41 Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. 42 When he was 12 years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to their custom. 43 After the festival was over, they were returning home, but the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t know it. 44 Supposing that he was among their band of travelers, they journeyed on for a full day while looking for him among their family and friends. 45 When they didn’t find Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple. He was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and putting questions to them. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed by his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were shocked.
His mother said, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Listen! Your father and I have been worried. We’ve been looking for you!”
49 Jesus replied, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they didn’t understand what he said to them. 51 Jesus went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. His mother cherished every word in her heart. 52 Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people.
The Sunday after Christmas Day typically has a less-than-normal attendance rate at worship services. It’s the same with the Sunday after Easter Day. The big celebration of Christmas is now over. Decorations are probably coming down in some people’s homes. We’re tired because we’ve all been busy with travelling, visiting family and friends, going to Christmas parties and gatherings, eating Christmas meals, the craziness of Christmas morning when the kids (or grandkids) open their gifts. Not to mention all the shopping that some people have been doing for more than a month.
It’s exhausting! Wonderful, but exhausting.
I feel like I had two Christmas Days because I saw Christmas morning twice. Once from midnight to about 2:00 a.m. after our Candlelight Vigil Service, and then again at about 8:00 a.m. when I woke up for the day. Honestly, by Christmas evening, I didn’t want to do anything but go to sleep early.
And now we have the revelry of New Year’s Eve to look forward to tomorrow. I’m still tired frim Christmas. My New Year’s Eve will be me sitting at home finishing off the last of the eggnog. I may or may not stay up to ring in 2019 because 2018 just made me that tired.
So, I get why church members stay home on the Sunday after Christmas.
In fact, today is almost an image of our Gospel text from Luke. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had travelled to Jerusalem to celebrate the annual Passover festival, as usual. Now that the festival had ended, they headed home with all the other faithful pilgrims who’d gone to the temple for worship. The temple, which had been a crowded place during the celebration would have boasted plenty of room for the few who might show up now that it was over. Maybe these were, like the young Jesus, the faithful whose devotion lasted year-round. There were people like that: people like Anna who “never left the temple area but worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luke 2:37 CEB).
Apparently, the smaller crowd allowed extra time to discuss important matters of faith, which was just what the twelve-year-old Son of God craved. Really, Jesus’ motive for staying in the Temple while his parents hit the road isn’t clear. Maybe he had questions that were important to him and wanted to discuss them with those who really might know the answers or, at least, how to find those answers. Maybe he lost track of time, like kids tend to do. Maybe he thought he was grown up enough to stay behind in another city while his mom and dad headed back home to Nazareth and figured he’d catch up with them later. Maybe he didn’t think he was lost at all.
His parents, Mary and Joseph, certainly thought Jesus was lost. At least, they came to that conclusion after travelling a day toward home before realizing that their son wasn’t with their group. The text suggests that Mary and Joseph were travelling back to Nazareth with a rather large company of extended family and friends, so it’s easy to imagine how a tween-age boy could get lost among the other kids in the group.
When we had our Romain Christmas gathering, we walked into my cousin’s house and I didn’t see my children for hours. I assumed they were somewhere in the house, but I figured as long as there wasn’t screaming that suggested pain or blood puddles on the floor, I just assumed they were good.
Now, I know that Mary and Joseph occasionally get a bad wrap from some people who think, how could they travel an entire day and not know their kid was missing? Were their parenting skills that bad? But, I’ll defend them. As a parent with kids currently ranging in age from eight to thirteen, I get it. I really do. Being a parent is exhausting on any day but being a parent on a holiday is ridiculous! I mean, nothing can prepare you for the energy it saps out of your bones.
When I first became a parent, every sound Kara made had me running to her cradle to make sure she was okay. Every! Sound! And it got tiring. I think it’s one of those learning curves every parent experiences. So, over time, a parent learns to pay attention to the kind of sound your kid makes. And we parse out whether the sound is just a sound, or a distressful sound. And we get really adept at learning to tell the difference.
So, for instance, take screaming.
Parents—and adults who are used to kids—pretty much know the difference between happy screams and screams of pain. But there are those moments when a scream’s pitch makes parents sit up with a racing heart and listen hard, because the way a scream sounded, it could go either way.
