Friday, January 04, 2013

Other Than That, What Did You Think of Russell Crowe in 'Les Miserables'?

An old joke has someone asking Mary Lincoln after her husband was assassinated, "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"

I’ve never cared for the music from Les Miserables and so, have no plans to see it. Our daughter, who has sung the music many times, went to see the film because of that and hated the movie, especially owing to what she saw as its overabundance of gore.

But Taylor Marsh, guest columnist over at The Moderate Voice evidently loves the novel and the musical on which it's based.

His review of Russell Crowe's performance in the blockbuster movie though is, to put it mildly, sharply critical. He says that Crowe is guilty of an "epic fail." There is no reason to ask Marsh about his opinion of Crowe's turn in the movie musical. He has emphatically assassinated the Aussie's performance.

He faults Crowe both for being a poor singer and for so focusing on the musicality which Marsh feels, is beyond his capacity, that he fails to develop the character of Javert, the baddie of Les Mis whose obsession with Jean Valjean is the driver of much of the novel's and the musical's drama. (Javert is Ahab to Valjean's Moby Dick.)

Along the way, Marsh also has bad things to say about the history of non-professional singers being cast in lead roles in film musicals for which he feels they had no talent. He singles out Audrey Hepburn, almost all of whose vocals in the classic film musical, My Fair Lady, were replaced with the singing of a professional singer, for particular criticism.

As a general rule, I don’t think it’s necessary for actors in musicals to be professional singers. Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons did more than creditable work in the film version of Guys and Dolls, arguably the best musical ever.

And, unlike Marsh, I liked Audrey Hepburn’s pre-dubbed versions for My Fair Lady, some of which I've heard on TCM, precisely because her vocals seemed so much more in-character than did the dubbed pseudo-operatic renderings of the talented singer whose voice filled in for Hepburn's. Rex Harrison’s talk-singing also works in that film.

(Given that Harrison was performing as Henry Higgins on Broadway at roughly the same time that Bob Dylan was beginning his recording career with such tunes in his repertoire as ‘Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues’ and ‘Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,’ Harrison and Dylan might be considered, with a little stretch of the imagination, as early progenitors of rap music. Not really, I’m just funning on this point.)

Whether Crowe is any good, musically or dramatically, in Les Miserables, is not likely something about which I'll ever have an opinion. (Loved Crowe in A Beautiful Mind and The Insider, never cared for the movie, The Gladiator and so can't say whether I cared for his performance in it or not.) But I think that there's more to inhabiting and presenting a song than having a technically theatrical voice. And sometimes it's the subtle things that convey what's going on inside of a character.

UPDATE: From a discussion of the use of dubbing in movie musicals, Ann Althouse records her "annoyance" with movies in general. While I sometimes take a pass on watching movies because sitting through a film that may or may not interest me makes me feel that I'm wasting my time, that's not always the case. What about you? Do you watch movies any more?

"They could spend seven hours a day watching that?"

McCullough's response to the last question is the clincher.

By the way, The Greater Journey, the McCullough book which occupies most of the attention in this interview is fantastic!

Thanks to my son for sending out the link to this video.


Thursday, January 03, 2013

Who Are These "Celebrities"?

Saw this magazine cover while shopping today at Costco.

The cover says it has the scoop on, "What Tore Them Apart."

My first thought? "Who are they?"

I wasn't interested enough in learning who they are to do a Google search.

It just struck me what our celebrity culture has come to. Once upon a time, there were a few people who were celebrities: leaders in government and other institutions, a handful of entertainers, writers, and artists, and that was about it.

But with the explosion of the Internet, which came after the advent of five-million channels on cable and satellite TV, a media machine that eats and spits out "celebrities" at roughly the same rate at which your Toro cuts and discharges blades of grass, almost anyone can be a celebrity.

And Andy Warhol turns out to have grossly overestimated the shelf lives of instant celebrities; fifteen minutes takes many way past their expiration dates.

The consequence is, of course, that people's stars go by so quickly that many in this celebrity-craving culture miss them altogether.

I'm sorry that this couple experienced some sort of split.

But, if they're fortunate, they won't be celebrities much longer and they both can focus on being the one thing we should most want to be, actual human beings.

 [See also here.]

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

3 Lessons My Health Issues Have Taught Me

[This was prepared to be shared with the people of the Logan Cancer Recovery Group this evening.]

