December 30, 2018
When we read today's gospel story, I think it is natural to wonder, “How could a mother and father leave a child behind?” As I contemplated how this happened, I go back some 20ish years to when we took the boys to Disneyland—yeah, the real one in California. My main memory of our time in the park is counting heads; 1, 2, 3, 4... check, everyone is accounted for. There is zero chance we would have left that park with a child simply missing.
That's not to say we never left a child behind. Also some 20 years ago, on a beautiful Sunday morning we'd all come to church to worship and enjoy the fellowship. When it was time to head back to the farm, we loaded the Suburban and headed out. About the time we got to the John Deere dealership, someone asked, “Hey, where's Stephen?” Sure enough, we'd driven off with him still in the church. When Mary and Joseph found Jesus, he didn't seem to think he'd done anything wrong and blamed them for not realizing where he was. When Julie and Gordy found Stephen, he expressed his displeasure to us as he blamed us as well.
And it was our fault. And it was Mary and Joseph's fault. But it was also Stephen's and Jesus' faults.
Until the year Jesus didn't join the caravan. He stayed in the temple. And the caravan went on without him as did Mary and Joseph... until Jesus wasn't there at supper time. They returned, finally found him, and each expressed the misunderstanding that was going on. Jesus: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Mary, and I like how the Message interpreted her response: “Young man, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you.” That sounds more like a mother's response than traditional renderings, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
In Luke's account, we see the almost teenager Jesus rebuking his parents. Chaplain David Keck wrote it this way, “We can imagine a struggling adolescent blurting out to his adoptive parent, 'You're not my real father!' But the rebuke of Jesus about his real Father seems calmly presented, is if he is disappointed in his parent's ability to understand him. The preteen, not the parents, is the one who maintains composure...and having revealed to them who's really in charge, Jesus goes with them to Nazareth 'and was obedient to them.'”
I have a couple of points I see in this account. One, we need to guard against becoming to comfortable in our worship, in our relationship with God and each other. Two, it can be too easy to leave Jesus behind when we leave the temple; when we leave the church on Sunday morning.
When we in the church are like his parents, assuming we know where Jesus is and what he should be doing, we may need to be rebuked by Jesus. If we get too comfortable with Jesus the way we want Jesus to be, we miss his message of disrupting the norm and changing the world. We are in danger in the church when the routine gets comfortable. Now there is a balance here; there is a certain degree of peace, of joy or even of knowing God's presence in the routine. It is like for children, routine is very important to them. Without routine, there is insecurity. They wonder what is coming next. But routine, a bedtime story every night, supper together discussing the day, family events done together bring security and peace.
We have a certain degree of routine here, our order of worship doesn't vary too much. We throw in some variation from time to time, like Holy Humor Sunday. But you can come here most Sunday's and know what to expect. But the expectations we bring to worship should also include the expectation that something will happen beyond the external worship. We should be coming to Sunday morning worship expecting that God, through the Holy Spirit, through the scriptures and hymns, maybe even through the sermon, God will bring a message to you. And if we come and participate as a routine, without that expectation, the service may pass with no God-message to our heart, soul or mind. And if that happens, we are in danger of leaving Jesus behind.
Johann Sebastian Bach was a great musician and he actually wrote a cantata about this bible story. Cantata 124 with a German name I can't pronounce, is about Mary and Joseph leaving Jesus behind in the temple. If we get home on Sunday afternoon and suddenly realize that you missed the opportunity to bring Jesus home with you, his chorus may speak to you:
“I shall not let my Jesus go,
since he has given himself for me,
my duty therefore demands
that I should cling like a burr to him.
He is the light of my life;
I shall not let my Jesus go.”
Jesus is the light of your life. We are especially aware of this at this time of the year. The nights are long and dark; the darkness of sin and suffering seems strong. But Jesus comes and brings light. We celebrated the light of the world Christmas Eve with the candles... and suddenly the ceremony we've shared every year almost became very exciting as Kennedy's hair was on fire briefly. Definitely not routine. But also not what we mean by bringing Christ light home with us.
Did you notice in the story, it took a full day for Mary and Joseph to miss Jesus? That is a long time and they were a full day's travel away when they missed him. We can imagine their sense of panic; I don't know how they slept that night. But when we are missing Jesus, we often don't realize it. We get busy with the things of the world; work, recreation, entertainment, politics; and we fail to notice that Jesus is missing in our day to day life. It happens to me. Too often I lay down at night and review my day and realize; “Jesus wasn't a part of my thoughts today.” And because I was so busy with other things, I didn't even miss him. It does take a conscious effort on our part to include Jesus. And here a routine can be helpful. Perhaps part of your morning routine could include a devotional reading at minimum. Bible study and prayer time would be great. Start the day with Jesus and the odds improve greatly that he will be a part of your whole day. But it is not a guarantee. Some of us are better at constant awareness of Jesus than others. I'm ashamed to admit, I often need reminders during the day. Again, routine helped me with this. On the mail route, I had certain spots where I'd have a longer time between boxes and that was my prayer time. In retirement, I've discovered there is no routine after my first hour of the day. And so reminders to pray, to invite Jesus along on my day don't come as easily. A lesson from Jesus being left behind is that we don't want to, like Mary and Joseph, wait until bedtime to look for Jesus. Look for him throughout your day every day.
When 2018 began, I gave a series of weekly assignments. But unfortunately as the year went on I forgot or failed to continue the practice. So on this last Sunday of the year, I am giving another assignment. Quite some time ago, I was given a note from Bev Driver. This is what it says, “The test of a good preacher is that his congregation goes away saying, not “What a lovely sermon, but “I will do something.” So I'm challenging you to do something this week. Your task this week is to look for times when you recognize Jesus. Be specific. Times when you see Jesus. It may be in a kindness that someone does. It may be nature or a reading or a child. I don't know where it will be, but try to make it a focus. Some people see Jesus all day every day. If that's you, this will be a cinch. If not, you may need to remind yourself somehow to look for Jesus. Don't leave him behind here at church, see him in your life this week. And come next week with an expectation of meeting Jesus in worship and in fellowship. And spend each day this week recognizing Jesus in your day. Amen.
Hymn: Hark! the Herald Angels Sing 31 PH