So, we listen, ready to get up and run, while pausing to see how this thing’s going to turn out. Those moments, they’re like restrained tension: parents are a loaded spring ready to go. Then, a laugh rings out, or there’s a tell-tale change in pitch that reassures our hearts that the child in question is actually expressing joy rather than pain. And we relax and go back to what we were doing because we’re reasonably certain that the kids are okay.
At my cousin Amy’s house, I just assumed my kids were somewhere… in the house. Same with my cousin Ryan a day later. I just assumed my kids were with their cousins… somewhere. I didn’t see them for hours. But again: no screaming, and no blood. So, in my mind, they were good.
I say that to put Mary and Joseph’s situation into a little perspective. They were not neglectful parents. They were not travelling as a nuclear family, they were traveling as The Crowd from Nazareth. Jesus is the one who decided to stay in Jerusalem when his parents left the city in the caravan full of family and friends. Why wouldn’t they have assumed Jesus was in the caravan with them? Why wouldn’t they assume their son was off with some of his cousins or friends? Leaving would have been as busy and chaotic as any family trip I’ve ever taken. Jesus knew they were leaving. In their favor, the text does say that Mary and Joseph assumed Jesus was in the caravan, and they looked for him the whole day while they travelled. Jesus is the one who ditched them and chose to wander off for another visit to the temple.
And, he really didn’t waste any courtesy on his mom and dad when they found him—three days later(!)—in the temple. When Mary asked him why he did this to them and explained how worried they’d been and how they’d had to search for him, Jesus’ response was, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 CEB).
No. They obviously didn’t know that. Luke only tells us that his parents didn’t understand what Jesus was saying, which is a clue that there’s more going on in the text than at first appears.
On one hand, I try to imagine how I would respond to this situation if this were my son. But that really doesn’t compare because my son is a normal kid, and I’m a normal parent. Mary, on the other hand, knew that Jesus was God’s Son, that he was special and different. Maybe this wasn’t the first instance of Jesus doing something odd and acting like it was completely normal. In any case, it seems that Mary and Joseph exercised a rare kind of patience with their son that was equal to the moment and met Jesus where he was.
Where Jesus was, in this moment and so many others, was in his father’s house. One of the things we learn about Jesus is that the temple was immensely important to him. He was carried into the temple before he could walk when he was presented to the Lord and recognized as Israel’s redeemer by Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:22-24). He, apparently, like to hang out there and ask questions of the scribes and elders. When Jesus visited the temple years later, Jesus threw the money changers out and turned over the tables of those who were selling things there. And he quoted Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11, saying, “My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a hideout for crooks” (Luke 19:46 CEB).
Jesus called it his house, because his father’s house was his home, too. And what was going on in his house necessarily demanded his attention. “Didn’t you know,” Jesus said to his mother, “that it was necessary for me to be in my father’s house?”
I’d posit that it’s necessary for us to be in God’s house, too. We need to be present in God’s house so that we can mature and grow in perfection. God’s grace is necessary for us to grow, and that necessarily requires something of us.
Here’s the curious thing—at least it might seem a curious thing to us: even Jesus matured. Even Jesus grew in perfection. Even Jesus needed to be in the temple to worship God. Even Jesus went to the synagogue every Sabbath day, as the Gospel reminds us in Luke 4:16.
The fact that Jesus “matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people” (Luke 2:52 CEB) wasn’t some miraculous event that just happened, it was due to the practice of his faith! He was in the temple. He was an observant Jew from a family of observant Jews who went to temple during the pilgrim festivals, and to the synagogue every Sabbath. It was important to Jesus to be in God’s house. Jesus grew steadily from his religious roots, not in spite of them. There is no such thing as being either a Jew or a Christian apart from the community of faith!
John Wesley saw this text as evidence for practical divinity, that growth in holiness is a process that requires progress. Jesus, though he was already perfect, continued to grow in perfection. If even the perfect Son of God had to mature and grow, it plainly follows that even the purest and most seasoned of Christians have room to mature, too. Isn’t that why we come to this place every week?
I’m glad you’re here to worship God on this typically low-attendance Sunday. Maybe you know why you decided to come or, maybe, you don’t really know. Maybe you just felt compelled by some inner-necessity to be in God’s house today with your extended family and friends. Whatever got you here, your presence on such a day suggests that your faith is important to you, and that—like Jesus—you know you have room to mature.
Which, if you think about it, is a rather mature insight.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!
Rev. Christopher Millay