Since my last visit with you several years ago, a few things have happened in my life.

In 2010, I suffered a heart attack that took out 40% of my heart. Since then, a stent was implanted in an artery that had been 100% blocked and in 2011, as a precautionary measure, I received a defibrillator/pacemaker.

Also in 2011, a small spot of melanoma was found on my left leg and I underwent an outpatient surgical procedure at the James Center at Ohio State. A biopsy showed that there was no cancer in the surrounding area.

In 2012, I developed a stubborn rash that ultimately proved to be a symptom of Celiac Disease, a genetic condition that may or may not show up in he course of a person’s life. The thinking is that all that whole wheat I was eating to keep my heart healthy triggered the activation of the Celiac Disease. Because I still had a rash and both my wife and I were getting acclimated to the new gluten-free, wheat-free diet that is the only treatment that exists for Celiac, we had to cancel a planned visit with friends who live in France.

Shortly after the Celiac diagnosis, I told an old high school classmate: “It’s no biggie. Heart, cancer, and Celiac were all on my bucket list.” We laughed and he said, “Man, you gotta get a different list.”

Now, I’m doing well. Most days I do several miles of brisk walking. My heart is steady at about 60 beats per minute. My blood pressure, which has never been an issue, is, my doctor says, “perfect.”

There’s been no hint of skin cancer on any other part of my body.

And I’m actually enjoying the gluten-free diet.

After my last physical, my doctor declared that I was in "great shape."

I can’t claim to have experienced anything like what many of you have gone through. But I have learned some things I either didn’t know or didn’t pay much attention to before my last visit with you. They’re probably things all of you know from your experiences. Nonetheless, they’re worth remembering.

So what are some of these lessons I’ve learned?

First: Any time we receive bad news about our health, we should remember that it isn’t always our faults. We know that smoking leaves us at heightened risk for heart attack and cancer. We know that not exercising and not getting immunized leaves us susceptible to all sorts of diseases. We know that it’s not wise to drive without securing our seat belts. There are common sense precautions we all can take to reduce our risk for diseases or accidents.

But sometimes bad things happen even to cautious people.

In Matthew 5:45, Jesus says that the Father “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

In Romans, the apostle Paul says that the whole universe groans under the weight of the condition of sin, that condition of enmity between God and the creation that you and I have inherited from Adam and Eve.

For nearly two years after my heart attack, I beat myself up for it. Although I had been unaware of feeling stressed, I assumed since I had none of the other risk factors for a heart attack that I had stressed myself into it. I even said so publicly. And stress may have played some role in it.

But only recently, my doctor said that he didn’t think my heart attack was caused by stress. “What was it then?” I asked. He paused for a long time and then said, “Maybe just bad luck.”

Now, I don’t believe in luck. But I do believe that there are some things that happen to us over which we have no control. In fact, most of the things that happen to us are probably in that category.

My doctor told me, “Mark, you may have been born with a partially occluded artery that simply took fifty-seven years to become completely blocked.” He went on to say that given the numbers of collateral arteries that had developed near the blocked one, something that would have taken decades to develop, I probably was born with that blockage.

Again, common sense dictates that we control those negative behaviors or habits that may endanger our health and instead, engage in other habits, like exercise, that can help us. But not every illness we’re hit with has anything to do with our behaviors. Our genes, our environments, or just being at the wrong place at the wrong time can all work against us.

The last thing we need to do when we’re hit with a negative medical diagnosis is to send ourselves on a guilt trip. That will not help us feel better.

A second lesson is really one I have re-learned. It’s summarized in the words of Pastor Chuck Swindoll. “I am convinced,” Swindoll has said, “that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” Viktor Frankl, the psychotherapist who survived time in a Nazi concentration camp said much the same thing when he wrote that, “Everything can be taken from a [person] but one thing; the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances...”

Every one of you here this evening knows well that while we may not control what happens to us, we can control how we react to it.

I have known people who suffered minor health setbacks and allowed them to become death sentences. These people withdrew from life, proclaimed themselves to be suffering from the terminal disease of being human, shuttered their spirits, metaphorically wrapped themselves in cotton balls, and waited for the Grim Reaper.

Others recognize though that life, even in the midst of adversity, is a precious, undeserved gift from God worth living, worth cherishing.

Some of you know "B" from our congregation. B will turn 99 years old in a few days. A few years back, her sons and she decided that she could no longer fend for herself in her home. So, she moved to an assisted care facility.

