Christmas Day has come and gone again. Lots of activity, lots of stress, good and bad. Lots of preparation and planning. Lots of schedules and events. It was good. Grand and glorious. The most wonderful time of year, according to some. Difficult for others who deal with loss and change in a season of tradition. A season of excess, which can be good or bad, as you well know. But now it is gone, the calendar page pulled off, to reveal . . . another day. And another. They march on.
We’re in the assessment phase now. “Did you have a good Christmas?” I know for the most part that is just polite conversation, intended to get on to the next item on the discourse list. But I tend to overanalyze things. So, I sometimes pause before answering. Did I have a good Christmas? Hmm, let me think. In what terms? Presents given and received? Check. Food desired and prepared and eaten? Check. The right combination of sleeplessness and naps? Check and check. I guess I did have a good Christmas.
And a good Advent season too. The preparation for the Coming and the Eve celebrations as well. They were good. Busy, exhausting, creative, challenging, and good. I had a good one. All around, it was . . . good. So, why the hesitation? Why do I pause when asked the question? Why do I have to consider before responding?
Well, like I said, I overanalyze. I think too much, sometimes. And I think about what it was all about. The call of Advent to watch and wait, to long for a savior, to long for completion, the glory of Christmas Eve in all its declaratory joy, and the quiet acceptance of Christmas Day, where we bask in the glow of the One Who Comes, when we remember God with us. All of that, and more. And while I had a good Christmas, it isn’t over yet. We aren’t through with it. The waiting and the longing but also the proclaiming and the glorifying. We’re still in the midst; we’re still on the way; we’re still far from where Christmas calls us to be. Or to quote U2, “We still haven’t found what we’re looking for.”
Luke 2:41-52 NRSV “Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.” You know the story. This is the only childhood story we have in the four Gospels. Some thirty years of life is reduced to a couple of baby stories that are just different enough to drive us crazy, and there is one story of an incident when he was twelve. That’s it. That’s the whole life story of Jesus growing up. It’s not terribly satisfying. We want to know more. What kind of kid was he? How did he wield such amazing power when he was barely able to reason? Or did he have such powers?
Some scholars have argued over the years that the purpose of this story is to combat the adoptionist theories of Christology. Some began to suggest that maybe Jesus was just an ordinary person until he was baptized by John in the Jordan River. All those stories of the dove descending, the Spirit resting, it is argued, is when God “adopted” Jesus and then he became the Son of God. Until that moment, he was just like you and me. Not so fast, says Luke. And then he tells this story to show that he was always the Son of God, by birth, and more than that, he knew it.
Jesus’ family made the trip to Jerusalem for Passover every year. Some argue that this was the equivalent of Jesus’ bar mitzvah, a special trip. But Luke says they went every year. This was just another year of going to Jerusalem for the Passover. It was a sign of the truly devout. It was a part of the law that all Jews who lived outside of Jerusalem would come back during Passover. That’s why it was so crowded in the Passion story at the other end of the gospel writings. But not every Jew did. But almost everyone tried to do it once in their lives. But Luke says, Mary and Joseph did it every year. Pretty amazing really. But in one sense, it means that this trip was not that special, it was something that happened annually. Special, of course it was special, like Christmas Eve worship is special. Special, but it happens every year. Special, but not unusual.
They had made the trip many times. That explains the somewhat lax security protocols. They traveled in a group for safety and for fellowship and for shared responsibilities. And usually in large public groups like this, the family grouping was secondary to the community of faith. The men usually led the way, some distance in front of the women, and children lagging behind. So, on this trip, Jesus was twelve, Luke tells us, not quite an adult, but not feeling like a child. Maybe on the way to Jerusalem, he rotated who he traveled with, so that on the way home from Jerusalem, Joseph in the front assumed he was with Mary, who was traveling at the back of the group and assuming Jesus was up front with Joseph. It wasn’t until they stopped after the first day’s traveling and found each other and counted heads that they discovered they were both wrong. Jesus was nowhere to be found.
I’ve lost a kid in a big store a couple of times, once in the neighborhood; sometimes these days even in the house. (I had been known to ask my wife, “Didn’t we used to have kids?” when they hadn’t been seen for a while.) So, while I can’t imagine the kicked-in-the stomach feeling they got when they joined up that night, I have a vague sense of the panic about to set in. Luke says they went to search. But did they go immediately, traveling through the night, or the next morning? And he says they searched for three days. Was that three days from when they left Jerusalem, including the day they left and weren’t really searching because they didn’t know he was missing? Or was it three days after that? Three days after they got back to Jerusalem. A day out and a day back and then three more? I know that the “three days gone” was a sign of something else, but it does make you wonder. Was he gone five days? No wonder Mary was a bit miffed when they finally stumbled on him in the temple.
You caught that. “Look at what you’ve done!” Why did you treat us like this? It’s like he was doing this just to spite them, just to wound them. Why have you treated us like this?
Pause for a moment here and compare the experience of Samuel. His mom hasn’t lost him in the temple. She knew exactly where he was. She even dressed him for the part. She made him a little robe, a preacher robe for little kid hanging out in the temple. She took him a new one every year and left him there. She was so excited to leave him there, to give him over, this child she prayed for and wanted so badly. But she wanted him to remove her shame. Once Samuel was born, she gave him over to God’s service. She didn’t lose him. She lost herself.
Not Mary, “Why did you treat us this way?” Well, maybe she was lost too. It seems like Jesus thought so. Jesus’ response to his mother is amazing. And layered, I think. At least I think Luke thought it was. “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I must be in my Father’s house?” It’s the second question that has caused the most conversation in biblical scholarship circles. Partly because it doesn’t really say “in my Father’s house.” Some translations have “about my Father’s business.” The Greek is a little vague. Neither house nor business is in there. It could literally be translated as “I must be in the of my Father.” The? Well, tois in Greek means the, but it could, with no direct object, be things. The things. I must be about my Father’s things. Kind of like we use the word stuff. I must be about the stuff of my Father. A little confusing, admittedly. No wonder all the effort is on that sentence. Actually, I think any of them work. In my Father’s house in the sense of where God abides – which was more than temple. About my Father’s business might not mean he’s already begun his ministry at twelve and not thirty like the other Gospels claim. But instead, it might mean that Jesus was always focused on God’s will above everything else. Either way, the boy Jesus makes a claim for being centered on God.
But for me, it is the first sentence that is the important one. “Why are you searching for me?” It’s our question, not just Mary’s. Why are we searching? What do we want from him? Do we want him to come and be where we are? Do we want him to come and do what we need done? Do we want him to not give us reason to be anxious? Or do we search for him so that we can be where he is? So that we can join him in his Father’s house? So that we can be about his Father’s business? Do we search for him so that we can be in the Father’s things? Whose things are we most concerned about this Christmastide? The many things around us and of us? Or God’s things?
Why are you searching? I guess the real question is, “Who is lost?” Is it him, or is it us? And how will you know when you find it? Or are found?