Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Luke 2:41-51 The Boy Jesus in the Temple
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
Once, when we were kids, my sister Kellie hid inside a clothes rack at Kmart. We were pretty little, so I don’t remember if I knew where she was. And, I don’t know if she was trying to hide or was just curious about what it was like in behind all the denim dresses. I do remember that my mom clearly didn’t. Kellie was only out of sight for a few minutes and Mom was never more than 15 feet from the clothing rack she had tucked herself into. But, it was really scary! It came up several times in our childhood as a warning: “You all better not hide in anymore clothes racks in here.” I imagine some of you listening today have been in a similar position, be it as the kid who is somewhere they not supposed to be or the parent who can’t find them. It’s scary! Now, imagine your child is Jesus. And, you realize that you haven’t seen him for a whole day. And, then it takes 3 days to find him. Three! Days!
I mean, yes. Jesus’ parents probably had a more “free-range” parenting style than most of the parents I know. And, yes, scholars remind us that Jesus’ family probably assumed that the other adults in the traveling party were keeping an eye on him. Still, it would have been terrifying to realize that you had left your child in a large, busy city that was more than a day and a half walk away. There are no cell-phones to call to ahead to your family in the city and ask them to go looking. And, you can only travel as quickly as you can walk or run. I can imagine them running.
The story tells us they don’t find Jesus for three days. Three whole days in a city where he probably had some relatives but didn’t live. It was a city more full than typical, of both pilgrims and dangerous soldiers, because of the festival. The Bible story doesn’t give us a lot of detail about what Mary and Joseph must have been thinking as they searched. But, I bet you can fill in the blanks. Is he safe? Has he eaten? Has he found somewhere to sleep? Has some kind adult noticed him and taken care of him? Hopefully, someone was watching out for him.
At some point, his family went to the temple. And that’s where they found him. Sitting with the teachers and learning from them. Thank God this child is safe. His parents are reasonably upset: “Child, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety!” He’s lucky that’s all they said. He had the gall to say to them, with all the wisdom and confidence that only a 12-year-old can muster, "Why were you all searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in the house of my Abba?" His parents were flabbergasted. Can you imagine saying that to your parents after being gone for three days? Can you imagine your child saying that to you after being missing for three days. Scripture tells that they didn’t understand what he was saying.
Were they so gobsmacked that this... this... was his only explanation that they just couldn’t even wrap their heads around it? Or, did they understand the events of the previous three days to be some foreshadowing of something they didn’t yet comprehend. This child who had been a miracle was now found learning from the elders and teachers of their community. He wasn’t running around with his buddies for three days. He was listening and learning. He was becoming steeped in the religious teachings of his people. He was asking good questions.
Rev. Niveen Sarras, in her commentary on this text, tells us that this story is crafted this way to show us how Jesus is cultivating the experience he needs in order to be the leader he will become. He seems to be living into his calling already at age 12, even if it puts him in conflict with the expectations of his parents and his broader community. This won’t be the only time they’ll wonder what happened to him for three days. But, they don’t know that yet. Mary seems to know that this event is important though. Scripture says that she “treasured all of these things in her heart.” And, they went home, where Jesus grew in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
Right now, I imagine a lot of you are thinking not just about Jesus, but also the children in your life, the ones who don’t always tell you where they are running off to, who are eager to learn, who can be exasperating. How do we read this story about Jesus as a child, the only story about Jesus’ childhood after his birth in any of the four Gospels, alongside the experiences of the kids we know today and our concern for their health and well-being in the midst of Covid. When I think about Jesus as a kid in a situation that is full of both danger and potential, I can’t help but think about the adults who didn’t know him who, nevertheless, took care of him while he was learning at their side.
This is a time when we can be like those adults, teachers who were probably Pharisees, and tend to the well-being of the vulnerable ones right before us. Whether that means making sure our schools have adequate funding and policies to mitigate Covid as much as possible or making sure that on-line education is an option for kids who aren’t safe at school or taking our own precautions, on a community level, to slow the spread of Covid so kids and school staff are less likely to get sick. We probably need to do all these things. We are not living in normal times, as much as we wish we were. It is, as you know, the responsibility of the adults to help the kids navigate these times as safely as possible. Jesus could get to follow his calling because he had people to support him, even as a child. Now is our time to tend to the safety of the kids before us. Christ lives on in them. May we recognize him, and respond as our faith demands.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Caroline Lewis: https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5269
Naveen Sarras: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3930
Ron Allen: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2708
Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation- A Bible Commentary for teaching and preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990).
Fred Craddock, John Hayes, Carl Holladay, and Gene Tucker, Preaching the New Common Lectionary: Year C, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 1985).
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.