B is legally blind and has to wear hearing aids. Last year, she had Shingles.

She could be bitter, wondering why she’s still around despite her afflictions. But that isn’t the choice she’s made. Always an avid reader, now largely unable to read, she listens to about five novels on CD every week. She works out every day, is a member of the garden club, participates in the crossword puzzle group, laughs, and keeps me on the straight and narrow.

B once told me that after the decision was made that she needed to leave her home, “I could have felt sorry for myself. But I decided to be happy.” We can control how we react to what happens to us.

A third lesson I’ve re-learned in a powerful way over the past few years is the most important one of all. It’s this. When Jesus tells those who believe in Him, “I am with you always, even to the close of the age,” you can bank on it.

I have never felt the closeness of Jesus, the One Who died and rose to set me free from bondage to sin and death, more than I have in the two-and-a-half years since my heart attack.

And belief in Jesus, Emmanuel--God with us--is good for our health and good for our recovery from health challenges.

This is borne out by research. In the book, The Faith Factor: Proof of the Healing Power of Prayer, Dr. Dale Matthews and co-author Connie Clark write: “Scientific studies show that religious involvement helps people prevent illness, recover from illness, and--most remarkably--live longer.” [The authors' italics.]

They go on to cite several studies that prove that point. For example, a 1972 study of 91,909 people in Washington County, Maryland “found that those who attended church once or more a week had significantly lower death rates from” coronary disease, emphysema, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide. They also had less tuberculosis and other diseases.

In 1995, a Dartmouth University study of 232 elderly patients who underwent open-heart surgery showed that the “overall death rate among these patients was 9 percent the first six months after surgery. But for patients who said they attended church regularly, the death rate was 5 percent; the death rate for non-church attenders was nearly three times what it was for churchgoers.” Even more impressively, among the believers, the 37 patients who said they received “significant ‘strength and comfort’ from their beliefs all survived the six-month period.”

The authors go on to document study after study that show the positive effect that faith has on cancer patients, those suffering from depression and grief, and those who have addictions.

Now, we all know, as one of my seminary professors used to remind us, that, except for Jesus, God in the flesh, Who rose from the dead, and Enoch and Elijah, two Old Testament figures who never died, the ratio of births to deaths among the human race remains 1 to 1.

But I have learned that belonging to a Savior Who gives new and everlasting life to all who repent--disavowing the power of sin over their lives--and believe in Jesus--surrendering their whole lives to Him--have a power for living and dealing with life’s adversities that those who don’t have a  relationship with Christ don't enjoy.

This shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus describes Himself as “the way, and the truth, and the life.” When we have a relationship with Jesus, we know that we belong to God now and for all eternity and that nothing can separate us from God or His love for us.

If that doesn’t give us strength to handle anything, nothing will!

So, these are the lessons I have learned or relearned these past few years, lessons I’m sure you all know well.

Number one, when we get a bad medical diagnosis, we need to change what behaviors and habits we can, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for things we can’t control.

Number two, we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to what happens to us.

Number three, we need to embrace and maintain a strong personal relationship with Christ through prayer, reading God’s Word, regular worship attendance, service in Christ’s Name, and sharing our faith in Christ with others.

When we undertake these steps, we will ensure that however long we live, we will truly live, making full use of the gift of life with which God has blessed each of us. Thank you.

Any Questions?

This from the Harvard Business Review's Daily Stat. Draw your own conclusions.

JANUARY 2, 2013
Fatal Heart Attacks Decline When Workplaces Go Smoke-Free

U.S. states that impose workplace smoking bans covering the entire population can expect to see about 70 fewer fatal heart attacks annually, on average, among workers ages 25 to 54, in comparison with states having no workplace smoking bans, says a team led by Scott Adams of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Put another way, heart attack fatalities for that age group fall by 17% when states go from having no bans to total workplace smoking prohibitions, the researchers say. Some 36 states have workplace smoking bans of some kind, but many of the laws exclude restaurants and bars.

Source: The short-term impact of smoke-free workplace laws on fatal heart attacks

5 Tips for Reading the Bible in 2013

It's a brand new year and if you're like many people, amid all the hubbub and football games of January 1, you may already be one day behind in your new year's resolution to read the entire Bible in a year.

