Sunday, January 04, 2015

Lost and Found

[This was shared during both worship services at Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio,  today.]

Luke 2:40-52
Today, our Gospel lesson revolves around an incident that happened when Jesus was twelve years old. This is the only incident from Jesus’ childhood beyond Matthew’s and Luke’s birth and infancy accounts that we have. As Luke tells it, the incident is recounted just after his account of what happened in the temple in Jerusalem eight days after Jesus was born.

In fact, looking at that earlier incident 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 recall, rejoiced when he saw Jesus. But there was a grim follow up to His rejoicing. Please open a sanctuary Bible to Luke 2:34-35 (page 716) to see it: “...Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’” 

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 not the case. As God-in-the-flesh, Jesus would inevitably arouse the hostility of a world of people--including you and me--intent on being their own gods and lords, their own kings and counselors. 

Simeon thus foreshadows Jesus‘ cross for Mary and Joseph. 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. It was to offer Himself in this way that Jesus came into our world.

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, when doctors give frightening diagnoses and even more frightening prognoses for them, our first reaction as parents is denial. The second may be anger. In any case, we want to block the unpleasant prospects from our thoughts and shield our kids from them. And, under such circumstances, there’s one thing we crave more than anything else: normalcy, routine, an ordinary life. (Whatever that may be.) That was what Mary and Joseph craved, normalcy, ordinariness. 

So, Mary and Joseph raised Jesus in their hometown. 

The ordinariness of the lives they established there 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 a sword would never pierce Mary’s soul. 

But today’s lesson shows us that neither cross nor sword could be averted. 

Look at our lesson, Luke 2:41-52 (page 716 also). At the outset, we’re told: “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.” 

Mary and Joseph assumed that their twelve year old was with some of their family members or neighbors from Nazareth. It took them a day to realize that Jesus was missing. Verse 46 says: “After three days they found him in the temple courts...” We’ll come back to “three days” shortly. But, to me, what Luke says here surprises me. It would have taken the two a day to get back to Jerusalem. But they evidently spent a whole day searching in the city before going to the temple. The question is why didn’t they look for Jesus at the temple first? It was the most prominent place in Jerusalem and even before this, Mary and Joseph could see that Jesus, in Luke’s words, “was filled with wisdom...the grace of God was upon Him.”

Maybe the reason they didn't go to the temple immediately was that it served as a harsh reminder to them of Simeon’s prophecy. This may be why they spent a day looking for Jesus in all the wrong places. 

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 submitting to the death of my favorite sins or going where He sends me. 

I try to get Him to do my will, rather than surrendering to His. 

Yet 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 in and surrendering to Him. 

Even Mary and Joseph, we see from today’s lesson, needed to repent of their sin of wanting Jesus on their own terms and to, instead, believe in Jesus with total surrender. 

Verses 46 and 47 go on to tell us that Jesus was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Then in verse 48, we’re told: “When his parents saw him, they were astonished.” 

We might wonder: How could they have been astonished? 

Had Mary forgotten her conversation with the angel Gabriel who told her that despite never having been with a man, she would give birth to the Savior of the world

Had Joseph forgotten the dream in which he was told not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife because this child was the Son of God

Had they forgotten the shepherds or the wise men or Simeon or Anna

Had Mary forgotten that her kinswoman Elizabeth reported that the child within her, John the Baptist, had leapt for joy when he heard the voice of the Savior's mother?

How often have we ourselves had some close encounter with God--an answered prayer, unexpected provision, a word of guidance, comfort, or needed reproach from God’s Word--only to move on as if the encounter never happened, as if God were some distant stranger and not the Lord of our every moment? How often do we take comfort in ordinary certainties rather than remembering our encounters with God and following Him into the unseen and unknown?

Mired in the commonplace realities of this finite world, Mary and Joseph seem to have forgotten their encounters with God.

In her forgetfulness, Mary reproaches Jesus (verse 48): “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” 

Spoken just life the parent of a tween or teen! Can't you just hear her plaintiveness? 

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

Then Jesus says words that must have seemed like a sword piercing her soul, reminding her that her firstborn Son could never be hers alone: “Why were you searching for me?” [Jesus asks]. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 

Jesus would honor His earthly parents always. But His earthly family would never be His highest priority. As Jesus would later say in Luke 8:21, "My mother and brothers [My family] are those who hear God's word and put it into practice."

Folks: What Jesus says of Himself is no less true for those of we who confess Him to be our Lord and God. 

We may love and cherish our families, we may honor our parents, but when we come to faith in Christ, God becomes our Father. God in Christ is our highest priority

And this present world, shrouded in sin and death, is not our home

In Jesus Christ, we know that we have a better homeland, with God in eternity. 

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

In verse 50, we’re told that Mary and Joseph didn’t understand what Jesus was telling 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--you know, like the normal expectation that dead people stay dead--that they couldn’t believe the reports they’d heard of Jesus’ resurrection. Because of that fog, they didn’t recognize the risen Jesus as He walked beside them on the road! 

But just as the twelve year old Jesus pierced Mary's and Joseph's worldly fog to reveal Himself as the Son of God three days after the two worried parents began 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. It wasn't the first time that Jesus had been so revealed to them. I guess that, like us, even Joseph and Mary needed constant refresher courses to keep in mind Who Jesus really was and is.

It’s easy to lose track of Jesus and Who He is. If it happened to Mary and Joseph and to the disciples who had watched Jesus perform miracles and heard His teaching, it can also be true for 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 simply 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 service done for others as though they were Jesus themselves. 

As we begin a new year, it’s good to remember that it is no mystery about where Jesus can be found: in Word and Sacrament and the fellowship of other Christian disciples

You don’t have to undertake a frenzied search for Him. Through the eyes of faith, Jesus can be found in these places where He promises to meet us, and, when we do, we realize that it's never Jesus Who is lost, it's us. We simply need to let Him find us. When we do, His grace and love and His power will find us too. Amen 

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