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I have a vivid memory of getting lost when I was a child. I was at Albion mall with my mother. It was one of those you’re-holding-onto-the-coat sleeve-of-a-woman-you-think-is-your-mother-until-you-look-up-and-say-oh-oh-that’s-not-her type of situations. I remember a bit of panic. I remember somebody bringing me to the security office where I assume my mother was paged. I remember being reunited. I can’t imagine how my mother felt, but I’m sure many of you who are parents have some idea. I remember feeling my mother’s absence keenly (hence the slight panic). Lost in the mall.
I have a clearer memory of a picture that my parents turned into an 8x10 and kept on top of the good cutlery chest for many years. I was not a big fan of the picture and I’m not sure where it is now (I must check with my mom on this). It was taken when I was 12 or 13. Those are hard years. Awkward. I hardly looked like myself (although I suppose I looked like myself at 12!). People would see it in later years and say “Who is that?” Honestly, those are hard years. All the ingredients are there in terms of the people we will become, but it’s not known what sort of men and women we’ll become.
This is the question that I want us to ask of ourselves this morning. If you’re in church today or worshiping with us online, you’re serious about this stuff. I must be about the stuff of my Father, says Jesus (and we’ll come to this a little later). If you’re worshiping today you’re into this stuff, so what does this story from Luke have to ask of us and say to us today? We see in our story that Jesus’ family was in a routine. Life in Nazareth is punctuated by annual trips to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of Passover. Interestingly, this is the only story of Jesus at this age we have in any of the Gospels. What might this story have to say to us today as we resume a routine? I don’t want us to think of drudgery necessarily, we’re still riding the Christmas wave after all (either that or we’re recovering from getting swamped by the Christmas wave). Seriously we’ve just spent considerable time sitting with and pondering in our hearts peace, hope, joy, love, Christ. Let’s ride that wave a little longer at least.
We will get back to some sort of normal, however. The question then remains. The same question that was asked of baby John. “What then will this child become?” What will I become? Who will I become? I want us to put ourselves alongside Mary and Joseph here. Jesus, after all, is fine. We might wonder about his answer to his mom which might sound like backtalk to some ears, depending on how much talking back is tolerated in one’s family. Perhaps to temper this, Luke points out at the end of this episode that Jesus went down with them (because remember Jerusalem is built on a hill) and returned to Nazareth and was obedient to them (lest you kids get any ideas about being a certain way and saying “Hey I’m just doing a ‘What Would Jesus Do?’!”) Listen to your parents kids.
What will become of us when we feel the absence of Jesus? We want to be honest about the Christian life and it’s not going from strength to strength and walking on sunshine (and if you’re saying “Well it is for me” then God bless you – know that it is not like that for all of us).
I want us to put ourselves in the place of Mary and Joseph here. They’re travelling along in a group. We’re travelling along in a group. They don’t fully understand who Jesus is and what Jesus is saying to them. We don’t fully understand who Jesus is and what Jesus is saying to us. We can be quick to say “How, after all those events which Luke described around Jesus’ birth do they not get it?” We might ask the same thing of ourselves – “How, after all our experiences of God and living with the Holy Spirit of God in us and living ‘God With Us’ do we not get it?” Let’s not beat ourselves up about this. It’s normal and God is merciful. God grant that we’re coming to an ever-greater understanding and that we continue to leave ourselves open to the Holy Spirit doing the Holy Spirit’s transforming work.
Getting back to Jesus and the story, Luke is using a literary device common to his era. Biographers of great people would often show that characteristics they displayed as adults were shown in their youth. Read 46-47. After three days of searching in the city, Jesus is found. Mary said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
Jesus answers in true Jesus fashion – with a question. “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Now here’s the thing about the second question. The literal translation goes “I must be in/among/about the (something) of my Father.” Our NRSV has it “in my Father’s house” as Jesus is physically in the Temple. We could also say “I must be about my Father’s business,” or more colloquially, “I must be about my Father’s stuff.”
Which makes me stop and say God’s business is deliverance, and business is good!
Remember after all what they’re celebrating. The Passover. The prototypical deliverance event of the Exodus, the bringing out, the freeing from oppression and slavery. Delivering or freedom is in the background of this whole scene. Freedom is what it means to be in the Father’s house. Being delivered is what it means to live in the reality of the kingdom of heaven. Freedom is what it means to be at home with God, no matter our physical placement or circumstances. It means that we have been delivered, are being delivered, will be delivered from the power of sin and all that it brings – fear, hate, hopelessness, oppression, addiction, meaninglessness. It means to have everything we need. It means to live in the hope, peace, joy, and love of Christ. Let us keep these truths close to us and continue to take time to ponder them in our hearts.
Let us say with Jesus, “I must be about my Father’s business. I must be in my Father’s house.” This is a good business. This is a good place to be. Let us hold fast to these truths in all the awkwardness of life. We acknowledge the difficulties that are before us, often daily. We acknowledge that we often feel we are going through our lives hardly recognizing ourselves, with the awkwardness and uncertainty of pre-teen years. In the middle of this let us look to Jesus in his actual pre-teen years and remember that our Father’s business is a good business. Our Father’s house is a good place to be. What kind of women and men will we become? Imagine!
Someone has said that Jesus’ relationship to his Father relativizes his relationship to his parents. This is true, and for the follower of Jesus, our relationship to God is the foundational relationship of our life. As I used to tell the kids at Blythwood though, this isn’t some sort of ranking of relationships where God is number 1, parents number 2, sister or brother number 3 if they’re lucky. It’s not a ranking or rating system. Love is not a zero-sum game. I used to make a little chart with God in the centre and arrows going out to all the people in our life. All our relationships characterized by the love of God. Too much in our world is thought of as a zero-sum game. Jesus’ relationship to God relativizes his relationship with his Mary and Joseph, and it also characterizes it. He goes back down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. He increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour. The love of God is to characterize all of our relationships, no matter how long term or fleeting, no matter how intimate or distant.
This is how we’ll keep from getting lost. Paul describes so well what it means to be about our Father’s business; what it means to be at home with God. It means getting a whole new outfit. We like to get new outfits, yes? “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved (as we are so loved by God), clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another, and, if anyone has a complaint against another (because Paul also dealt with the realities of life and we mess up with one another), forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” That imperative again, I must be about my Father’s business. “Above all, clothe yourselves with love (the love overcoat), which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Let us keep riding that Christmas wave, dear friends, no matter what the coming days bring. What kind of men and women might we become? I’m saying we because we do this together of course, just like Mary and Joseph and Jesus travelled together with that group from Nazareth. We travel along together. This is why Paul writes in the second person plural. You all. “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ 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. 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.” Thanks be to God for the indescribable gift of the Son. Thanks be to God for the gift of the church – a loving community to surround us, connected by the Spirit of God. Someone has put it like this about the church, “We are surrounded by home, by a community that loves us.” May we be visible and tangible reminders for one another of the love of God. They go on, “The church is the visible sign that we are not alone in this world, no matter how difficult it might be at any one time. What habit will we continue after this season ends that will keep us close to that presence? What opportunities will the community provide that keeps our eyes open to the movement of the Spirit in and around us? How can we study together, pray together, share sightings together as we carry home with us into the world around us?”
His mother Mary treasured all these things in her heart. We read that at the end of Luke 2. Fast forward to Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles. Acts 1:12-14. “Then they returned to Jerusalem (more travelling together) from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered into the city, they went up to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”
It’s a family affair, dear brothers and sisters. May we never feel lost in this family. May this be true for all of us. Amen.