Averaging just over three chapters a day, it is possible for you to read all sixty-six books of the Scriptures by the end of 2013. So, if you didn't read your three chapters yesterday, don't give up!

There are many good reasons for reading the Bible.

We Lutheran Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God because it gives faithful witness to the foundational Word Who gave life in the beginning and Who gives new life to those who turn from sin (repent) and believe (surrender one's life trustingly) in Jesus Christ.

The book of John in the New Testament says of Jesus, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...All things came into being in Him." It goes on to say that, "the Word became flesh and lived among us...From His fullness we have received grace upon grace..." (John 1:1-18) The Bible then is God's Word about the Word of God!

The Bible is also the place to find the authoritative answers revealed by God about God, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and how to live our lives each day. As another place in the New Testament reminds us, "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).

So, reading this book is important. But how can you stick with it? Here are a few tips.

First: You might want to recruit some friends who will read the Bible over the course of the year, then meet weekly to discuss it.

In 2011, we decided to read the Bible together in a year's time at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, the congregation I serve as pastor. Participants read at home, then joined in weekly discussion groups held on Wednesdays, one group meeting mornings and another in the evenings.

Reading the Bible together like this helps us to be accountable for doing the reading. It helps keep us "on task."

A group also affords us forgiveness and understanding when we, inevitably, fall behind from time to time.

And we learn a lot from others by reading and discussing God's Word together in this way.

Second: Find a translation with which you're comfortable.

We're blessed to live in a time in which there are many English translations of the Bible. Some are better than others, of course.

But if you find yourself tripping over the King James Version's thee's, thou's, and begats, consider reading the Bible in a translation that you can more readily understand.

Many translations can be found online, not costing you a penny.

Among my favorite translations are the New Revised Standard Version, the Good News Bible, the New International Version, and The Message. (One deficiency of The Message, by the way, is that it doesn't note the verses the way other translations and paraphrases of the Bible do.)

Third: Even if you do decide to use an online Bible over the course of the year, you should go to the expense of getting a basic commentary of the Bible.

Good commentaries will give you background information on the passages, explain the usage of certain words, and may even contain maps. The Eerdman's Companion to the Bible is one such book. The investment needed to buy this book will, if you use it as you read the Bible, be more than worth it!

Fourth: Consider getting a study Bible.

Such Bibles will contain some of the resources found in commentaries. You'll pay a bit more for a study Bible, but not have the expense of a commentary.

The Life Application Bibles, which exist in several different translations, are really great.

So too is The Student Bible with tremendous explanatory articles throughout by Philip Yancey and Tim Stafford.

Another great study Bible is The Lutheran Study Bible, published by Concordia Publishing House. While I disagree with my Lutheran Church/Missouri Synod brothers and sisters on some points of theology, especially in their understanding of the role of women, who I believe Scripture teaches are equal to men, I nonetheless find this study Bible extremely helpful.

I cannot endorse the study Bible published by my own denominational publishing house.

Fifth: Remember Jesus came into the world to give forgiveness. So, forgive yourself when you miss a day of reading the Bible or when events intrude and you miss a bunch of days.

The best thing to do when someone learning to ride a horse, bicycle, or skateboard falls is get back up and have at it again. The same is true of reading the Bible. Either pick up where you left off in your reading or, if you're using a list of dated readings, start in again for the readings assigned for the day.

Remember: Reading the Bible isn't about putting a notch on your belt or proving that you're a Super-Christian.

It's about getting to know God better, the way you do a friend.

A friend won't beat you up if you're unable to make the lunches you planned to have together. Friends understand.

So does God. The intentions of our hearts count a lot with God.

Enjoy getting to know God as your best friend by reading the Bible in 2013!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

5 Reasons You Should Share Your Faith in Christ This Year

It's a new year and the events of the past year demonstrate how desperately people need the peace of mind and heart that come from the God Who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.

That means that the Church, the people who daily engage in battle against their own sin and entrust their lives to Jesus Christ, their God, need to get busy sharing their faith in Christ.

Not convinced? Here are five reasons you should share your faith in Christ in 2013.

1. Jesus commands us to love our neighbors. Jesus once summarized God's moral law, as revealed in the Old Testament's Ten Commandments, in what has come to be called the great commandment. It's made up of two parts, each of which cite passages from the Old Testament. Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. The second commandment is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40).

A relationship with Jesus Christ is the best thing that can come to a person. So, if we love our neighbors, we must share Christ.

