and Joseph’s experience.
Luke begins by saying: “Now, every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual to the festival.”
Already, we are starting to get the picture.
There is history behind these words, we are invited to imagine all of the other times they went, we are invited to think about Jesus going to the Temple every year of his young life.
Then, the turn of the story, the moment that every parent dreads:
“Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.”
Jesus is missing! His parents are worried sick!
Where should we go to look for Him?
According to Luke: Mary and Joseph go back to Jerusalem and spend 3 days looking for him!
That’s three days of frantic searching!
That’s three days of worrying
That’s three days of (I’m sure) sleepless nights.
Finally, Luke says, “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”
Relief! Jesus has been found! Our boy is safe and comfortable in the Temple! He’s so safe and comfortable that he’s talking Scripture with the other teachers at the Temple (and by the way: to my Young Christian Friends, this is how comfortable I pray that you all would be in your church!).
When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
“Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Luke says that Jesus’ parents didn’t understand right away what he meant by this.
And really, this is the moment where the lesson is as much about Jesus and us as it is about Jesus and his parents.
The big, important question; of the story and our lives is: where is Jesus? where is the Son of God? where is our savior?
And in that moment, Jesus turns toward his mother and father, and he turns toward us, and he says:
“If you were looking for me, why didn’t you check the church?”
And, friends, we live in an era where we need this reminder more than ever before in order to answer the questions that are before so many hurting souls:
Is there a God?
Does God care about me? About us?
Where do I find God?
And Jesus still turns to us in our time and says “If you were looking for me, why didn’t you check the church?”
We might wonder about Mary and Joseph. We might wonder where they looked and who they asked and why they didn’t first go back to the Temple, but they can’t tell us the answer.
Mary and Joseph cannot tell us the answer but our neighbors can, our friends can, our family can.
We can talk to those people who tell us—either in their words or their actions:
I can’t find God.
I can’t find Jesus.
I can’t find meaning.
I can’t find peace in my life.
And we can share our faith with them:
“well, I found Him at church, maybe you can find him there too. Would you like to come with me next Sunday?”
And I say to all of you, as much to you as to my former self who thought “evangelism” was a dirty word: it IS that simple. It IS that simple. And if you need help with that, I’m here to help.
But—as Luke’s story reminds us—it’s not just people who don’t have faith, it’s not just people who don’t know Jesus who need a reminder of where to look for Him, but it’s us as well.
For many faithful people, for people who have been going to church their whole lives, the church is not the place they think of first when Jesus is missing in their lives; and I think this sad fact says a lot more about the church than it does about the believer.
But, in any case and in many people’s lives, something happens between when we’re Jesus’ age (in this story) and when we’re Mary and Joseph’s that makes us forget where to look for Jesus.
As someone who did not grow up in the church, I don’t know what it’s like to feel the pull, and the pressure, and the work of turning a childhood faith into an adult one, so I’ll quote someone who does. This is what essayist Tish Harrison Warren wrote recently for online politics magazine The Point:
I loved church. I loved the men who smelled like Old Spice cologne who shook hands and joked with my dad. I loved the kind women with generous smiles and high heels that clip-clopped across the tile. Most of all, I loved the teenagers, who sang in the youth choir and played basketball after the worship service. I knew all of them—every man, woman and child—and they knew me. I sat with them for potlucks after church that were (and still kind of are) my picture of heaven. After I was baptized, the congregation lined up to hug me and someone gave me a Bible, all my own. To my never-ending astonishment, my older brother and I were allowed to go to the corner store next door to buy Rolos before the church service each week. I’d unwrap them one by one, slowly feasting as our preacher taught the Book of John. The gold-foiled chocolates in my lap looked like treasure. I’d fiddle with my mother’s polished nails and finish the last chocolate as the service crescendoed to “Just as I Am.”
Later, Harrison Warren (correctly) identifies that what is missing in our understanding of the church these days is that church is not first and foremost about information but rather formation. (x2)
In other words: the reason that many people do not think to look for Jesus in the church is because they have grown to expect that the church is a place where they will be told about Jesus, and not a place where they will be shown Jesus in the lives and the relationships and the love that is shared between Christ’s people.
Now, we may say to ourselves, how do we do that? How do we live out the love of Christ in our church? Isn’t that a tall order?
But even though it is; and even though we will do so imperfectly, we have a charge from the earliest church to do just that.
Hear again the charge from our reading from Colossians chapter 3 this morning:
12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord[a] has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ[b] dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.[c] 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Friends, if we ever lose hope in this regard, let us also remember the greatest Good News of this whole lesson, and that is that God is with us and for us in this journey of becoming like Christ:
After Mary and Joseph were reunited with Jesus, after they left the Temple and went back to the normal pace of life in Nazareth, Luke closes the lesson with this verse:
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. (repeat)
In these 14 words Luke gives us our greatest encouragement; that even Jesus needed more time to become Jesus. (x2)
Jesus was already a fantastic teacher as a 12 year old, but even he needed more time and more practice and more wisdom to become Jesus Christ.
In these 14 words Luke tells us that even though God is perfect and even though God is unchanging, Jesus Christ grew over time, Jesus Christ developed over time, Jesus Christ increased in divine and human favor over time.
And just like those classic family stories that Mary and Joseph went home to tell with great relief; just like that story that became a Gospel story; just like all of the stories of the Gospels and the stories of the whole Bible, The stories may remain the same but we change around them. We are gathered around them. Our hearts and our souls and our churches grow around them.
God does great things with and through the people who gather to hear these stories and be changed:
-Those people who don’t know where to find Jesus
-Those people who used to know but have forgotten
-Those people who have struggled to move from childhood faith to adult faith
There is a place where all of this takes place.
And it is Christ’s church.