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I don’t know personally what it’s like to lose track of a child but I can imagine it must be pretty awful. I remember as a young child once getting separated from my mother in Albion mall. A kind lady brought me to the security office and a search began to find out who I belonged to.
This is the heart of the story we read this morning. Searching to find out to whom we belong. There are probably fewer better examples in the Bible of a story which is not meant to be a moral tale. This is not a story we are to look to and say “What would Jesus do?” and teach our children to go do things without telling us and make us worry and then question why we were worried in the first place. This is rather a story about searching. It’s a story that only appears in the Gospel of Luke. The only story we have of Jesus as an almost adolescent. It’s a story that serves as a bridge between the birth story that we’ve just celebrated and Jesus’ adult ministry. It’s a story about Jesus preparing for his mission. It’s a story that has to tell us something about how we prepare for our own mission. It’s a story that has something to say to us as we prepare to go into a new year – as the celebrations die down and we prepare to get back into a routine.
This is really quite a gripping narrative when you think about it. Mary and Joseph leaving Jerusalem to go back to Nazareth. Travelling a day’s journey before they realized that he was not simply lost in the group with whom they were travelling. Perhaps a classic case of “I thought he was with you” writ large. Another day to get back to Jerusalem. They have not seen their 12-year-old son for two days. It will be another three days before they see him again. Why did he not tell them he was planning to stay behind? Where did he stay? Why did he respond the way he did?
Luke doesn’t answer any of those questions.
So what does Luke tell us?
This was the routine for Jesus’ family. Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. Jesus was shaped in this tradition. He was shaped in piety. Going to the synagogue on a weekly basis was a custom for him. We often talk about following Christ not being about rules and it’s certainly not about rules at its heart. We hear that it’s not about religion but rather about a relationship, and it’s certainly true in terms of how God relates to us in Christ and how God relates to us in the person of God’s spirit. We’re reminded here that Jesus was shaped in his family by tradition – that piety meant something. That in order to embrace our own calling, our own mission, what God would have us do in God’s Kingdom, that there are soul-shaping activities that we are called to do religiously – turning to God regularly and often and meaningfully and with engagement. The writer to the Hebrews writes about not forsaking gathering together (Heb 10:23-25). Look at what Jesus is doing. He’s sitting in the temple among the teachers. He’s listening to them and asking questions.
He’s learning. This is an amazing thought and a great mystery. Jesus had to learn things? Yes, he did. Again look at what the writer to the Hebrews says about Jesus learning (Hebrews 5:7-8). To follow Christ is to follow the call to be ambassadors for Christ. To be Christ’s representatives. To listen. To ask questions. To grow in the knowledge of our own mission. To grow in the knowledge of Christ and who Christ calls us to be, what Christ calls us to do. How is our listening? How is our question asking? What kind of New Year’s resolution might that be? To resolve to listen. To obey. Because that’s what the root of the word obey means – to listen. To learn. To become better students. To sit with our teacher listening and asking questions, the better to take up our task of service.
We have Jesus taking up the task of service. He’s at the age when, in Judaism, one is deemed old enough to be a son or daughter of the law. This is what bar mitzvah means (or bat mitzvah). Son of the law. Daughter of the law. In other words, there comes a time in everyone’s life when we have to decide what we are going to live under. If you grow up in the church there comes a time when you make a decision about what you are going to live under – or what you’re going to live on. What will your foundation be? What are you going to do with this baby whose birth we just celebrated? We’re going to be going through the story of Christ starting in March all the way through to Easter. A baby who would grow up and give his parents fits as he took up his mission and the calling of his Father and would be baptized by his cousin and carry his cross and die and those who loved him would be in anguish for three days just as Mary and Joseph were no doubt in anguish for three days until he would be found, alive!
What are we going to do with this Jesus? The one who’s actually been searching for us all our lives and still searches for us. Our following of Jesus is a daily thing. Our decision to follow Christ is not simply something we do once and forget about it. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) These were Jesus’ words. Why do we need this? To grow into an understanding of what it means to follow. To grow in our knowledge of God’s love for us and how God enables and calls us to channel God’s love. Because we face a lot of pain and anguish ourselves. Because we face limitations and pain as humans. Jesus knew this. He faced pain and limitations too. He lived in communion with his heavenly Father. Worshipping. Healing. Proclaiming. Taking himself off to a quiet place. The invitation that is before us is to turn to God daily. What might 2019 look like for us were to make such a commitment?
Jesus is taking up the task. Jesus is taking up the mission. Jesus’ identity as the beloved son is being grasped and shaped. Listening. Asking questions. Searching. May God help us all to search out how we are God’s beloved children and what this means as we go through our days.
Like Mary and Joseph, we’re called to search for Jesus. To come to a greater understanding of Jesus. They didn’t understand what he was saying to them. We don’t fully understand Jesus’ words either. To long to understand something completely and to fail in our understanding can cause us no small measure of pain. Anguish even. To fall short in our understanding. “Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?” Did you not know not that I must be about my father’s business? Note the construction “Did you not know…” as in this is something that you should know. It’s when someone says “Did I not tell you yesterday?” or “Did you not take the garbage out?” It’s something we should have known. Something we should have done.
We don’t know but I don’t think Jesus is trying to be chiding here. I like to think there’s a lot of love in his tone. They don’t understand fully what he’s talking about. They don’t understand what his father’s business is or which father he’s even talking about necessarily. I like to think Jesus was understanding here. Jesus is understanding of the learning process. It’s like when he’ll say to Phillip “Have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me?” “We don’t know fully Lord but we want to know!” Don’t we? One day we’ll see clearly, know even as we are known. To search for and find Jesus is to be attentive to his words. To sit with Jesus is to be attentive to his words and to seek understanding. To come to know more about his father’s interests. His father’s affairs. His father’s business.
What’s his father’s business? Jesus will announce this about 18 years later when he starts his ministry. In the meantime, he’ll go back to Nazareth with his parents. He’ll be obedient to them because family relationships are important and should be informed by our relationship with our heavenly Father. Eighteen years later he’ll stand up in the synagogue of his hometown and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. The spirit of the Lord is upon me. Holy Spirit power. Because he has anointed me. His mission. To bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. His calling. His mission. Our mission. Our calling.
His mother treasured all these things in her heart. May we do the same my friends. I must be about my father’s affairs. May our hearts say the same, and may God grant to us a richer and deeper understanding of what this means as we seek the one who has found us in the person of his Son, and lives in us and guides and teaches us in the person of his Spirit. May this be true for us all.