We should take the first believers in Christ as our models. They simply told their skeptical friends, "Come and see." If we love our friends, neighbors, and family members, we must share Christ with them!

2. Jesus commissions Christians to make disciples, that is, followers of Christ. Faith is not reproduced genetically. Just because your parents were committed Christians who took you to church as a kid doesn't mean that you're a disciple. Faith is passed on from person to person.

That's why Jesus tells Christians, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned" (Matthew 16:15-16).

3. Your neighbor needs Christ. There's an inborn hole in every soul that can only be filled by Jesus Christ. That hole is the vacuum where a right and loving relationship with God and neighbor is meant to be. Jesus is the only way that hole can be filled!

Jesus says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).

At risk to their lives, early followers of the crucified and risen Jesus told people, "There is salvation in no one else, for their is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

4. Without a saving faith in Jesus Christ, your neighbor will be separated from God today and for eternity. Jesus says: "For God so loved the world [everybody] that He gave His only Son [Jesus], so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Those who believe in Him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the Name of the only Son of God" (John 3:16-18).

5. Our own faith grows as we share Christ with others and our own faith ebbs as we fail to share Christ with others. We have a need to share our faith.

Jesus tells believers in Him, "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16).

Jesus, the light of the world, ignites the flame of faith in all who are baptized and believe in Him. When we let others see our faith, it lights their way to peace with God, others, and themselves. When we tamp down the flame of faith, we harm others and threaten the very existence of faith within us.

That's why, after being beaten and threatened with grave consequences if they shared their faith in Christ with others, Peter and John, two early followers of Jesus told the authorities, "Whether it is right in God's sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19-20).

Peter and John, of course, were witnesses of both Jesus' death and His resurrection. We have the witness of hundreds of such eyewitnesses like them who risked their lives to share the fantastic story of the God of all creation taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus, then dying and rising, to give new lives to all who repent and believe in Christ.

We also have the witness of millions of people in the centuries since Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection that their lives were transformed by faith in Christ. Believers in Christ today have similar stories.

How can we possibly keep from speaking about Jesus? News this good has to be shared.

Happy new year!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Three from Taliesen

Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesen in Spring Green, Wisconsin, was on our itinerary when we took a short jaunt to Minnesota, for a wedding this past summer.

We didn't have time to tour the actual house. But the visitor center was designed by Wright and we did visit there.

The setting is beautiful.

Wright was, of course, a raging egomaniac and, apparently, many of the buildings he designed have not stood up well to the elements. But his work is always intriguing, even the appointments he created for the interior of the visitor center.

Indulging a Favorite Pastime

Ann and I went to visit our son at the seminary he attends this past year. In the basement of one building is a spot where faculty members and students leave books they want to sell.

Purchasing is done on an honor system: Each book contains an envelope with the mailbox number of the owner. You put what the book is worth to you into the envelopes and drop them, sealed, into the campus mailbox.

Ann snapped these pictures of the two of us scanning the treasures.

Both of us found some gems that day!

From the Garden at Adena

Thomas Worthington created a beautiful set of gardens for his home, Adena, near Chillicothe, Ohio. Here are a couple of bad videos I took when Ann and I went to Adnea this year.

Important Spot in Ohio History

At Adena in Chillicothe, the home of Thomas Worthington, "the Father of Ohio Statehood," is a sight that will be familiar to any Ohioan. The story goes that after a night-time of working, Worthington and others, who had been working on the state's first constitution stepped outside and saw rising over the southern Ohio hills, a beautiful sunrise.

It inspired the State Seal of Ohio. In its earliest incarnation, the seal pictured the hills as mountains. But while we don't have mountains in Ohio, parts of our state do have gorgeous hills. The seal was revised to reflect that.

A trip to Adena is always interesting and fun!

Conflict-Free Wisconsin Capitol Building

The demonstrators were nowhere to be seen at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison when we arrived a few days before their contentious recall election surrounding the state's governor, Scott Walker.

Ann Takes a Spin

Ann takes a spin on her Schwinn. This was before we got the basket and the bell.

The New Bike I Bought This Past Summer

No speeds or fancy brakes, just a red Schwinn, like my wife's. Hers is pink, with a basket and a bell. Are we going through our second childhoods?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

How to Find Jesus

Luke 2:41-52
Five days ago, we celebrated the birth of Jesus. Today, our Gospel lesson revolves around an incident that happened when Jesus was twelve years old. I guess my parents were right: They do grow up in a hurry!

