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“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him.”
Luke asked Mary to tell him all that she had ‘treasured up in her heart’ about her son, Jesus. Mary told Luke about the surprising announcement of her pregnancy and her visit to see cousin Elizabeth and the birth of the baby and the visitation of the shepherds and the circumcision and meeting Simeon and Anna at the Temple and that time when He was 12 and they went to Jerusalem for the Passover. And maybe there were some other stories about Jesus’ childhood that Luke chose not to share. And I’m guessing that Mary may have wished Luke hadn’t shared that one about when she lost track of Him.
Luke must have asked, ‘but Mary, how could that have happened?’ And Mary must have answered, ‘we just supposed him to be in the group of our relatives and acquaintances. But at the end of the day when it was time to get set up for the evening, it was odd that he didn’t come to help. ‘We began to search for him, and everyone we asked told us the same thing, they hadn’t seen him since we left Jerusalem. So we returned to ‘search for him.’
The point is, he was such a normal kid, that there were times when Mary and Joseph could almost forget what else he was. All of those wonderful paintings of the Christ child with a halo around His head are nice and all. But Jesus rarely let His halo show. He was a normal, 12 year old boy.
So let’s not be too hard on Joseph and Mary unless we’re willing to be just as hard on ourselves. On Christmas Eve we heard the announcement that, “Unto US a child is born, unto US a Son is given.” (Is.9:6). HOW OFTEN HAVE WE LOST TRACK OF HIM?
We just expected Jesus would follow us like the good boy that He is, always ready to come when I call and be ready to help because that’s what good boys do. But then one day it dawned on me that I haven’t heard His voice in quite some time. It’s been awhile since I’ve felt the touch of His body in my hands or tasted His blood on my lips. NOT WHERE DID THAT BOY GET TO?
It can happen to the best of us. Remember Job? Job was a “righteous man.” But at one point it dawns on him that his Lord is missing and he cries out, “Oh, that I knew where to find him, that I might come to where he is seated.” (Job 23:3). They could have been Mary’s words too. And maybe there have been times when they were your words too.
I hope that by now you’ve sensed that there’s just something wrong with the way we’ve been putting all of this. Really, Jesus is not the one who is lost, we are. It’s not Jesus who’s wandered away from us. It’s we who, ‘like sheep GO ASTRAY, each to his own way.”
The reality is that it’s Jesus Christ who agonizes over me like a loving Father agonizes over His prodigal child the whole time I AM GONE AWOL. It’s not that He doesn’t know where I am or what I’m doing. He sees me and I am never out of His sight. But He knows what a dangerous world this is and how vulnerable I am and how easily I am persuaded by talking serpents and shiny apples and the further I wander from my Father’s house more distant His voice becomes, the further I wander from my life and my salvation.
I know we don’t think of it in nearly such drastic terms as this. But when the prodigal son returns to his Father’s house, his Father, who had never once taken his eye off of his child said, “This, my son, was DEAD and is alive again…” (Luke 15:24).
But of course, nothing so introspective as this was going through Joseph and Mary’s mind at all. We can only begin to imagine their distress. At first they are sure he is playing with his cousins and friends and had just forgotten the time. He’s a NORMAL 12 year old boy.
But it doesn’t take long before they realize that something’s definitely wrong. Their child is missing. What must it be like for the parents who can’t find their child? They were right there with them one minute and the next, they’re gone.
They had traveled A ‘DAY’S JOURNEY’ from Jerusalem. So, it took another day to return to Jerusalem. WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH THEIR MINDS AS THEY TRAVELED? It was a big city. And like all big cities, there was a certain danger to it. He could have been kidnapped or injured or even… God forbid, they can’t think that thought.
Arriving in Jerusalem they “searched for him.” Where would you begin if this were you? Not the ice crème shop or the playground or the Temple. As ‘NORMAL’ as He was, He was a ‘GOOD BOY.’ In fact, He was the only GOOD BOY there ever was. He must be in trouble. Check the police station, the hospital, the alleys, God-forbid, the morgue. CAN YOU IMAGINE?
“They searched for him…”
It’s hard for us to understand what it was like for them because we already know how it all turns out. We know that their worry and distress and fear was for nothing. They thought that their world was about to explode. But we know that everything was just fine.
But maybe there have been times when we were in their shoes and didn’t know how things were going to turn out. And in our worry and distress and fear, we call to Jesus and no answer comes back. We are desperate to know how this story will end and will it turn out well or be as bad as I’m imagining it will be. But He seems lost to us or we seem lost to Him.
Martin Luther had enough experience with this that he had a name for it. He called it the “disertionem gratia” – the “desertion of grace.” It’s when it feels as though God has deserted us and no matter how hard we search and look, we can’t find Him.
Job describes the experience like this, “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.” Job looks in every direction for some assurance that the Lord is with him in the midst of his suffering, but he can’t find it.
But then Job says something incredibly profound. He says, “But he knows the way that I take…” (Job 23:8-10). And for Job, that’s enough. It’s always good to be able to say, ‘I found Jesus.’ But as long as that ‘I’ is the object of my faith it’s always a fragile and fleeting thing.
How much better to know that whether I can find Him or not, “He knows the way that I take…” How much better to rely on your baptism, where the Lord FOUND YOU, a LOST AND CONDEMNED CREATURE and gave you His unfailing, unchangeable word, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
After three days they found Him in the Temple.” It had been three days of pure hell. A preview of those three days when He really was attacked and robbed and beaten and murdered.
It seemed like an eternity ago when Simeon warned Mary at this same Temple, “a sword will pierce your soul too…’ For three days, that sword was piercing her soul deeper and deeper and deeper. CAN YOU IMAGINE?
And then we read… but how shall we read it? With what emotion should we read these words? With relief, with anger, some volatile mixture of both? “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you IN GREAT DISTRESS.” CAN YOU IMAGINE?
And the 12 year old child replied to His mother, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
These are the very first words of Jesus that are recorded in the gospels and the only spoken words from His mouth until He is an adult. “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house.” He seems as puzzled by Mary’s GREAT DISTRESS as she is by His strange behavior.
With the Rabbis surrounding Him in their stunned amazement at His wisdom, Jesus makes a statement that they will one day crucify Him for. Mary referred to her husband as “your father.” But Jesus corrected her and called God His Father.
This bright little boy who astonished everyone with His wisdom, would later, astonish the whole world by His foolishness. For the cross of Christ is utter folly according to the wisdom of the world.
What are we to make of this child and man who claims that God is His Father but who cries from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” He is experiencing the “disertionem gratia” for all of us. It is only because God the Father really deserted His only-begotten Son that you and I have the assurance that He will never desert us.
To think that your faith is so strong that you could never loose Jesus is putting far too much faith in your faith. Even the best sailors will loose their bearings when a dense fog sets in. Only let Jesus words to His mother be His words to you. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house.”
He will never loose you and knows where you are at all times and is with you with all of His grace and power, working all things for good for you. But this is where He promises that you will be able to find Him. He is here, in this place, doing His Father’s business – baptizing you into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – absolving all of your sins – feeding you with His very body and blood – assuring you that He knows the way you take.
And one day, you will enter into His Father’s House in heaven just as easily as you have entered into His Father’s House here. And you will see Him and be with Him and know that He has been with you all along. W7hat peace and what joy.
CAN YOU IMAGINE?