This seems to be a season of anniversaries, and believe it or not, it’s been twenty-five years since Macaulay Culkin spent Christmas Home Alone. If you saw that movie, an eight-year-old boy somehow got left behind when the family headed out for Christmas. Fortunately, due to the ingenuity of this child a home invasion is foiled. The movie raises the question: how do you leave your child behind?
This morning we’ve heard another left behind story. The child in question is, of course, Jesus. According to Luke Jesus and his family have traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. When the family returns home to Nazareth, Jesus stays behind. It’s not until a day later that the family realizes that Jesus isn’t in the caravan. So, they head back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days of searching the city, Mary and Joseph finally find their lost child sitting in the Temple talking theology with the theology faculty.
It probably would be a good idea to stop for a moment and catch our breath. Isn’t this the first Sunday after Christmas? Shouldn’t we be back in Bethlehem with baby Jesus? What happened to sweet and cuddly baby Jesus? Before we knew what was happening he’s become a Tweener. He’s no longer a child, but he’s not quite an adult. He’s in between.
It seems that Jesus is intent on discovering his identity. That happens around age twelve. We start thinking about what it will be like when we grow up. So, maybe it wasn’t an accident that Jesus got left behind.
But, his parents aren’t quite ready to let go of the reins. They’ve been worried sick about their oldest child. After all, they come from a small town where everyone knows everyone else. Growing up as I did in small towns, I remember how our parents didn’t worry too much about us, because our parents were in cahoots with all the other parents. If Mom wanted to know where I was – at least until I could drive – she could just call around the neighborhood. That seems to be the pattern of this traveling group. As long as Jesus was with the group, Mary and Joseph had nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, Jerusalem is the big city. No one knows your name. That’s worrisome. You can imagine how anxious Mary and Joseph must have been about the safety of their son. But this isn’t a story about getting left behind. It’s a story about discovering identity.
The story itself is the only canonical story about Jesus’ life between birth and his baptism. It is the only snapshot we have of his growing up years. Today we fill Facebook with pictures of our children. We might even share old Christmas pictures of ourselves when we were children. So, just imagine having pictures of only one event?
A while back I was thinking about my Confirmation experience at age twelve. I was the same age as Jesus, and in the Episcopal Church back then this was the time to become a full communicant in the church. On Confirmation Sunday the Bishop would lay hands on us, and confirm us in the faith. Now we could take communion just like all the adults. As I was thinking about Confirmation, I realized I didn’t have any pictures. So I asked my friend Kim if she had any pictures. But she didn’t pictures either. How could that happen?
When we read this passage it’s easy to get scandalized by the scene, but that’s not the point of the story. Luke isn’t critiquing the parenting style of Mary and Joseph. What he wants us to remember is that the child whose destiny is revealed in the birth story, is in the process of discovering what that means. You might call this a moment of enlightenment or awakening. Once again we get to watch this through Mary’s eyes.
In Luke it is Mary who is the primary witness to these earliest moments. She’s the one who receives the news that she will bear a child who will grow up to be David’s heir. When she goes to the house of Elizabeth, she receives another word of encouragement. Mary is blessed because of the child she is bearing. We heard another word of celebration from the shepherds in Bethlehem, and then later from Simeon and Anna on the day Jesus was taken to the Temple to be circumcised. Luke wants us to know that Jesus is the chosen one of God, and Mary is taking all of this in. Luke wants us to know that Jesus has begun to realize his life purpose as well.
When his parents find him, they let him know that he’s caused them a lot of heartache. They’re not at all happy with him. Their reaction is understandable. When I got lost at the big mall in Portland during a Christmas trip when I was about that age, my parents were not at all happy with me. But Jesus wasn’t concerned at all about all of this. He was where he belonged – in the Temple. When his mother scolds him for causing the family great anxiety, Jesus simply says – why did it take you so long to find me? That’s my paraphrase? In essence Jesus wonders why they didn’t start with the Temple. Didn’t they know that this was where he would be? After all, this is his Father’s house. Yes, Joseph might be his human father, but God is his true Father. Jesus identifies himself fully with the work of God. In the King James Version translation of verse 49, Jesus says that he’s engaged in his “Father’s business.” Jesus returns home with his parents. He remains faithful and obedient. But he’s also discovered his true calling, his true identity. And once again, Mary “treasures all these things in her heart.”
So what happened in Jerusalem? While his parent’s might not have fully understood what was happening, his teachers saw something in him. And he began to see something different in himself. It’s good to remember that Jesus grew up in a rather devout family. We see this revealed in the family’s annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover. Yes, these are good parents who want their child to grow up into a faithful Jewish man.
What can we take from this story? We must first of all acknowledge the witness Luke gives to Jesus’ identity. Luke wants us to remember that Jesus is the one through whom God will bring peace and salvation. We see Jesus express this vocation at age twelve. He still has more to learn, but already he has a good sense of who God is and what God desires of him.
But what of us? Could we not consider the importance of faith in our own family dynamics. There is no guarantee that a child will grow up to be a follower of Jesus. But, that doesn’t mean that we don’t introduce our children to our faith. Mary and Joseph might not have fully understood the true nature and calling of their son, but they gave him the opportunity to discover his calling. Yes, they made it possible for him to do his Father’s business. As a result, we find him sitting in the Temple amazing the teachers with his wisdom and knowledge.
Yes, they do grow up fast!
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
December 27, 2015