But if it seems crazy to be talking about Jesus at the age of twelve today, keep in mind two things.

First, this is the only incident from Jesus’ childhood beyond Matthew’s and Luke’s birth and infancy accounts that we have.

And second, in Luke’s telling, this incident really is recounted immediately after his account of what happened in the temple in Jerusalem eight days after Jesus was born.

In fact, looking at what happened when Joseph and Mary, Jesus’ earthly parents, took Jesus to be circumcised and dedicated to God at the temple when Jesus was eight days old can help to explain much of what is going on in today’s Gospel lesson.

You remember that back then, the holy family was met by two elderly Jewish believers, Simeon and Anna. Each of them had been waiting and praying for the coming of the Messiah promised by God hundreds of years earlier.

Simeon, you’ll remember, rejoiced when he saw Jesus. He joyfully prayed to God (I’m reading from the old Revised Standard Version): “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”

Now, please open your Bible to Luke 2:34-35 to see what Simeon’s follow-up to these celebratory words was: “Then Simeon blessed [Joseph, Mary, and Jesus], and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Just in case Mary entertained any illusions that the child conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit to Whom she had given birth would be a normal son, Simeon was evidently sent by God to remind her that this was emphatically not the case.

As God-in-the-flesh, God’s ultimate self-disclosure to the world, Jesus would inevitably arouse the hostility of a world of people hell-bent on being their own gods and lords, their own kings and counselors.

Simeon thus foreshadows Jesus‘ cross for Mary. The freedom of human beings from slavery to sin, death, and futility can only come through the sacrifice of the perfect representative of the human race. New life comes only to those who believe in Jesus Christ because only the crucified and risen Jesus Christ can take the weight of sin and death off our shoulders, swallowing them both up in the resurrection victory He shares with those who repent and entrust their lives to Him!

Now, any parent can imagine how Mary and Joseph must have reacted to Simeon’s prediction. When bad things happen to or are predicted for our kids, our first reaction as parents is denial. We want to block the unpleasant prospects from our thoughts and shiels our kids from them.

And, under such circumstances, there’s one thing we crave more than anything else: normalcy, routine, an ordinary life.

That was what Mary and Joseph craved. Luke 2:39 says: “So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.”

Mary and Joseph raised Jesus in their hometown. They raised the rest of their family. Joseph taught Jesus a trade. Mary and Joseph, along with the people of Nazareth, saw to Jesus‘ instruction in the faith.

The very ordinariness of their lives may have lulled the parents into thinking that, as special as Jesus was to them, maybe Simeon was wrong. Maybe the cross could be avoided. Maybe the sword would never pierce Mary’s soul.

But what Mary and Joseph experienced in today’s Gospel lesson should have torn their denial and their dependence on the ordinary to pieces.

Look at our lesson, Luke 2:41-52. At the outset, we’re told: “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.”

Joseph and Mary were devout Jews who every year traveled the long miles to Jerusalem from Nazareth, to the temple for the Passover. Jesus was raised in a home in which, whatever fantasies Joseph and Mary may have entertained, God was the number one priority in life. Parents and grandparents today are called to provide nothing less than this same foundation to their children and grandchildren.

The text goes on: “And when [Jesus] was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem [though Jerusalem is south of Nazareth, they “went up” because Jerusalem sets at a higher elevation] according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days [the Passover lasts a week] as they returned the Boy Jesus lingered in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances.”

Are you thinking that Mary and Joseph were bad parents?

In Mary’s and Joseph’s defense, it should be said that in those days in Jewish culture, people really did feel that it took a village to raise a child. Their assumption that their twelve year old was with some of their family members or neighbors from Nazareth, is understandable then.

Less so, maybe, is that they were one day into the journey before they started looking for Jesus. Maybe Jesus had always shown Himself to be such a “miracle child” that they didn’t give His absence during the day of travel much thought.

Whatever the case, the moment they realized their child was missing, they sprang into action.

 Go to verse 45: “So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple...”

We’ll come back to “three days” shortly. But, to me, what Luke says here surprises me. Why did it take Joseph and Mary three days of searching before they went to the temple to look for Jesus?

The temple was the most prominent landmark in Jerusalem, the focal point of the Passover celebrations from which they’d just come, and Jesus was a boy who was, we’re told in Luke 2:40, “...strong in the Spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.”

