Sunday, December 30, 2012
Why were you searching for me?
Luke 2: 41-52, NT page 59 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. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. Sermon It has been said that the first person enlisted in every war, regardless of nation or era, is God. We all, especially in times of great need, call on God to support our cause, which makes the words of Abraham Lincoln especially noteworthy: "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.” Many are not as wise as Lincoln, but assume that God goes along to love those whom they love, hate those whom they hate, pay attention to the sins that they pay attention to, and look over the sins that they are guilty of. This kind of person deals with scripture in the same way, reading the Bible not to be challenged but to be congratulated, focusing on those passages that justify their way of life, validate their self-righteousness, while ignoring those passages that call them to question what they already believe. And Christ - well, they assume that Christ is right there with them, as though he were something that they could slip into their pocket and take along for the ride, not realizing that they've been traveling in one direction for some time while having left Jesus behind back in Jerusalem. "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." A day's journey feels like a very long time to go without realizing that your child is gone, but I'm reluctant to be judgmental, just because I haven't done it yet doesn't mean I won't. And the greater point of this story is not that his parents left him behind, assuming he was with the other children or with an aunt or uncle whom they were traveling with, but that his parents assumed he would be going along with them and following their travel agenda – after all, they are the adults here, while Christ clearly is exercising a mind and a will all his own, not following close behind but deciding to stay at the Temple independently. Certainly, when it comes to Mary and Joseph’s frustration with Jesus’ independence I can relate. Already I've noticed myself not letting my daughters become their own people, make their own choices, but wanting them to like the same things that I like and enjoy doing the same things that I enjoy doing. At bedtime they get to pick their bedtime stories, and I won't attempt to manipulate their decision - if I don't want to read Pinkalicious and the Pink Drink for the 500th time I won't steer Lily into choosing a different book, I'll just throw Pinkalicious under the bed and when she looks for it I'll pretend I don't know where it is. Eventually they'll figure my little trick out. I'll no longer be able to hide the books I don't want them to read under the bed. More and more they'll make decisions on their own, more and more they'll become their own people with their own wills, and this is how it’s supposed to be. Our first pediatrician told us that as soon as the umbilical cord is cut it’s a parent’s job to help her children be functioning and independent adults - but what if that child starts doing things his parent doesn't like - what if he grows up and becomes his own man before his parents are ready to let him go? 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." In one way it seems strange to think of Jesus' parents searching for him. Hasn't Jesus always been beyond their control? Surely his parents must have known that this child would be no typical 12-year-old after his immaculate conception and everything else the angels told them, but none of that has kept any of us from making the same assumptions. Still too many Christians believe they are the ones setting Christ’s agenda. Several years ago a seminary classmate of mine told our class about a mission team waiting for their flight to Haiti in the Atlanta airport. To keep track of each other they all wore bright orange T-Shirts with the slogan, "Bringing the light of Christ to Haiti." Now I don't doubt that they did bring the light of Christ to Haiti through their benevolent actions. I just hope that they weren't surprised when they got off the plane and found that the light of Christ had beaten them there. He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" We should have known, but so often, rather than accept the reality that Christ will go where he wants to go and will be present with those whom he wants to be present to, we believe that he is ours and that we carry him along for the ride. He rides with our caravan – after all, we’re his parents. He supports our causes – after all, we’re his people. He votes with us – after all, we’re the Christians in this race. And maybe that’s true, but we must never be so bold as to assume that we set Christ’s agenda, for Christ, even as a 12 year old boy had a mind of his own: He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" Still they were surprised to find him there, some place he went on his own, without their permission. But this is the case – he goes where he will – and if you want to know him, don’t ask him to ride along with you on your way. Do everything in your power to instead follow where he leads. Rather than assume that he’ll rubber stamp our bad habits, we must be bold to listen when he calls us to change. We ask him to preserve our way of life while ignoring his call to a completely new way of life. And we hope he is with us where we are, not realizing we left him behind. If you’ve realized this to be the case, don’t keep going. Turn around – for he’s waiting for you back at the temple. Amen.