Christmas Sunday 2009 Luke 2:41-52
I thought about starting this morning by asking how many of you have ever left your child behind in a big city on your way home from a family vacation!
Then I thought that’s something you probably wouldn’t want to admit even if you did!
I can remember at least twice from my own childhood when I was separated from my parents in big throngs of people. Once we were in New York City, on Times Square among the hustle and bustle of a big crowd.
I thought I recognized my uncle (who was our tour guide) up ahead of my family on the sidewalk, so I ran ahead, darting in and out of the pack and grabbed his hand—only to look up and see it wasn’t him.
The second time was in Arizona, at something like a big flea market in or near Phoenix. There were people everywhere and I hung back to look at something I was interested in while my family continued on their way. I don’t remember how I was found in either case—maybe I wasn’t as lost as I think I was.
Crowds are great places to get lost. It’s especially true in big crowds in big cities, during big holiday events. I can imagine New Year’s Eve in Times Square…or President Obama’s inauguration in Washington DC…or Passover in Jerusalem.
Big cities with big crowds during big holidays are kind of intimidating for some people.
For example, families with young children might be a little bit nervous to attend big events like that, don’t you think?
And last week I saw an estimate that over 65,000 people were expected to spend Christmas Eve in Bethlehem this year! People from all over the world planned months or even years ahead of time to make the journey this year. No doubt some are already planning to make the trip next year, to see the place where Jesus was born on the day we celebrate it.
In fact, Zack and Rachel Miller from our congregation were planning to be part of the throng there this year—they’re visiting Zack’s brother in Egypt and were going to take the chance, (while they’re that close) to travel to Bethlehem on Christmas eve, to be part of the crowd.
I can imagine they’ll have stories to tell when they get back!
That’s the thing about stories; as we tell them, we discover all these different levels of meaning. Even in a simple story like the one we’re looking at this morning, there are all of these layers of meaning.
It’s like, you know the general plot, you know that Jesus goes off and is minding his own business while his family is minding theirs.
And you know that Mary and Joseph were probably pretty upset when they discovered that he was missing, like any parent would be.
But by now, you’ve heard the story enough to know that in the end they find him, and that he was just hanging out at the temple—kind of like hanging out in church, and that since he was Jesus, he amazed everyone who was there with his knowledge and his questions and his teaching.
So on one level, on the surface this is a story that sits well at Christmas time—a story about a festive celebration that in the end reveals the true identity of this child in spite of the scare he gave his parents. Maybe the point is that all of our festive celebrations at this time of year ultimately point to the true identity of the Christ-child, so it’s a good reminder to ‘keep Christ in Christmas’, or to ‘remember the reason for the season’ like so many Christmas sayings go….
But then you discover a whole different level of meaning.
You realize that it’s about a lot more than a family that’s been separated, and it’s about a lot more than a boy who was at the temple.
His parents finally catch up with him…(three days after the Passover)…and they found him in the temple….asking questions to the teachers who were there. His mother understandably yells at him, asking why he had dishonored the family in the way that he had—why he had treated them like he did, why he had to cause so much trouble—she finally found him and unloaded three days worth of anxiety on her child.
It’s not exactly the scene we imagine when we celebrate the birth of Christ.
It’s an interesting interaction from a social science standpoint. Mary had been the dominant force in her son’s life for 12 years. In their culture, the mother was responsible for the well-being of the child. She was the one to care for him, to nurture him, to raise him and make sure he grew up to be a responsible, respectable young man.
And in this interaction, we see Jesus starting to wean himself, if you know what I mean. He’s flexing his independence. At the age of 12, Jewish boys were considered something like adolescents. They were no longer children, but they weren’t really men yet, either. The Bar Mitzvah at age 13 is what bestowed manhood on boys of that age, so early in this story we learn that at the age of 12, Jesus was no longer a child, but neither was he an adult. And so he asserts himself and stays behind in Jerusalem when his family leaves. He has some business to attend to.
But in that culture, to do something without your parent’s permission…it was a kind of slap in the face to the parents. It was a disgraceful thing to do.
So the correct response from Mary and Joseph’s standpoint; after they found him, they really should have rebuked him in private, so that the people wouldn’t know that he hadn’t gotten permission to stay behind. They could have saved face by waiting to have this exchange in the privacy of their own home.
So it’s interesting that Mary lays it out right there, in public, on the third day after the Passover in Jerusalem. It was a pretty disgraceful way to do it.
But in a kind of comic twist, Jesus keeps on asking questions!
“Why were you searching for me?” he says. “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?”
This is the first time we hear Jesus speak…and since he’s the main character of the story, what comes out of his mouth is pretty important.
And in case you didn’t notice, this is the fourth time in the passage that seeking or searching is mentioned. So maybe, on a whole different level, this story is about seeking Jesus!
His parents started to look for him among their relatives and friends. That’s the first time seeking is mentioned, and that’s still where most seekers start to look for Jesus. J
Then they go back to the big city to continue their search. They go back to the spot where they saw him last. And it’s still a good idea when you don’t know what to do. Go back to the spot where you saw him last.
Finally, when they find him, they unload…three days of anxiety, three days of disgrace, three days of searching are finally over. They find him and Mary’s hopes seem to hinge on what will happen next. She tells him—your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety!
In other words—let’s get things back to normal! You’ve held things up long enough Jesus! Now that we’re together, let’s start doing things my way again. After all, as long as you’re under my roof…you’ll do as I say! (that’s what my dad used to say). J
Too often we who are in the church find ourselves in this third phase—when we’ve finally found Jesus and we like to keep him as our little boy, that precious baby in the nativity scene who does what he’s told to do and stays put.
But Jesus continues to do today what he did when he was 12 years old. He continues to work among the crowds, in the middle of the throng…he continues to teach in places we’d rather leave, and it still requires a journey to find him.
He still speaks more often in questions than answers, and we still try to make him stay put.
But the boy Jesus who was found in the temple three days after the Passover did not stay there. Three days after a very different Passover the fully grown Jesus conquered the power of death. And it’s this Jesus—the resurrected Christ in whom we live and move and have our being!
Christmas is not just about the birth of Christ some 2,000 years ago.
Christmas is about the birth of Christ in our lives. It’s about a life-changing encounter with the God revealed through the scriptures, who took up flesh to dwell among us.
Christmas is about more than angels singing; it’s about the advent of a new world order where the peace of God which transcends all understanding reigns…it’s about the end of all things as we know them and putting aside our fear…it’s about renewing our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus the Lord…the Lamb who sits upon the throne, whose eternal life flows like abundant streams into the desert of our existence, like wells of living water in a dry and weary land…Christmas is a time for all who are weary and heavy-laden to lay their burdens upon Christ who’s yoke is easy and whose burden is light. Christmas is about the risen king of kings and Lord of Lords whose reign shall not come to an end. It’s about the triumph of peace over violence, love over hate, humble service over pomp and circumstance!
Praise the Lord sing Hallelujah, Hallelujah indeed!