Shouldn’t the temple have been the first place they looked?

Maybe. But the temple may have stood as  a harsh reminder to them both of the prophecy of Simeon. Their son’s affinity to doing the will of God may have been fearful thing they just wanted to avoid acknowledging.

And, I must admit that I too, often look for Jesus in the wrong places.

I look for Jesus to be where I want Him to be, rather than going to the places and circumstances and death of favorite sins He wants me to embrace.

But the hard fact is that God did not take on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ to make us comfortable in our sin, self-will, and life lived on our own terms rather than God’s terms.

Jesus came to invite us to crucify our old selves in repentance and experience new and everlasting life by believing with complete surrender to Him. And even Mary and Joseph needed to repent of their sin of wanting Jesus on their own terms and to, instead, believe in Jesus with total surrender. So, they had something to learn from Jesus in Jerusalem that day.

In verse 46, we’re told that Jesus was “sitting in the midst of the teachers” [Sitting was the posture of a revered teacher in those days. Twelve year old Jesus is sitting, teaching the foremost religious teachers of first-century Judaism!] “both listening to them and asking them questions” [Teachers always used the interrogative method in those days, asking questions in order to teach. Again, Jesus is teaching the religious teachers of His people!]

“And all who heard Him," we're told, "were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when [Mary and Joseph] saw Him, they were amazed...”

Then comes this word of reproach from Mary, for which Jesus must quickly correct her. “...His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have you done this to us? Look, your father and I have sought You anxiously.’”

Mary has sunk so deeply into routine, it seems, that she has forgotten Who Jesus‘ real Father is and where Jesus‘ real home is.

Jesus says to Mary: “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

Folks, what Jesus says of Himself is no less true for those of us who confess Him to be our Lord and God.

We may love and cherish our families, but when we come to faith in Christ, God becomes our Father. That's why Jesus teaches us to call God, "Father."

And this present world, shrouded in sin and death, is not our home. We pass through this life, as Peter writes in the New Testament, as “aliens and strangers.” We have a better homeland. [See Hebrews 11:13-16.]

And, like Jesus, out of gratitude for His forgiveness and love, no matter what our jobs, we are called to be about Father’s business: loving God, loving neighbors, making disciples for Christ.       

In verse 50, we’re told that Mary and Joseph “did not understand the statement which [Jesus] spoke to them.” And this is where the “three days” comes in.

Three days after Jesus’ crucifixion, you’ll remember, two unnamed disciples ran into Him, risen from the dead, on the road to Emmaus. Their minds, it seems, were so fogged by the normal expectations of life--like the normal expectation that dead people stay dead--that they couldn’t believe the reports they’d heard of Jesus’ resurrection and then didn’t recognize the risen Jesus as He walked beside them on the road!

But just as the twelve year old Jesus revealed Himself as the Son of God to Joseph and Mary three days after they’d begun a frenzied search for the One they’d come to see as their son, the risen Jesus would reveal Himself as the conqueror of sin and death to those confused followers of Jesus on the first Easter.

Listen: It’s so easy to lose track of Jesus and Who He is. If that could happen to Mary and Joseph and to the disciples who had watched Jesus perform miracles and heard His teaching, it can happen to you and me.

But it’s not as if Jesus has gone to heaven without leaving us a forwarding address. He wants to be with us now and in eternity.

Like Joseph and Mary, we need to know where we can find Him.

And so, Jesus gives us reliable means by which we can be in His company twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week:
  • We can go to His Word, in the Bible, and His Word proclaimed in personal conversations, Sunday School lessons and Bible studies, and from pulpits. 
  • We can go to the Sacraments--Holy Baptism and Holy Communion--by which He comes to us and fills us with God's forgiveness, new life, and the Holy Spirit.
  • We can go to the fellowship of Christian believers who pray with and for one another, encourage one another, hold one another accountable to the truth revealed on the pages of the Bible, and support one another in good and bad times. 
  • We can go to prayer in Jesus‘ Name. 
  • We can go to worship with the people of God in the Church. 
  • We can go to service done to glorify Jesus. 
As we begin a new year, it’s good to remember that it is no mystery where Jesus can be found.

Through the eyes of faith, look for Jesus in these places, and, whatever your circumstances, His grace and love will find you. Amen

[This message was shared today during the 10:15 worship service with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio.]