When I was about 11 years old, my whole family took a trip to Austin, Texas, for a church-type convention, I think. I include several people in my extended family when I say, my entire family. During the early afternoon, my family and several other friends decided to walk to the Texas capital building to do some sightseeing. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon with a nice balmy breeze, and everyone was in great spirits. While on our walk, we passed a shop with a stunning bicycle in the window. I remember thinking that with the most beautiful bike I’d ever seen, and I halted and had a very long look at it. I don’t know why I thought my family would stop with me, but when I looked up from the bicycle, none of my family, nor anyone I knew, was in sight.
I immediately began swiftly walking in the direction our party was moving, and after at an intersection, I realized I had no idea where they had gone, and I was alone. A bit of panic began to set in, so I decided to walk back to the window with the bicycle. When I got there, I still didn’t see anyone I knew. Then I heard the voice of my older sister calling my name from the opposite direction of our initial travel. They began searching for me when they realized that I was no longer with them. I don’t mind saying that I felt relieved and safe at that moment. Everyone was happy that they found me, but at the same time, my mom and dad were very cross with me.
The situation reversed when my oldest daughter Molly was visiting me, she was nine years old, and we went to Disneyland. At night, she and I became separated while listening to a rock group in Tomorrowland. After searching, we found each other, and I was also relieved and cross with her.
Almost every parent knows or can imagine the panic that shoots through you when you notice one of your children isn’t where they are supposed to be. The alarm can overpower you.
Imagine the emotions that must have run through Blessed Joseph and Mary when they realize that their young Son they haven’t seen since they left Jerusalem the day before is not among the caravan.
The first day has ended, and they start to look around and realize they have traveled a significant distance without Jesus. Mary, you’ve got him, right?. What were they thinking and feeling? You’ve been tasked with raising the divine Son of God and savior king of God’s people, and you’ve lost him!
The 80-mile walk between Jerusalem and Nazareth took about three days. So Joseph and Mary had to rush back 27 miles to search for their Son among the 2000 pilgrims, merchants, and vendors who packed Jerusalem for Passover.
There was no Amber alert to announce a lost Middle Eastern boy named Yeshua with black hair a brown eyes speaking Aramaic.
So they had to search meticulously and frantically for three days. – Don’t you know they found him in the last place they looked, the Temple? What’s more, it was like he ran the Rabbinic school there. The temple courts were teaching places, and much of the teaching was in a midrash, a discussion-based teaching method. During Passover and shortly after, all the big-name Bible preachers and teachers would have been gathered there like a conference with all the most promising up-and-coming young teachers, disciples. Jesus isn’t hanging around a small group as the only guy who did the reading; these are high-level theological thinkers having deep discussions about God and God’s Law.
Mary asks Jesus why he has done this to them and caused his Father and her anxiety. However, Jesus’ answer to Mary prompts the new problem of misunderstanding. Mary speaks of his earthly Father. Jesus immediately describes the Holy One as his Father and says his home is in the Temple (his “Father’s house” He honors the teachers and yet presumes himself to teach, long before given any right to do so. Jesus is 12 years old, just one year shy of becoming “a son of the commandment,” Jesus had come to understand that his unique relationship with God the Father was far deeper and more profound than any the world had ever known. He now knew that he was the Son of God— the Messiah— God become human.
So this part of the story has somewhat of a happy ending. Jesus returns home with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth. There, Jesus continues to grow in wisdom and maturity, and obedience to his parents.
We can probably identify quite easily with Mary and Joseph – and perhaps with Jesus, too, quietly asserting the independence of mind and vocation while still returning home and living in obedience to Mary and Joseph. Jesus’ awareness that he was the divine Son and that God was his Father was the awareness that undergirded his human obedience to Joseph and Mary. Because he knew who he was, he could profoundly obey.
It is easy to be appalled that Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus. Luke, of course, is not pointing to lousy parenting but is setting the stage for Jesus to state clearly his understanding that he has a special relationship with God. God is Jesus’ parent (not Joseph), and Jesus is to be about God’s interests, by must serve God’s purposes.
Our spiritual formation requires deep and respectful engagement with tradition and openness to where Christ’s Spirit might take us in response to our tradition. Finally, you may see the story’s slow growth and transformational theme.
Jesus is always Messiah, yet he also grows into that role.
As Mary protects, holds, and treasures what she sees of her Son in her heart, so the Spirit moves in safe ways within us, and within God’s people, through the many experiences of grace we receive. Transformation may not be instantaneous. It may and usually grows slowly.
Yet, even so, it may still become every bit as dramatic as the promise it fulfills.
We may wish to ponder whether we have taken Jesus himself for granted; if Mary and Joseph could do it, there is every reason to suppose that we can too.
We may want to remember times when we thought we’d lost someone or something very precious.
We mustn’t assume our Lord is accompanying us as we go off on our own business. But when we sense the lack of his presence, we must be prepared to hunt for him, search for him in prayer, in the scriptures, in the sacraments, but most of all, we will find Christ in the faces of the poor, the refugee, the oppressed and needy. We may discover Christ In the faces of those rejected because of who they love and their self-identity.
We must not give up until we find him again. We must also expect Massiah not to say or do what we expect when we meet him again. He must be busy with his Father’s work. So must we. Amen.